Sunday, August 23, 2020

Some Historical Metaphors For This School Year

The virus has me feeling like Clive Candy right now

I'd like to indulge in some historical metaphorical thoughts today, as dangerous as that often is. 

As a teacher, spring of 2020 felt a lot like World War I. Everything changed in an instant once the looming problem went from a far-away threat to a deadly reality. With the fear of the future there was also a lot of fighting spirit in the trenches. Teaching distance style with just a little training felt like being one of those green neighborhood boys from Manchester or the East End joining up in a "Pals" battalion and getting straight to the Somme out of training camp. I still remember leaving the school building on March 12, 2020, after a day of helpful training. I was scared but ready for the challenge.  

I did my turn at the front lines and felt satisfied when it was over despite the stressful 10-12 hour days. Contrary to our assumptions (molded by hindsight), when the Great War ended the majority of people in the UK felt good about it. They were proud to have won, and while they mourned the dead they also thought that victory would bring a peaceful postwar order where such a conflict would never be necessary again. 

The last day of school this year felt like Armistice Day. I had put my blood, sweat, and tears into the fight and somehow managed to be an effective online teacher despite the odds. I assumed, like people in the Allied nations on November 11, 1918, that the future would be better. At that point in June infection levels were down and perhaps the virus would be pushed back before the school year.

Just as the post-Great War order failed miserably (in large part to its poor conception and factors beyond the control of its architects), so too did the initial fight against covid. Now August of 2020 feels a lot like September of 1939. There were no cheering crowds in the squares when World War II started, only fear and that muttered resignation of "not this shit again!" Even in Germany, where the war was supposed to be a liberating act of revenge for the humiliations of the last war, no one was enthusiastic. They all knew what was in front of them.

The feeling of accomplishment I had in June is gone. The dizzy feeling of a new challenge to rise to I had in March is gone, too. All that's left as I face a new school year during covid is quiet determination mixed with a huge dose of fatalism. (I feel like now is a good time to reread Marc Bloch's Strange Defeat.) I also know that my students need me, and that this battle has to be fought even if my heart doesn't burn like it did in March. My resolve is still there, as I am sure it is for the rest of my friends and colleagues coming back to work right now. Once more into the breach, comrades. Stay safe out there.

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