Discovering a Little History Beneath Your Feet (Bangkok)

Visitors prepare to cross Chao Phraya Sky Park, the world’s first public park spanning a river.

 

Chao Phraya, often translated as “River of Kings,” is the carotid artery. Without it, there would be no Bangkok.  The very origins of the name Bangkok being, “village on the stream.”  Pumping from the central plains to Bangkok, the Chao Phraya travels over 200 miles before emptying into the Gulf of Thailand.   Along its course, it feeds the myriad klongs, or canals. Bangkok alone has over 1600 miles of these canals. Weathered wooden houses built on stilts, line the waterways.  Their charm lost as the tides recede, unveiling the grime beneath. The klongs are everything.  They supply water to homes, allow for transportation, and even are a means to subsistence fishing. Similar to a king or queen’s hegemony, the River of Kings, is dynamic.

Since the mid-16th century, the Chao Phraya has borne its share of rerouting and diverting. If for no other reason than the fact that water is what allows life to prosper. Surprisingly, the Chao Phraya watershed covers more than one-third of the nation’s land. Crops, usually rice, depend on the inundating. Further, for generations the Chao Phraya has allowed for movement.  Of materials but also people. Barges pull materials up and downriver and for approximately .60 USD passengers climb aboard ferries, commuting into and out of the city. 

 

Khets and Khwaengs

Bangkok is so large that it is subdivided into 50 districts (khet).  These are then further subdivided into approximately 180 khwaeng. More complicated than New York’s five districts or boroughs. One glance at a map and the most intrepid cartographic adventurer’s head is left spinning.  A sprawling knotted maze, it does not remotely resemble a grid-design.  Having more than tripled the population in my lifetime alone, the rapid growth does not evidence strong urban planning nor regulation.  Unlike a city like Paris, designed for the pedestrian with its broad boulevards and green spaces,  Like many large cities in the developing world, growing so fast comes inevitably with challenges in avoiding chaos. Function winning out over form, leaves an unfortunate wake of severe pollution and congested roadways. 

Rising out of the tropical steam is a concrete jungle if sorts.  A city no foreigner, local, or even veteran taxi driver could fully “know.”  The rate of change simply does not will it. Rather, certain neighborhoods become more familiar than the next.  One such area is called Chao Phraya Riverside. For a visitor to Bangkok, it is virtually impossible to avoid this area.  Here is where the historic temples and palaces are, as well as many of the fanciest hotels.  Likely too, this is where a visitor will hop a ferry to cross the river or just enjoy a sunset cruise.  

 

The World’s First Public Spanning a River 

Out on the Chao Phraya, life appears to slow down.  I’m unsure if it is slow speed of the boat or substituting the water beneath your feet as opposed to the relentless concrete. Maybe it’s just the gentle wind in your face or an ability to see all around you.  With 14 million residents making up Bangkok’s metropolitan area, it makes sense that in Bangkok alone, more than a dozen bridges cross the Chao Phrya.  Automobiles, the metro, and boats all make the crossing, yet recently foot travel was an added means of transport.  In an attitude of “never too late,” June of 2020 commemorated the opening of the world’s first public park spanning a river, at  Chao Phraya Sky Park. In an effort to promote urban well-being, pedestrians are afforded the opportunity to walk or cycle across the river.  Remarkably, the project makes use of an abandoned Skytrain project and estimably is parallel to an existing bridge steeped in history. 

