Written By: Bro. Sam Amos
May 23, 2020 – Saturday of the Sixth Week of Easter
On April 18, Bro. Brian posted to TGIS a reflection, translation, and commentary I had done on Chapter 1 of Matthew’s Gospel. Sometimes I bite off more than I can chew (if that wasn’t evident from the previous sentence), and the Covid-19 Social Distancing has given me the illusion that I have almost infinite time. So, long story short, I fell down an enormous, magi-shaped rabbit hole, and am now 400 pages deep in Raymond Brown’s magisterial slog, The Birth of the Messiah. All of which is to say, maybe don’t expect my reflection on Chapter 2 of Matthew any time soon
The Amazon order of someone who has not yet fully learned to love themselves.
So, instead of an essay on the theological import of myrrh, I’m going to have to write about something else. (Sorry everyone. I know that’s disappointing.) On March 18, Bro. Brian posted my essay on what life is like for a teaching brother, so for today’s post, I thought I’d share what life is like for a teaching brother doing e-learning during a pandemic.
I’m actually doing that right now, as I type this essay. Today my New Testament students are taking an open-book quiz. In another window I have a Zoom meeting open for “office hours.” The kids are free to hop onto the call if they have questions. I’m writing this in between talking to students.
We’ve been doing e-learning for about a month now, since March 22. I give the students work through our online learning platform. I deliver instruction through Zoom lectures or by posting appropriate YouTube videos. The students share their thoughts through discussion boards or Zoom breakout rooms. Talk to teachers about this, and you’ll hear a common theme: The Coronavirus is a disaster, but if it had to happen, thank goodness it’s happening now. If a pandemic like this had come even a few years ago, e-learning like this would have been impossible. The online infrastructure just wasn’t there. As it is now though, we are able to deliver pretty robust online instruction. This has made me reflect on what exactly a school is for, and what is gained and what is lost in a situation like this.
If the point of a school is simply to facilitate the students learning content, then actually this is working just fine. Many students are reporting that they feel like they’re learning more now than they ever have. Subjects like math and science lend themselves especially well to being worked out by students individually, at their own pace, in the comfort and quiet of their own home. And obviously it’s easier to easier to focus on your homework when trapped at home, rather than surrounded by your friends. For my part, I’ve been receiving some great work from my students. I recently had them write an essay on the parable of the Prodigal Son, and a lot of them did some really cool things with it. I suspect the overall quality of work was higher than it would have been had they done it under normal circumstances.
But of course, as essential as academic learning is, it’s not the only thing schools are meant to provide. Our Marist schools offer socialization, opportunities to play sports and participate in clubs, and formation in faith, spirituality, personal growth, and leadership. In our discussion, the students tell me that they miss their friends terribly, they miss their teachers, they miss sports and plays and school dances, they miss the classes that don’t translate well to e-learning, like band and art. They miss the community that is integral to any school, and especially to Marist schools.
All of this calls to mind what Marcellin said about our mission as educators: “If it were merely a matter of teaching children human wisdom, we would not need brothers, because lay teachers would be enough for that task. If we claimed to give only religious instruction, we could rest satisfied with being merely catechists and gathering the children an hour every day. But we want to do more; we want to bring up children, which means giving them a complete education. To do that, we must be among the children, and they must spend a great deal of time with us.”*
A Marist education is the academic, social, and spiritual formation young people receive from time spent in person with dedicated Marist Brothers and Lay Marist teachers, and with each other. The current social distancing is necessary during this pandemic, but a lot is lost when we can’t be physically present to each other. We pray that the Covid-19 crisis might end soon, and that we can gather together again.
*Avis, Leçons, Sentences, ch. 35
This week’s ‘ear candy’ is Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer. I used to play this song for my students when I taught them about prayer. I would tell them that the English word precarious actually comes from a Latin word meaning living on a prayer. I thought that was so cool, but it turned out my students didn’t know the word precarious, the phrase living on a prayer, or who Bon Jovi was, so it kind of fell flat. The ‘brain food’ may seem ambitious, but I mean, we’ve got the time.
Ear Candy: “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi
Brain Food: "The Birth of the Messiah" by Raymond E. Brown
Come back next Saturday for a new post!