Teach Your Children Well — But Remotely, Or In Person?

Back in March, a good friend of mine had been right smack in the middle of a semester abroad, living out a dream and residing in the heart of Salamanca in Spain — and then the coronavirus hit. At first, she was hopeful that the threat would be minimal, that she could safely shelter in place, complete coursework online, and finish out the school year before returning home.

I think we probably all wish that had been the case, all around, but it didn’t last.

Just over the Mediterranean, Italy’s caseload was growing exponentially. Then Spain’s active cases doubled overnight. And then, as her university made the decision to unilaterally recall students abroad, she was faced with the prospect of getting home — on her own — while Spain’s government frantically passed public order after public order in an attempt to catch up to the threat.

Amid rumors of transportation shutdowns and imminent border closings, this young lady navigated train stations, taxi lines, hotel bookings, crowded security, and plane tickets. Communication with her mother to organize the flights was chaotic, hampered by the distance and the seven-hour time difference. The American embassy couldn’t even keep up with the constant changes to travel guidelines, and her plans for departure had to be amended four times before (finally!) she was able to board a plane back home to the States.

But of course, the story doesn’t end there — because here it is, August once again, with its flood of back-to-school commercials, sales, and stacks of mailings from colleges and universities as they flounder, trying to figure out what a school year looks like when a highly contagious, life-threatening disease is still running rampant in communities around the world.

Should classes be held in person, with masks and social distancing efforts in effect, or should lessons be taught and coursework completed using totally remote methods? Does anyone informed by public health data still think it’s safe to house students together in dormitories, or to reopen dining halls for communal meals? What kind of employer enacts disciplinary measures on 60-year-old professors or health-compromised students who choose not to put themselves at risk? And what about the travel from home to school and back again — is it worth the possibility of spreading the virus from county to county, state to state, and beyond?

The boiling point of all this stress and panic is coming soon — that’s assuming it hasn’t already hit you. Students and parents are navigating a minefield of options in this new state of higher education. Is it safe to send your kids back to community living? What choices do you have when universities insist on reopening, leaving behind kids who don’t go back for safety and health reasons? And if you and your kids disagree? Well. No matter which side you’re on, there’s no easy way to have that conversation. This is a tough one.

Now States-side, my world-traveling friend says, “Tell them we don’t want to go to class,” with a nervous laugh — and sister, I hear you.

So what’s the best choice for you and your family?

The truth is: we don’t know. And believe you me, we’re as sick of hearing the phrase “unprecedented times” as anyone else. It doesn’t excuse anything, and it certainly doesn’t come with answers. When a crisis arises, it’s only natural that we look to leaders to direct us, and when they don’t come through, it falls to us — and we’re not always expertly equipped.

All we can do is our best. There's really nothing for it except to learn to befriend ambiguity, to surf the discomfort of not knowing, of not being able to plan, or to tie the semester up in a neat bow. It’s not easy or comfortable, but the more we can be present in the moment and willing to live in the now, the better we’ll be at adapting to the fluidity of the situation — and the more adept we’ll become at mindfulness.

At the end of the day, we’re all in this together — trapped in a common struggle, a search for answers, some hint of what to do to make everything feel right again. The anxiety of finding your way back “home,” following a map that changes every day? That’s something that’s still riding right along with us. And while you might not come to an agreement that works for everyone else in the world, if it works for you, that’s the answer.

(And don’t forget to check out our related products below if you need a boost to get there.)

Kelsey Rubenking

— Kelsey Rubenking
Communications Specialist
at Health Journeys