 

A Confluence of History

The bridge over River Kwai, just 80 miles northwest from Bangkok, tends to receive more press than any other bridge in Thailand, if not the world. Understandably, because how many bridges have Oscar-winning epic war films screenplayed after them? Yet, the Bridge over River Kwai is not the only bridge of significance in Thailand.  The Memorial Bridge, like many place names in Thailand, has several titles.  Phra Phuttayotfa Bridge in Thai, is named after the first monarch of the 18th century Chakri Dynasty, King Phutthayotfa Chulalok (Rama I).  However, sometimes the name is shortened to just Saphan Phut, Phut Bridge, or even Buddha Bridge. Regardless of moniker, the Memorial Bridge is a confluence of history and is right in the heart of Bangkok. It was the first bridge to cross the Chao Phraya (1932), eleven years before the harrowing construction of the Bridge over River Kwai. Though not built entirely out of steel and free of the barbaric construction by the hands of  slaves, the Memorial Bridge reflects the early ties between Thailand and Japan.  It would operate for approximately a decade, before the world was thrust into war.  As possibly can be predicted, with Japan as an ally to Thailand, the Memorial Bridge would become a target. Though initial bombing raids in 1944 by the United States were not successful, less than a year later, the bridge was hit and partially destroyed. 

 

Uncovering History Without Digging

Amidst Bangkok’s concrete is story.  Many stories do not even require any “digging.”  Rather, a bit of adventure in your step and an opening of eyes and ears, likely will reveal the unimaginable. Answers to questions begging to be asked.  Like, how exactly did the Ayutthaya Kingdom maintain more than four centuries of rule?  Or, where did the idea come from to adorn what’s considered the most beautiful temples in Thailand, Wat Arun, with Chinese porcelain the Chinese used as ballast in their boats? Personally, I want to uncover why so many Buddha statues given in veneration at shrines, end up being headless.

Headless Buddhas

 

An Authentic Response to Take Action

(this is draft 2 and to be published)

Photo by Joe Yates on Unsplash

An Authentic Response to Take Action

I was six years old when I first heard how when one points a finger in blame, three fingers inexorably point back. A sort of stepping one foot forward but three back. This is no way is to rebuff the urgency needed in addressing problems and positively effecting minds, hearts, and hands.  The birthing of more fair systems and societies.  But, in doing so, we cannot resort to being six years old.  Instead it behooves us to follow the wisdom of Cathering Pulsifer, “focus on fixing the problem, never focus on the blame. Problems are only resolved when solutions are sought.”

 

The month of June was a wellspring of anger.  In the first week alone, hundreds of thousands of protestors chanted, “No Justice, No Peace,” on three continents.  The boiling point surpassed, no more tolerance of or for “the system.”  Institutions steeped in societal problems and rooted in inequity. By the middle of the month, the protests only gained momentum, giving no sign of yielding. 

 

On a more molecular level and within the scope of international education, on June 8 an article titled,“Black Lives Should Have Always Mattered: An Open Letter to Search Associates,” caused reverberation.  The sort felt all along one’s spine when fingernails drag across slate.  Ironically, even the blackboard replaced by the white board!  The author, Safaa Abdelmagid, was compelled to respond after Search Associates published a letter saying, “we are passionate and determined to continue asking the right questions, joining in the conversations, and striving to be a part of the solution.”  Abdelmagid said she felt the words were neither genuine nor sincere.  Instead there appeared, “borrowed, designing and frankly, audacious…They seem to be an afterthought; the reactionary stance of a traditional, predominantly white male organization that is scrambling to jump on the bandwagon.”

Abdelmagid proceeded to portray Search Associates in the darkest of lights, punishing with blame,

“For thirty years you have helped white male administrators bounce around
the world exchanging headships, uninterrupted, some with heinous scandals
trailing behind. You stood by watching white privileged teachers getting hired
for being in the same fanbase of a football or hockey team as the head of the
school, or the familiarity of shared white cultures, hometowns and cities.
You have witnessed schools operate as mid-twentieth century colonial schools
in order to keep their local expatriate populations happy…”

Before closing Abdelmagid offers a ray of hope, though embittered by her experience.  She asks Search Associates to start being honest and to acknowledge their shortcomings.  In closing Abdelmagid implores, “Ask for feedback and answers from those who know, those who have been crippled by your lack of responsiveness towards them. Own your privilege and use it to serve those who truly deserve it.”

