Symbolic of our quick-fix culture, I was recently asked to do a five-minute radio interview addressing the challenge of remote learning without the peer group dynamics of a regular classroom. The time constraint motivated me to get to the core of the education crisis precipitated by the coronavirus pandemic. Decades of developmental science research reveal that our physical and emotional health- our very sense of self- emerges in moment-to-moment interactions in our social world. The meanings we make of ourselves as hopeful and capable of empathy or, in contrast, as hopeless, fearful, and closed off evolve in a developmental process over time. The host’s question led me to recognize the need to turn conventional education on its head in this life-or-death situation.
Social emotional learning, for all ages, is the only thing we need to preserve. I propose doing away with all academic curriculum for 6-12 months. All children will “fall behind” at the same rate, releasing parents from the anxiety that seems to be driving a lot of decision-making. Replace academic curriculum with a “listening curriculum” which includes the following:
1) Eliminate conventional homework, which can be a source of enormous stress for students and parents alike.
2) In its place, ask students from elementary through high school to have a conversation with a wide variety of people- a different one every day. Family members, friend, neighbors, grocery store clerks, postal workers etc. Include people they know well, know a little, don’t like, or disagree with. Then write answers to the following questions: “What went well?” “What was difficult?” and “What surprised you?” For the youngest children, parents would need to help, which will be useful to the common task of reclaiming the ability to listen to each other. which many seem to have lost in our world today. By the end of the year students would compile a “book of listening” from the 2020 pandemic.
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