During this week 12 months ago, students at many universities were taking midterm exams while simultaneously hearing some disturbing talk about a highly contagious virus plaguing the western and eastern United States. Soon, spring break would be upon them and many would be flying home, heading out on tours, going abroad and leaving for vacations. Nobody takes textbooks, art equipment or supplies during spring break. None expected school to shut down before they could get back, or the week they returned to campus. Nobody.
But a nationwide lockdown was advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and most college and universities shut doors to dorms, classrooms and campuses. Professors graded midterms during spring break and by the start of the second half of the 2020 spring semester, they had to find a way online to finish teaching their classes. Grade schools, middle and high schools followed. Parents either had to stay home to help their children learn or leave education up to their youngsters who were unsure how long they’d be left at home if parents had to work. And most parents wanted to work, but even that – jobs- work - making a living - was questionable.
It still makes me wonder how campus computer systems didn’t totally crash. With some classes having more than 50 students, it’s a show of strength that more faculty didn’t wipe out in the first month. Most instructors had four or more courses to instruct, and many have more than 100 students a semester to teach. I cannot fathom what IT went through at every institution, every city, as they tried to adjust their own programs to meet the volume of computers logged on around the world 24-7. Instructors had to teach from home or via Zoom. Rooms had to be refitted. Very few classrooms are fitted with cameras aimed at the instructor or the examples being discussed.
Technological equipment had to be found and installed. Can you imagine thousands of rooms across the country needing the same equipment and then having to find ways of getting it delivered, with manufacturing delays ... all at the same time? And who does the delivery? Who is at the school ready to sign for the equipment? Many thousands of people had to be at their job, doing what they normally did before 2020, and they had to learn new equipment, find everything needed to teach, plus they had to keep their students interested and fearless about learning online. And … without extra pay.
Art students were emailing at every hour of every day (because they were in every time zone). What to do, what now, where’s my artwork from December 2019, and will I pass if I can’t get materials to finish class? Each wanted an immediate answer. Who wouldn’t? This was their first-time shock to what should have been a wonderful, peaceful developmental time for these teens and 20-something college students. This was the age for students to feel they were invincible and nothing would get in their way. But something did in 2020.
Professors and administrators who had been in education during 2001 had a better idea of what would be ahead. Many of them were in the 50-year-old range or past it. They knew from the devastation of that fateful Tuesday morning of September 11 that this time was going to be different, and our lives once more would change forever. Some of those mid-life instructors had health problems that would make them vulnerable should they contract the virus They were not invincible.
History will be written about what occurred worldwide ... who succeeded and who failed. We all have learned about ourselves, our leaders and society. Lessons learned have and will become part of our personal histories. Whether we like it or not, we all have had a year of free “experiential” education in civics, medicine, politics, social studies and even arts and crafts. It’s the reason I asked my art students to keep an updated journal of daily lives: the hardships, changes and adaptations needed to get through classes and daily life. Their personal histories will be invaluable to their grandchildren.
As vaccines come out and more people get their shots, herd immunity should allay the fears of normal human contact. But after every worldwide scare, we adapt, change and regroup. What would have been “normal” a year ago will likely never be the same again. With pandemics we grow more self-reliant and less in need of entertainment. Like a cancer prognosis, this time will be with these generations affected. It will be a part of our world and nation's history one day, but for now we still live amid the change and have lessons yet to learn. If we are good students, perhaps the next pandemic will be less murderous and our world will be prepared to meet the demon head-on.
If anyone has an item for this column, please contact Sharon Cox, PO Box 1559, Jamestown, ND 58402-1559.