Serendipitously, or not, the international school where I am employed issued a similar statement. The motivation for the titled statement, “The Responsibility of an International School,” feels entirely authentic. In the first quarter of the 2019-20 academic year, I remember being a part of a professional development session where the head of school himself spoke from the heart about how we as an institution needed to better understand the experiences of others but also to ensure far greater diversity of our faculty.  With the feel of a manifesto, it reads, “We are committed to adding our voice and to confronting racism, wherever it exists, through education and advocacy.” A clear focus upon solutions.

 

However, within days if not hours, there was backlash.  This time by former students. 

 

Having taught social studies for over two decades, I am passionate about empowering students to be active and engaged participants and to commit to the ideals of democracy.  Their pointed response a beautiful outpouring of passion.  An honest plea to begin a conversation about how the school might “dismantle systems of oppression that feed into continued racial inequality.” A barrage of questions, 17 to be exact, were issued. For example, the second question challenged, “What steps can the school take to move beyond its Eurocentric social and curriculum focus in order to encourage a more diversified understanding of society that does not stem, explicitly or implicitly, from white superiority?”  White superiority?  Eurocentric social and curriculum focus?  If anything, the school is challenged by maintain balance in demographics as a result of privileged host nationals.  As for the curriculum, parents pay a high price for the International Baccalaureate so students, akin to the authors of the letter, are prepared for next steps in the U.K. or the U.S.  Furthermore, how does Chinua Achebe’s, “Things Fall Apart” Eurocentric?  If anything, it is diametrically opposite, as students examine the effects of European colonialism from an entirely different perspective. Or, how about “Beloved,” Toni Morrison’s masterpiece which earned a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988? I would genuinely be interested in how themes of pain and the psychological effects of slavery, might fall under the claim of such literature being Eurocentric. Nonetheless, student voices are rightly being listened to and we all, as individuals and as an institution, can and need to be better.

 

While much of the world appears to be unifying in the spirit of creating a more just world, I look on in wonder as countries begin to open their borders to certain nations but not others.  Where I live, the provincial borders slowly lifted but cautiously international borders remain closed.  Yet, there is talk about countries entering into bilateral “travel bubble” agreements on tourism. The local economy severely depressed as a result of lost tourism revenues.  Moreover, amidst the pandemic it is  paramount xenophobia is not allowed to sneak in.  Instead, a surplus of compassion is what the world needs now.  

 

COVID-19 forced us all to hit the pause button. As we begin to push “play,” might our humanity surface, as leaders are poised to make difficult decisions but based in virtue and solidarity. Seldom do the headlines portray China in such a positive light, however a colleague living and working in China shared how the government graciously continued to extend visas under what was called the Chinese Humanitarian Visa.  A 24-hour hotline, in English, also was available to answer any questions. This, but one example of solidarity.

 

Might 2020 be the nascence of more leadership from the heart.  Passion hangs heavy in the air, as people imagine a tomorrow they long to live in.  Changes bent on solutions, not blame, as  millions get down on bended knee in silent protest.  As if to say, “United we stand,” or unabashedly “kneel.”  Yet, beyond renunciation or humble reverence, a groundswell of people is rising up, set on creating a fairer world for all. 

Pandemic Confirms Consideration of Three Ps (people, possibilities, promise)

“The thing that lies at the foundation of positive change, the way I see it, is service to a fellow human being.” – Lee lacocca

 

Teaching is as much about being of service, as it is about making a positive change.  The pandemic of 2019 and hopefully not beyond 2020, as it will surely go down in history books, continues to generate opportunities to reflect and surely to wonder as information shifts and unanswerable questions multiple.  Some people early on were tired by cliched yammering of “silver lining this and silver lining that.” All of our lives were turned upside down, some more than others.  Undeniably, misanthrope or not, the corona virus did incubate possibility.  All systems are being reconsidered, from health care and justice to food supply chains and education.  Behind every system is people.  Which heralds a consideration of what I like to call The Three Ps~people, possibilities, and promise.

