Easter Weekend has come and gone. The final days of the 2019-20 school year are here. While there’s still work to do, I admit my focus has begun to shift toward summer school. I’ll be teaching my class ‘The Hebrew Scriptures’ (formerly ‘Old Testament’) from June 1st-18th. While I knew this decision was coming, it’s official that it’ll be an online class. The difference is that it won’t be an emergency response online class but a class that’s to be prepared and planned to be an online class. I have my work cutout for me!
But there’s a perk to teaching summer school during this pandemic. It’s possible that by July/August things are ‘normalizing’ (what that means precisely is TBD) but it’s also possible that we’re month, even years, from the ‘normal’ many of us expect. In fact, we may never see that normal again.
I hope that this fall I’ll return to teaching on our campus, full-time, in-person, week-after-week. If this doesn’t happen, I’ll have experiences to share going into fall 2020. As they say, ‘Hope for the best…but prepare for the worst.’
Life is usually cyclical but now it’s hyper-cyclical. Today is Tuesday, right? I hope so because I uploaded class material for my student who are supposed to receive it on Tuesdays and I hosted an online advisory with my advisees. So yes, it must be Tuesday!
Four of my eleven advisees checked-in. They’re doing well. One is four chapters ahead in her required reading of (the all too-fitting) 1984. I’m sure her English teacher will be proud. Others find themselves ahead in some classes and just on time in others. Nothing completely out of the norm except the four chapters anecdote.
Week 1 is in the books. Now, we’re into our second week of online education. It feels like a routine is forming. I post lessons on Monday-Tuesday, Thursday-Friday. I meet with my advisees through Google Meet on Tuesdays and my students, class-by-class, on Wednesdays. Our Philosophy Club gathers the same way on Monday and Thursday. Tuesday and Thursday will be my major lesson planning days. You get the idea.
Now, my employer hasn’t said anything official about canceling brick-and-mortar classes through April but federal social distancing guidelines are set to April 30th it begins to feel like this school year will be digital until the end. Again, this hasn’t been made official but mentally I’m preparing for this probability. Our graduation would be the 21st of May meaning even if life goes back to ‘normal’ it will be with only a few weeks remaining. How much of that time will be needed to reintegrate students back into their day-to-day schedules? How much of it will be taken by end-of-year events? Even if we do return in May we’re returning just to wrap up the year.
I wonder what seniors are thinking? This was when it was time for dances, and ceremonies, and announcing college choices, and so much more. Now, that may be taken from them. It’s sad to watch but we must stay safe until this pandemic passes. Really, we don’t have a choice though. If we push people back to the old normal we may postpone our reality return until months down the lines. In fact, there may not be an old normal to which we can return. So, our goal is to make sure the new normal includes things like college choices and graduation ceremonies. We lose this year so that this new normal can emerge faster.
I’ve seen this image appear across social media the past few days and while humorous it’s also a seriously accurate take. While I wish this pandemic had never come upon us, it seems that if we have to go through it, Lent is the perfect season. As Richard Beck wrote:
Maybe I’m weird, but I’ve been grateful that it’s been Lent during COVID-19. Lent has helped me during this season–pondering mortality, dealing with losses and restrictions, dealing with disappointment, facing my idols of security and self-sufficiency.
What seems to be a lifetime ago, I mentioned that I’ve been practicing vegetarianism for Lent. It’s coincidental with this decision that COVID-19 became a global problem, in part, because of how animals were captured, treated, and consumed. I didn’t decide to try vegetarianism as a response. While it would be foolish to make an eternal declaration about my diet, I can say there’s a good chance I’ll continue this lifestyle, or at the very least practice some sort of meat-minimal flexitarianism. The origins of this virus have shown me that we must be much more thoughtful about how we treat animals and how we consume them if we do.
I live in Texas, so Wuhan is the other side of the world, but I can’t think of anything that has driven home for me the concept (which Buddhism made clearest to me) of our interconnectedness/interdependence more than this pandemic. I’m may be a human animal but I’m an animal and an animal that’s connected to other animals. I may be an American but I’m an American human and a human that’s connected to other humans. I don’t think I’ll ever go a semester teaching Buddhist concepts such as dependent-origination and interbeing with referencing this pandemic because nothing has made these ideas as real. As Thomas Friedman wrote many years ago now: the world is flat. There’s no indication that nationalist and populist impulses will change this. China may be on the other side of the planet but it’s also right next door.
