Hello from my kitchen,
We are back to school, so to speak, though most of my work will occur at my kitchen counter, in my study, or somewhere in my house. I did go to my office one last time today to set up a watering system for my plants (both the ones in my office as well as the 3rd floor foyer). I was sort of proud of myself for thinking about some way to offer them water without my being there. Amazing what I can do with 4 5 gallon Home Depot Buckets and some cotton rope. Each day seems to bring a new possibility, a new challenge, and another way to feel like we have taken one step forward and perhaps a step and a half back. As my colleague, Dr. Kahn, might note, that puts you on the left side of the number line from absolute zero. Not a good thing. As I listen to people I know from the various parts of our country, the breadth of opinion and the divergence of belief concerning our current national (global) circumstance does not come as a complete surprise, but the number of ways people end up in a position of stasis does cause me more than a simple pause. My research in the last 5 minutes revealed we have had approximately 12,500 new cases in the last 48 hours. While that statistic is extreme, what is more extreme (in a negative sense) is the level to which we can currently test (or more accurately, cannot). With testing kits at unbelievably low availability, the number of people who need to be tested and aren’t is probably a number we cannot readily fathom. The daily updates do not seem to be anything that does even an iota to assuage the fear among the public, and, unfortunately, rightly so. As a rhetorical scholar, I listen carefully to words and the argument being made. That is something I learned as a child, interestingly. I had no idea that one day it would be how I made my living. The rhetorical strategy of the administration is not just unapparent, it is non-existent. That is what worries me beyond measure.
I am reminded of a former student who argued she did not understand or want to understand the word exigence, but that word has never been more needed than in our present situation. Exigence refers to a critical need, to something essential. In the terms of rhetoric, it means to have command of the rhetorical situation – again to understand the need to urgency of what is happening. What worries me is the only exigence the administration seems to understand is from an economic view. Before you believe I have not appreciation for that issue, let me assure you I do. Over the weekend, I saw a person who works on campus and she was the employee of the month at the university. She works generally seven days a week at two jobs, is married and has a 13 year old daughter. She has lost both of her jobs. I do not know how they will make it. The diner in town is something a family has put their entire life into. This morning, I ordered takeout to try to help even a little. They have no idea if they will make it. This causes me more pain than you know. And yet as I have watched our Congressional leaders fight, the Democrats are arguing for things like supporting hospitals and the two examples of people I just noted. The Republicans are willing to pass a bill that offers almost a half a trillion (yes, with a T) dollars to be distributed at the decision of the Treasury Secretary and the President, so so it seems. What happened in both 2008 and with the tax cut recently passed is any indication of what we can expect (and why would we expect different?), I believe concern is warranted. I understand the tanking of the stock market and wanting to try to manage that. I am afraid to even look at my retirement things at the moment. At my age, there is little time to recover what I have lost in about a month. While the economy, both here and abroad are important, I have trouble being convinced that people being infected by the 1000s and the continued number of deaths is somehow not more significant.
As we have come back to school, albeit in a new form, I know that my students are worried and concerned about how it will all work. On the other hand, so are some of my colleagues and they have been thrown into uncharted territory for them too. However, our University President, Dr. Bashar Hanna, noted that the only way to do this effectively is to work together and support each other. He is correct. There will be some bumps, some hiccups, but if we listen to each other and work to support and care to our best ability, we will manage the basic reason we are doing what we do, which is to educate, to prepare them for the world they will soon enter. Over the last days I have received phone calls from current students and former students. I have received text messages and emails. I have spoken with colleagues and former colleagues about the best way to move forward, trying to manage two things. It is still important that students are able to receive the material this semester set out to provide. Those objectives are important because they provide a framework of what a person who has completed the class should know. On the other hand (and I am fortunate in this realm), teaching all things distance is a totally different process. More importantly, what makes a class a distance class is not simply throwing it into a course management system (CMS). In addition, the digital divide (those who have access to high speed internet and those who do not is now front and center. A number of my students do not) have the technology available they need to be as capable of managing the class in this format. This crisis will probably do more to reveal the discrepancies we have between urban and rural than many realize. It is not merely a fiscal issue, it is an actual access issue. The days and weeks ahead will determine a lot about the university, but as I told my colleague yesterday, “I am glad to be here in Pennsylvania.” The administration, the technical staff, and my colleagues have worked together cooperatively and intentionally to make all of this work. It has been a really positive experience thus far. . . .