 

People

Even the hermit would be stretched to tell a story about the pandemic.  How Italians serenaded each other from their balconies.  Or, the applauding of health workers putting their lives on the line.  Regardless, the thread throughout would likely be the humans as protagonist and the virus?  Predictably, corona the antagonist.  That is, all but possibly the stories abounding of how the natural world was provided a sort of break, while humans were locked down.  The key word being “down,” and not “up.”  And because humans were not locked “up,” plastic consumption continually rose.  More shopping was done on-line and restaurants catered to home delivery.  But it goes beyond this.  Think about the countless millions of surgical masks and gloves.  Or grimly, the body bags.  In a rush, not entirely unlike the space race, governments competed for respirators.  Similarly, some of these same governments rushed to stockpile supplies before their citizens.  In early May, Amazon had to put the clamp on, removing hundreds of thousands of listings where sellers jacked up prices on health related items, all either containing or contained in plastic.  People. People. People!

Then, there are people like prime minister Ardern of New Zealand.  A leader who did exactly that, effectively led!  A poll by the market-research firm Colmar Brunton found that 84 percent of Kiwis approved of the government’s response to the pandemic.  Why?  Ardern led with compassion, clearly communicating throughout as she helped navigate the course of the country.  This example of a person, segues nicely into possibility.  I just finished listening to a book called, “The Art of Possibility” by a husband and wife duo, Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander.   Possibility?  What do you think of when you hear this word?

 

Possibilities

For me, I cannot help but think antagonistically. About what might some may deem impossible but a hero’s journey arises. Stories of men and women where odds were tremendously stacked against a person but how an individual overcomes, earning a sort of legendary status.  Chief amongst these is Ernest Shackleton and how his iconic leadership led all twenty-seven members of the Endurance to safety after being trapped on the icy south pole for nearly two years. At one point Shackleton was quoted, “…even the remotest possibility had to be considered and exploited to the fullest.” His leadership showcased how Shackleton lived and breathed, but also thought artfully.  Anything was possible.  The authors of, “The Art of Possibility” consider a latent potency of being present.  Shackleton undoubtably operated in the present, doing everything in his power to live in the moment so as to safeguard a tomorrow.  To maintain morale but also some semblance of normalcy, the crew was expected to continue daily tasks.  Routines included playing games after dinner and holidays were even celebrated!  It is difficult to imagine what it might mean to live in the present when your home, a boat, is crushed by ice and it appears you are forever trapped.  Yet, Shackleton and his men did. Their belief in the possible, kindred to the eternal flame of the forgotten soldier.  Being present with the way things are is incongruous with acceptance.  You may not accept the conditions, yet zero tolerance can be provided for resistance to take root. Battling only fills in the space necessary for discovering what is possible.  The non-battle a sort of meditation with transformative power. The wind in the sail merely a question, “What CAN I do?”

Did we not ask ourselves this very question during lockdown? People responded, sometimes surprising themselves even.  Seemingly millions of people found their feet during this time, walking turning into a favorite pastime.  Others turned to baking. Many found solace in binge watching YouTube videos and Netflix.  Time became a relative concept as suddenly there seemed more of it.  And we looked for what we could do when we what we considered “normal” was no longer.  A final assignment I invited 7th grade students to what was called, “Quaranthings, an idea I borrowed from a teacher named Heather Clark.  The challenge was to gather up all the things that acted as supports throughout quarantine.  Then, create an artistic display along with your portrait.  Again this was about what was possible.  For me, some of the experience was about reading, guitar playing, and just being with our cats.

 

