What will our kids learn now?

There is, it seems, a breathless panic. Pundits, parents, pedagogues all scramble madly, clutching the grains of lessons slipping, dripping down through the hourglass as the days roll on. Home school schedules adorn fridges, web portals of curriculum-aligned lessons devour data bundles. Fevered scenarios, situation and counter situation, are all laid out in the war room. Mission: Save the School Year.

School is fundamentally about Time. School has always been about Time. Even the ancient Greeks recognised this: skholé… time free from need or obligation to contemplate, to naval gaze, to study. Skholé is school. And those free from hunger, from fear, from doubt, from obligation, do best at the game of time, at the game of school. They always have.

The children on the margins already know this. Their school time already pales in comparison to those who started early, who stay late, who need not go home to younger siblings and stressed out parents to cook, clean and care far beyond what should be asked of their young years.

But now the Time of School is threatened for all. Not just those who never had it in the first place. To lose Time is to question the very project of schooling: to strike at the heart of the illusion that what is learnt in school matters most. And the question on everyone’s lips is: what will our kids learn now?

What will our kids learn now? They MUST still master the quadratic, we are told. Distinguish a transitive from an intransitive verb. Point out Cairo on the map. Solve for x.

What will our kids learn now? Given the panic, you’d be forgiven for somehow believing that outside of school, there’s nothing to be learnt at all. Unless it’s in a book—or the end of year exam!—it’s never known, never noticed, not worth knowing.

What will our kids learn now? In this moment? That they can’t eat equations? That no number of intransitive verbs will halt the hand of a policeman drunk on emergency power? “It’s not for now… it’s for their future”, we’ll be told. For their future. Now there’s an emergency. Full of pandemics. Bereft of water and clean air. A future where daily bread is not guaranteed, nor a roof, nor a bed. Someone forgot to tell the melting glaciers that the books are balanced, and the essay well structured. Somehow the gnawing pangs of hunger missed the memo stating that the 27th April is Freedom Day and we should be thankful. Strangely, the pathogens teleporting from species to species and into our midst as we ravage what little forest our planet has left were not kept up to speed that the pass mark for English is 40%, and the main oral exam is scheduled next week.

Our kids’ future is emerging… an emergency. They are running out of Time.

What will our kids learn now? That the world we have built for them is brittle and broken. But also that we want to go back to that world, to that ‘normal’. They will learn that no matter how grave the mistakes, or dire the consequences, for adults to admit error is verboten. To have courage to try something different is a fantasy. And fantasy is just a genre. Next to comedy. And tragedy.

What are our kids learning now? That their lives are inextricably woven with those around them. That no human is an island. That what matters is kindness, courage and care. That dignity is afforded to too few. And misery to too many.

What are our kids learning now? That those entrusted with their future are too chickenshit to fess up that we’ve got it wrong. And that what we will choose to expend our efforts and energies on, in this moment, is Saving the School Year.

And we wonder why kids these days don’t listen.