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Cynthia Wisehart on Online School

As we go to press, the schools in LA have just opened up ish. The day before classes resumed, I did an unscientific survey with one sample fifth grader who was willing to take my call.

I’ll say up front that many people have put in an heroic year, including and maybe especially the kids. And parents. And teachers. But as I listened to a 10-year-old boy recount and analyze the pros and cons of this strange year I felt the sadness and the bafflement of the situation in a way I haven’t since last June when my daughter graduated class of 2020 and it sucked in so many ways.

He tried to bring order to chaos. On the one hand, his vocabulary has exploded this year—“my impression is, I gravitate to, I needed to initiate…” I don’t know if he got it from his parents working from home or the three overjoyed dogs who have shared his captivity. He seemed genuinely thrilled that he could now type as fast as he thinks, so his essays were more articulate now (his word again). “I don’t want to go back to the pencil and having to just summarize instead of being able to get into details.” Indeed.

That was the bright side. “I liked it, but also didn’t like it at the same the time,” says the future diplomat. He liked working at his own pace, he liked the flexibility. “I think at the beginning my work kind of faltered, but I got better at working the remote learning thing and I got into the rhythm. It was easier to manage the work. When I was done with one assignment I could move onto another, I didn’t have to wait around. I also got frustrated when we were learning new subjects especially in math. I think what’s also made me mad at math. Also there were a lot of technical glitches. There were a lot of interruptions, and crashes. It’s hard to have a continuous conversation when you have to mute and unmute yourself.

“It was more flexible but it was also a little more pressurizing. There was always work I felt like I needed to be doing, there was no real stopping time. I have grown in time management but it still falters from time to time.” He’s 10 remember.

The thing he liked best was early on when he was in a Zoom play. But after awhile it was tough for teachers to keep up the inventiveness.

“I think my relationships with my teachers were better when I was there and in school. They’re still my teachers so I feel safe confiding in them but it’s not as good as it was when I could actually go to school and just talk to to them.

And what about friends? I could literally feel his breath change through the phone. The relationships “have definitely been hurt. I haven’t been able to talk to them during lunch and recess. Even if the teacher leaves the meeting open it’s hard to talk to individual people, everybody talks over you. I kinda miss just hanging out with my friends and just talking to them while we’re on the swings.”

What are you expecting going back tomorrow?

“I’m kind of expecting awkwardness and not knowing what to do. I can sorta tell that it’s not going to completely be normal. It’s still going to be kind of like on your own at least that’s what I think. But I do…” And with that his FaceTime went down mid-thought….See ya. Good luck tomorrow.

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