During the height of the pandemic I thought back on an important lesson I remembered learning in my early 20s.  It was my second year of university and transferred to Oregon.  The autumn was delightful but by early November, winter set in.  “Wasn’t this the West coast?”  I remember wondering.  The cold and wet unanticipated.  Well, at least not to the degree that it rained every day. In Corvallis, Oregon it is not unheard of to receive upwards of 15 inches of rain in a single month. Moreover, the chill was enough to set into even my youthful bones.  What did I do?  Changed course, going from my fraternity to class and back.  The fraternity is another story, one where “What can I do” didn’t bode well with the “brotherhood.”  Shuttering myself in, and waxing friction of being an underclassman or “pledge” in an “animal” house with 75 other dudes, it’s easy to see where I may have been a wee bit unhappy, or even depressed.  However, that next winter life drastically shifted when I made the unconscious decision to not let the weather dictate what I would or would not do.  I cut up a plastic 2-liter bottle, fitted my bike with DIY fenders.  I also invested in a Gore-Tex jacket.  I’d bike in the rain, stand in the rushing rivers and fish in the rain, walk joyously to class in the rain.  Embracing all that was possible because I was willing to live life.  A valuable lesson for anyone at any age!

 

Promise

This takes us to the final “p,” promise.  No doubt the world needs a lot more of this.  As an educator it is the education field I feel most comfortable discussing, relative to it being replete awash with promise.  Like the acrid clouds suspended in an airport smoking room, promise hangs in balance.  Though so much is uncertain, one factor we do know, is that we will not return to how things were in November of 2019.  Nor would it be sensical to desire this, as education systems are rife with inequity, and ineffectiveness.  The pandemic thrust us into a chaos that allows for the surfacing of long overdue opportunities for change.  Commissioned to co-exist with COVID-19, 20 and possibly 21, educators can anticipate change.  Some shifts simple modifications, others more revolutionary.  With this likely will come a mélange of emotion.  Teachers, administrators, students, and parents alike may grapple with change as promise or punishment.  With exhilaration or trepidation.

In the international school where I teach two overarching principles guide any adjustments and are clear from the beginning:

  • The health and safety of students, staff and our community are paramount, and
  • The educational and social emotional needs of students are best provided in a face to face environment on campus.

Who could argue with either?  These two principles push beyond the base physiological needs, a term Abraham Maslow utilized in his infamous Hierarchy of Needs.  Yet, how we support students in fulfilling their unique potential, their self-actualization needs, must continually come into focus we navigate new and fecund frontiers of teaching and learning.

Of course, there will be changes some may be leery or even displeased about.  Teachers having to adhere to a 1-2 meter physical distance requirement when interacting with adults and students, sounds dystopian or in the least, not personal.  Or the expectation to wear a mask at all times. An added challenge to connect with students, possibly understand their words and even facial expressions. But be as it might, people will adapts to these changes.  Of weightier importance is how schools exactly plan to roll-out the scenario they select to open schools with in the Fall.

Blended learning models are really the only option.  Just what this means though needs to be made clear to all constituencies. An approach combining components of an online education with more traditional place-based classroom methods.  Yet, how exactly this looks depends upon the design.  The form following the function, results in smaller class sizes.  Something teachers are likely to celebrate.  Schedules change too.  A shortened school day?  Also, it is reasonable to consider teaching may become more thematic and possibly project based.  Conceivably, teacher and student autonomy might increase but also empower as paths intentionally are paved for personalized learning.  Further, as already witnessed, a departure from high stakes testing will only gain steam.  Paraphrasing Zander and Zander in the “Art of Possibility,” abundance rather than scarcity is to be the context.  It is about what we now CAN do that before maybe we could not.  Education is being infused by promise.  The hope that administrators and teachers motivate, rather than manage. That learning builds on curiosity and is infused with joy.  Undeniably, the days and months ahead are teeming with promise.

Empowering Students to Own Their Experience

Thankfully few questions strike with such indelibility but two recent ones by a seventh grader landed hard.  Foreign at first, I was patient and let the seeds germinate, even though possibly sown with jagged teenage hormonal dissent.

“What’s the minimum?’ she asked with disgust.

and…

“You haven’t answered my question in chat!” (during Zoom class meeting)

“Oh, sorry. I was busy explaining what we are doing.”

 

On more than one occasion a student (actually, probably 5 different students over the course of virtually learning), either asked aloud or put in the chat,  “Can I go to the bathroom?”  I’m unsure if ever a question could wreak more of compliance.  This certainly is something I endeavor to move away from.