A couple of days have passed and I have been focused in school work and trying to help students manage the issues at hand. While it has meant more time at the computer than expected (and it might be I have spent more hours this past week -12 or more a day – than when I am on campus), it has been enjoyable and productive. I have also helped some people out on BOLT issues and learning how to manage things. While I have not changed a lot in many of my classes (and that is because two sections were already distance), I have worked to change dates, eliminated an assignment that can be managed in other modes, or continued to alter some course content to manage the daily reality of our worlds. Meanwhile, the virus issue in the country continues to explode exponentially. The amount of time I have spend alone is significant, but I am realizing it works and I am fine.
Anton has some trepidation about flying home, and understandably so. He also knows he will be quarantined for at least two weeks, but he said, both thoughtfully and intuitively, I need to do this because I do not want to put my grandparents or anyone else at risk. It seems my 17 year old exchange student has a bit more intelligence and simple goodness in him that say the Lt. Governor of Texas, where I am embarrassed to say I was born (and saying someone from Texas is embarrassing can get you in big trouble. Ask the Dixie Chicks!). Anton is both capable and willing to see something bigger than himself, and to articulate the importance of human life. Certainly, these are his grandparents, but that is the point. For anyone to assert (particularly an elected person) that someone should desire to give up their lives for the good of our economy. If we consider this on its merit (or lack thereof) alone, one cannot help but question how Lt. Governor Patrick came to the calculated answer he did. Is each person in this country with so much (an actual amount) of our GDP? I guess individuals have calculated how much each individual is in debt because of the national debt we currently have. If he is correct, have we merely turned to another decision maker to create the United States into a real-live versus of Shirley Jackson’s haunting tale, “The Lottery?” I do believe our current health situation creates more of a survival-of-the-fittest than I might wish to admit (perhaps that is because I am an immunocompromised person). I do believe we set up a stockpiling and supply chain management process in this country that was not prepared for what we are facing. I understand that we have 340,000,000 people versus 5,000,000 in Denmark, but we are all humans. We are part of a family, both immediate, extended, nationally, and globally. If Dr. Fauci, who seems to be honest and thoughtful, continues to offer insight into the reality of this virus, and he continues to speak out urging caution, I find him both trustworthy and reasonable. His statement about the virus will control the situation and not vice versa seems not only probable, but an opinion based on his expertise and a sense of veracity he seems to have as a core principle.
It is a difficult day as it is the last day, at least it seems to be the case, Anton will be in Bloomsburg on his study abroad year. He has been a phenomenal person to host as an exchange son. He is intelligent, good natured, thoughtful, industrious, and astoundingly funny. I will miss his wit and his honest insight. I will miss his care and sensitivity. I will miss his accent and the way he loved aspects of American culture (Taco Bell, perhaps at the top of the list). He has impacted so much and so many in his 7 months here. He has given me a sense of hope, as have his friends, Ellena, Marcus, and Lennon. Those are the ones I know, but there are names like Sydney (sp.), Bianca, Marta, Grace, that I have heard from time to time and many who would stop to give him a ride. Hmmmm, just noticing again, they are all females. I rest my case that he is a charmer beyond charmers. It will be a bittersweet few days, but my desire is simple. I want to get Anton home to Humlebæk and to his family. I want for him to be healthy and safe. I know his parents will be happy to have him back. Even more so, they will be surprised at how much he as grown, both physically and in maturation. Well, off to get his breakfast (takeout from the diner one last time). Thinking of my best friend, who has been gone for almost 5 years, and still missing him.
Thanks for reading.
3 thoughts on “Learning from a 17 Year Old”
You are terrific with words, kind, thoughtful words of wisdom, Michael.
It is good to here from you. Keep smiling.
I was very interested to see what you would have to say this month. Your thoughts about the balance of COVID and the economy at the government level did not surprise me. This time period had many questions and I believe you correctly evaluated which issues should be handled first. As a student who had to learn during this time, I can say it was quite challenging and something I never would have expected when I first started.