This week, Bishop Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, recorded a Lenten reflection video where he reflected upon Matthew 22.34-40. He interpreted this passage as being about how we live in uncertain times, in uncertain territory, as Jesus was living as he prepared for his Passion, and as we’re living during this pandemic. His take-away is that Jesus’ words here—love God, love neighbor, love yourself—are words that can guide us. And he’s right. For those of us who believe in a good, loving Creator (sometimes against the odds), we must hold to our hope. We practice this hope by loving the invisible God through loving the visible neighbor and the visible person in the mirror.
My wife used to teach her students this Mayan precept, In Lak’ech, that is fitting for us today (English version):
You are my other me If I do harm to you, I do harm to myself. If I love and respect you, I love and respect myself.
Whether it be Jesus’ Great Commandment, the Buddhist doctrines of Interbeing and Dependent-Originatation, or the Mayan precept of In Lak’ech, we must live through this together. We have no other choice. May the Lenten season remind us not only that we come from dust and to dust we shall return but also that we are one in this process and no one of us is free from the destiny of all of us.
The first week of digital/online learning is coming to an end. Monday was a day of preparation and the releasing of some online assignments. Tuesday‘s highlight was meeting with my advisees on Google Meet and posting more assignments. Wednesday was my first opportunity to check-in with my students as each class session became a Google Meet and a good percentage of my students made an appearance. Thursday including posting more assignments and using Google Meet to host our first online Philosophy Club meeting. Today, I did the bulk of my grading for the assignments from earlier in the week and participated in a faculty and staff meeting via Zoom.
I want to return to Thursday. Ten or so students joined our Philosophy Club meeting and they talked about COVID1-9, love, and capitalism (yes, it bounced a bit) for an entire hour. Most importantly, they did the talking. My colleague, Fr. Nate Bostian, and I were the adults in the online room, but they were the ones doing the philosophizing! The students enjoyed it so much that they want to do two meetings each week! Of course, I support this.
I hope all you students, parents, educators, and administrators are doing well after this week. I hope we’re being patient with one another and supportive. I’m sure we’re all trying to do our best during these difficult times.
Today’s lesson: lesson planning can sometimes take much, much longer when you know you won’t be present with your students to guide them. I’m preparing my students to read through the Arrest, Trial, and Crucifixion Narratives of the Gospels. In previous years, I had the ability to read with them so I could clarify things but this year that won’t be the case. Therefore, my ‘scripting’ (as my wife calls it) has had to be far more in-depth. And that doesn’t even include the videos I plan on recording this weekend where I’ll read through these passages so they can follow along with me.
On the other hand, I can’t complain. Basically, I get paid to study the Gospels, think about the Gospels, and write lessons about the Gospels. Not a bad gig!
This year I’ve been cosponsoring our school’s brand new Philosophy Club. Today at 4 PM (CST) we’re supposed to have a club meeting via Google Hangouts/Meet put on by our student leadership. Should be interesting! I think it’s great that our students want to continue to see each other and interact with each other. Honestly, I’m glad they miss one another. I’m glad they miss school. As it has been said many times: you never know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
Our school has a daily chapel. Sometimes this chapel features a unique tradition: one of our seniors gives a talk to the whole community. Obviously, there won’t be any chapels of this sort for a while, though our seniors will be recording videos of their talks that will be shared. One of the young ladies in our Residential Life program wanted to practice before doing the ‘official’ recording, so one of our ‘parents’ set up a Zoom meeting. A couple dozen or so of us signed in, applauded, muted our mics, listened to her talk, and then unmuted to applaud again. It was a heart-warming experience and the talk was great.
This is an example of the small things humans are doing to make things better during these trying times. It may seem irrelevant to some that people signed into Zoom to watch someone practice a talk but it meant the world to this kid. And it was important for our community as we seek to find practices that will normalize what we’re experiencing.
Today, I’m ‘meeting’ with my classes via Google Meet. While I’m leaving time for them to ask questions about their online classwork, my main concern is to ask how they’re doing and how they’re using their time (not to berate them about time-management but to make sure they’re connecting with family and friends and finding things to keep them busy). So far, it appears that it’s like a weird hybrid of summer break and homework, but they seem to be doing well and that’s what matters most.
I’m searching for an accessible article or video to share with our school’s Philosophy Club on the topic of epistemology and COVID-19. I see a lot on the topic of how to act like a Stoic during these times but nothing on why trusting experts is not antithetical to being a critical thinker. I’ve got to imagine that someone has written on or created a video about this topic by now.