Important to revisit purpose of learning (not to get a grade) and also timeliness in taking advantage of 2nd learning opportunities.  Not to be overly focused on grades but to pay close attention.  I received this e-mail two weeks into summer:

“Hello mr.piercy I got two beginning approaching and I want to improve my grade so can you explain to me what kind of things I need to improve on?”

 

 

COVID’s Theory…A squared + B squared equals?

Just for Now
Sleep less and commute more.  These are not exactly selling points.  However, lockdowns are being broken and the migration back to places of work is to commence; if it hasn’t already.  Anxiety pours thicker through people’s veins, the anticipation lackluster to say the least.  Lists of “What I’m Not Excited About” being scripted in invisible ink.  Less time with family and more  social pressure.  Yet, chief atop my list, is not an aversion to “rules” and regulations, rather a mental fatigue as a result of  attempting in good faith to keep everything straight.  To abide, surely even more difficult than to even understand what schools and governments want.  To return to some semblance of “normal,” but maintain distance, wear a mask, and don’t use athletic fields.  All that seemingly makes us human, stripped down.  The dependable formula seemingly changed.  A squared plus B squared, for some reason now equals I squared.  Might the “I” variable represent “illogical?”  Or does it stand for “irrational?”  Regardless, I find it helps to remind myself of three words, totalling but 10 letters.
“Just for now.”  A sort of mantra.
A preliminary list of dos and don’ts
I Want to Be a YouTuber
I’ve been thinking a lot about the way how things panned out with “emergency learning,” a term I recently heard to replace “virtual learning.”  We’ve done the best we can, yet even before it is over I reflect on how I might be more effective come the Fall and the start of another school year.  With near 100%  certainty elements of learning remotely will still be offered in addition to the traditional face-to-face.  For families not yet reassured that schools are safe and for others that may be in remote locations.  Chief amongst my endevourings is for compliance to be substituted for engagement.  This leaves me with several ideas of what next to pursue, relative to methodologies that might prove more appealing to today’s learners.  The intentional use of more video, including videos of me, as I emulate compelling strategies employed by YouTubers?  Not only might this be more alluring, but it also is aligned with the evolution of learning anytime, anywhere and from anyone.  Only in this case, from ME and asynchronously.
Michael Wesch, professor of cultural anthropology & world religions, is my inspiration in this.  Breaking down the 4-walls of classrooms and taking learning out into the world, Wesch offers university students something a “little” different.  His most recent video is titled, “Teaching Online by Going Offline: The Adventure Lecture.”  
I Just Need to Finally Do it (Students and Digitally Portfolios)
More than 20 years ago I made a professional portfolio as part of my Masters work.  It was in binder form, as this was before the widespread use of personal computers.  From time to time I’ve considered picking back up on this idea, knowing the great benefits of a digital portfolio.  I also knocked around the idea of students creating theirs too.  However, like that box of stale cereal in the cupboard that we reach past, always for something tastier or fresher, I continually looked past the portfolio idea.
But not anymore.
Already wading waist-deep into the water, I continue to explore how I professionally can utilize the portfolio process.  Further, finding it a definitive high-impact practice, it is something I want for students.  The role it might play in empowering students is clear.  Students  are decision makers, as they curate their learning.  It screams out, “Ownership!” as passivity morphs into action.  Digital portfolios allow for authenticity, reflection, and an opportunity to showcase learning over time.  My guru for all things digital portfolios is George Couros.  He can found here:  George
Maybe it makes sense for my first YouTube video to be on portfolios.  Let’s see, how to make that combination memorable?

Lessons Learned From Being in Quarantine

I feel it is vital that we each continue to discover the power behind flexibility and changing routines.  Simultaneously, that we strengthen healthy habits, adapt but also develop trust throughout periods of uncertainty, and also tap into our personal creativity as we learn new skills.  Quarantine forced its hand in this process and I am thankful.

