What this schoolyear should teach us about the world we live in
Photos by Noel Pabalate
It’s always been an issue with students whether or not what they are learning in the classroom will apply to real life.
But we now live in interesting times. As recently as a few months ago, learning had been future-centric, meaning you would have to finish school to find out how the lessons could be personally relevant to you.
Either that or learning was based on the past, using examples from history, often all the way back to the beginning of time.After all, mathematics can trace its roots back to prehistoric times when our forebears would gather wild fruits and figure out, by some form of mathematical logic, how equitably they could share them with the family or tribe.
According to the website Wonderpolis, “the oldest clay tablets with mathematics date back over 4,000 years ago in Mesopotamia. The oldest written texts on mathematics are Egyptian papyruses.” It’s as easy as 1 + 1 = 2 to deduce that the fundamentals of mathematics as we know it now had been laid down, if only formally, by the earliest of human civilizations.
In the chapter “Science Before the Greeks” of his book The Beginnings of Western Science, American historian David Linberg wrote that the “earliest roots of science can be traced to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia in around 3500 to 3000 BCE.”
To the average student, the present is the interim between the past, when knowledge was obtained, and the future, when said knowledge could be applied. And right now, back to school, entrapped by virtue of their youth in the classroom, albeit virtual for now, the young are tasked to stuff their brain with ideas, concepts, principles, theories, ideologies, and philosophies until such time as they are old enough to have practical use for all this knowledge.
But interesting times indeed!Because current events are the perfect examples for the learnings essential to us today, whether they are basic addition or an instinctive grasp of distances. In this intervening period between what has gone before and what may come to pass later, there is so much we need to know that we need to apply immediately, if we are to survive and, better yet, if we are to thrive in the dramatically unfolding present.
In the article “Connecting Lessons to the Pandemic” American history teacher Benjamin Barbour wrote for the website Edutopia, he said that “Incorporating the coronavirus crisis in course content can leverage students’ curiosity while showing them the real-world applicability of what they’re learning.”
There is no better opportunity than this pandemic to help the youth find immediate use for knowledge. It’s the answer to the question asked by every student to every educator, whether openly or in secret, “But why is this relevant to me?What is the point of all this?”
Here’s how our educators can integrate all-important lessons about the current crisis and its larger-than-life events into the program of study in school year 2020-2021.
Reading comprehension and critical thinking
Here lies an opportunity to help young people become more discerning in their consumption of information. Equip them with the skills against sensationalism or the use of shocking or exciting angles or language in pursuit of public interest, often at the expense of accuracy. In the age of new media, students as young as those in high school must be taught to judge the credibility of their news sources. It is at schools that we have the best chance to mold a betterinformed generation, who can judge information based on its currency, relevance, authority, evidence support, and purpose.
Suggested reading (for younger students): Aesop’s The Boy Who Cried Wolf
Mathematics is all-important in this crisis. Some of us, in fact, rely only on graphs and need only numbers to update ourselves on how dangerously close we are to the virus.
Just as in the 1940s, it is said that the English mathematician Alan Turing helped shorten World War II by as much as two years by leading a team to crack the Nazi Enigma code, mathematics plays a crucial role in today’s global emergency. It is numbers, after all, that guide our epidemiologists to study the extent of the pandemic as well as the rate of transmission. It is also numbers that help governments around the world decide whether to impose, extend, or lift lockdowns and other bans. Therefore, the young, privy as they are to daily numerical updates in the news, could benefit from a more thorough understanding of the mathematics behind Covid-19.
The goal in any classroom, more than to relay information, is to whet the appetite for learning. The multiple uses of math to address this crisis, whether in calculating the doses of medication in Covid-19 treatments or in designing breathing equipment or in controlling the spread of the virus, are a showcase of how important mathematics is, in good times and bad, to our day-to-day lives.
Suggested readings (for all ages): The Dover Recreational Math series
A review of behavioral responses in critical periods in recent history, such as the Spanish flu of 1918 or the two World Wars, yields parallelisms between then and now. It should help today’s young to frame their experiences, knowing that cataclysmic events, such as Covid-19, bring out both the best and the worst of human nature. There was as much fake news, for instance, in 1918 as now, though fake news is an expression of this generation.
Isolation is both a remedy and an adverse effect of infectious diseases. In this time of social distancing and house arrests, particularly for young people who have to return to school with minimal or even zero physical interaction with others, it is an urgent matter to provide a healthy perspective on the emotional impact of the coronavirus scare. As educationadapts to new ways of doing things, it may offer a platform in which the students can process their feelings or even express any need for professional interventions.
Also, for lack of face-to-face interactions, educators may find it useful to organize Zoom soirees or group projects or virtual school fairs or even film showings and discussions to give students opportunities to make friends even in their virtual class.
Suggested Reading: It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
Home economics, livelihood education, and sports
This is self-explanatory. With all under 21 years of age stuck at home, it’s the best time to teach them home skills—cooking and baking, for instance, or basic carpentry, home repairs, gardening or farming, sewing and stitching, crafts, even interior decorations. These skills have helped many young people launch themselves into homegrown businesses, the sale of baked sushi, for example, or engaging in barter. We might say that the pandemic has ushered in the age of the self-starters and schools, to be relevant, must jump at the opportunity to draw out entrepreneurial skills even among the very young that could serve as adaptive measures in this crisis.
Although there are many online courses on movement-based arts like dance or martial arts or gymnastics, it might be a good idea to teach the kids about mind sports like chess, card games, checkers, board games, video games, mahjong, and other games of skill to help them think strategically. Also, while contact sports is forbidden and the sports venues are closed, it is no less important to get the young to be in the habit of physical sports, if only to keep them moving—or else we will have a whole generation of couch potatoes whose only physical activity is fingers active on a keyboard or a game console.
Suggested readings: How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman or Bobby Fischer Teaches Chess by Bobby Fischer and Stuart Margulies
Life is hard, and the pandemic has left us all, regardless of race, age, gender, or socio-economic status,with no choice but to enroll in the School of Hard Knocks.
It’s not such a bad thing, even if so far there hasn’t been any indication of real success in surmounting this great hurdle. In his book A Walk with Prudence, American writer Jason Versey wrote, “The best education we can ever receive is from the University of Adversity. It’s the only institute of learning that rewards us when we fail.”