We’re halfway through what will undoubtedly be one of the most significant years of our lifetime. It’s certainly not the year anyone was expecting. This seems like a good time to engage in a bit of introspection and self-evaluation, a “report card,” if you will.
Tom Bodett once said, “The difference between school and life? In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.”
What lessons have we learned over these last six months? How have we been tested? Individually and collectively, are we passing, or has our failure been illuminated? Let’s take a few moments to think about the classes we’ve all been enrolled in, and how capably we’ve faced the tests they’ve put before us.
Our first mandatory subject came to us in March, Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced Coronavirus. Try to imagine what it would have been like if, in high school, you had progressed directly from freshman algebra into advanced calculus. That’s pretty much what happened about four months ago. But, instead of suddenly facing differential equations, multilinear functions, and finite-dimensional vector spaces, you are tasked with navigating a world in which “normal” has been replaced by invisible hazards, ceaseless anxiety, and a rapidly-spreading pandemic.
Then, in May, a new class was added, 21st Century American History. This one has a twist: it’s history in the making, and we are more than mere students and observers—we are the history-makers. The curriculum for those of us with white skin and white privilege is to look around and look within and assess whether as a country and as individuals, we are the best we can be. Many of us took the pretest and saw that we’ve been failing for a long time, in ways both obvious and subtle. The pledge of liberty and justice for all is, at best, provisional. It’s time to do some remedial and hard work. With study, determination, and guidance from many of our non-white classmates, perhaps we can earn a passing grade and set 21st century American history on the right path.
Most of us have been taking other classes, too, electives we never signed up for: caregiving, home-schooling, applied economics, DIY home-repair and barbering, and even introduction to solitude. For each of us, the electives are different, and we’re challenged in ways we never imagined.
But let’s focus on the two compulsory classes and consider our mid-year grade. Using whatever grading scale you prefer (A-F, 1-10, pass/fail), how would you—honestly—rate your performance on the class objectives:
Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced Coronavirus:
____ Am I following the safety practices recommended by epidemiologists and other medical experts (hand-washing, wearing masks and gloves, social distancing, etc.)?
____ Am I looking out for friends and neighbors? Even if we can’t meet face-to-face, am I connecting in other ways, and helping to alleviate stressful isolation?
____ Am I exercising patience and trying to withhold judgment?
____ Am I seeking ways to support those who are struggling. If I’m one of the lucky ones who still has financial and food security, am I giving support, time, and/or resources to those who do not?
____ Am I experiencing and expressing gratitude? For my health, my circumstances, my family and support system, and for the essential workers who are putting themselves at risk to keep me safe?
____ Am I remembering to take care of myself? Giving myself the same care and compassion I would give others?
____ Am I asking for help when I need it and offering help when I can?
21st Century American History
____ Am I listening (really listening) to the conversations about Black Lives Matter? And am I listening to learn and move past any implicit biases I may have held for decades?
____ Am I willing to admit where I am wrong and/or clueless, and that much of what I have been taught is erroneous or biased? Am I willing to be uncomfortable, and to learn from my discomfort?
____ Instead of judging what I don’t understand, do I try harder to understand?
____ Do I understand the difference between being non-racist and being anti-racist? Am I willing to read, listen, and ask questions to fully understand how much I don’t know?
____ Are my actions congruent with what I profess to believe?
____ Am I willing to give up some of what I have to balance long-lopsided scales?
____ Have I thought about how I can be part of a long-term positive solution?
____ Have I taken any action yet? Am I willing to do the work?
(What am I missing on either or both of these sets of objectives?)
What lessons will we carry into the remainder of this year? Will we embrace new ways of thinking and new ways of being with one another? Or will we offer lip service and then balk at the effort required of us?
In the six months we have left in 2020, let’s redouble our efforts to get this right. The classes will continue, the tests will persist—including a critical mid-term exam on November 3. Six months from now, may we all look back and say, “yes, we passed this critical test.” And then, together, turn our eyes to 2021 and a new era.
“The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated.” (James Baldwin)