The impetus for thinking more about this “transformation,” dare I use such a commanding word, was the result of an e-mail from a friend I hadn’t heard from since B.P.  (before pandemic).  His comments spurred some reflection, as I wondered what might have been some of the “good by-products” of confinement.   My friend shared the following:
“I was able to go paddleboarding for the first time this spring. I bought a new inflatable paddleboard and went out with a friend – it was a beautiful day and the new paddleboard works great. I’ve been outdoors a lot this spring – going for long runs, walks and bike rides, and now paddle boarding. I’ve lost about 20 pounds and have been really getting fit. It’s been a welcome change, and a good by-product of the confinement and working from home.”
I am breaking “good by-products” of quaran-time into four categories.


I. Habits I Developed or Strengthened 
  • Long daily walks
  • Personal workouts (One of My Favorites)
  • Yoga (Thanks Adriene)
  • More frequent bike rides out into the outskirts of Bangkok
  • Podcasts (One of my favorites)
  • Twitter more active (@mpiercy35)
  • Digital portfolio / Blogging~teaching reflections
  • Time just being with our cats!
  • Daily coffee and enjoying the morning birdsong
  • Making teacher YouTubes and screencast tutorials
  • Vegetarian lifestyle (going on completion of the 5th month!)


II. Books I’ve Read


III. Writing to Which I Dedicated Myself
*Concurrently crafting an article titled, “Climate at the Apex of Education Re-design”


IV. Movies/Series I Watched
  • The Last Dance
  • Got to Call Saul
  • Bodyguard
  • House of Flowers
  • Dead to Me
  • Sick Note
  • Tiger King
  • How to Get Away With Murder
  • Love Sick
  • Ozark

Is Lilliput the “New Normal”?

What might we expect for the 2020-21 school year?  With the endless possibilities, stringent measures, and unavoidable conservative changes being considered, one word encapsulates what I am feeling.  An omnipotent word that wakes me up at night and during the daylight hours, blinds my mind’s eye.  Lilluput. A fictional island of Gulliver’s Travels, Johnathan Swift’s timeless satirical classic. Lilliputians, symbolic of the excessive hubris we humans often exhibit.  A pride that in effect shrinks our very existence.  Where structure and bureaucracy become too thick to even wade through. Impossible 10-point plans schools hurriedly are designing, so learning can be brought from on-line to in-person once again.

Opening Back Up
The motivation to open schools back up is driven largely by a a desire to allow students human connection.  Some schools even consider an in-person finish to the 2019-20 school year, even if for one or two weeks.  A risk some declare is worth taking, if this means children (families and teachers too!) might feel good about the world again.  Safety of course driving any decisions being made.  There are considerations of student numbers on campus, possibly just 50%.  Question whether or not to utilize cafeterias.  Hands on learning, but only if items are manipulated by single individuals and also disinfected at night.  What type of masks are best?  On-site COVID-19 testing, data protection and self-declaration forms.   Of course, agreed upon social distancing requirements too.  The list goes on.
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Is this how classrooms are going to look?
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Confronting the Pervasive Uncertainty
One cannot help but wonder what this might not only look like, but what it will feel like? Though for many the motivation is to recover their pre-COVID life, a clear recognition of a changed world is imperative.  One that we MUST embrace.  No matter how strange it might feel for a teacher to keep her distance from a pupil, or try to read facial expressions covered a mask. So much is out of our control.  Yet, what is, is how we might respond.  Determinedly, as teachers we have a moral obligation to confront the pervasive uncertainty.  To run full speed ahead in vulnerability.  Trusting leadership.
Next Steps
Lemuel Gulliver, the “gullible” narrator, had several redeeming qualities.  I would argue that chief amongst these was that he expected others to be honest.  Amidst the current pandemic, we might benefit from a similar mindset.   Further, we might add fuel to the fire, by simply envisaging the irony all around us.  Gulliver was a prisoner to men no larger than six inches tall.  What imprisons us?  And, can we move beyond this and positively put our energy to use?  Possibly, even to pursue levity?  An upturned grin?  A chuckle?  No doubt, the world could certainly use a lot more laughter right now!