‘I’m nervous about school on Monday. I’m still going to wear my mask’
This week, I’m thinking of the word normal.
Does such a thing really exist? My normal will not be yours. When I was little, a friend’s mom kept her money in her clothes dryer. It seemed perfectly normal at the time. Now I wonder if she was scared; she was a single mother, perhaps in need of an easy getaway. There are a lot of things we can miss if we stick too much to accepting things as normal.
It is possible that the word, and even the idea, is nonsense. And yet, it’s incredibly powerful. It always has been. A few days ago I discovered a sex education pamphlet in my parents’ closet. It was dated 1986. I vaguely remember someone handing it to me years ago and running away. That was normal in the 80s and 90s, right? There was a fear then about any open conversation about our ever-changing bodies, leaking, growing, being born and dying.
1986 Normal looks terrifying through a modern lens. The pamphlet states that it is impossible for a homosexual to have a normal sexual relationship. He suggests that if a young person feels attracted to someone of the same sex, they should wait for their feelings to subside. He assures all young readers that their “emotions are resolving”.
Many are telling us, in a somewhat celebratory way, that schools are going back to normal next week, aren’t they? The children will return to a normal childhood. They will not have to wear a mask. They will be able to mix freely – bursting like overripe peas from their horrible pods. They will again be able to go on dates, hang out in monkey mazes and on street corners. Everything will be back to normal, normal, normal.
Getting back to normal sounds good, but there’s something troubling about the claim. This assumes that Covid and the way we experienced it will somehow go away. The thing is, I don’t want to. In some ways Covid has brought out the best in us, at least it has brought out the best in many of us.
The term “new normal” is irritating, but it is true that the world has changed because of Covid. I spoke with a group of students about not wearing masks last week and they said they would like to keep them on – not for themselves but for others. They like to know that they are protecting each other, that they could protect a teacher, a friend or an immunocompromised ANS. One student suggested that we could be more like some Asian countries, wearing masks whenever we feel a little unwell.
This focus on others is not so normal in our current high school system. I mean in the system itself: the structure of the exams, the race for points, the singular emphasis on the university.
No, in the current system, it is normal for students to see education as a competitive rather than a collaborative enterprise. The points system has distorted everything about teaching and learning, so it is normal to use subjects for points, to have neither the time nor the inclination to pay attention to individual preferences, abilities and appetites .
It is normal in our current system to tell a child with special educational needs that they can only have a “rest break” during their three-hour written exam in exceptional circumstances, no less than a medical emergency. . This is normal in our state exams. The system calls this “reasonable accommodation”.
This kind of normalcy I could do without; I think we all could. And the idea that we are now returning to the cozy, sepia-tinged normal that we lost during Covid, so overlooks.
Covid has brought out our community spirit. He emphasized the collaborative rather than the competitive. We grew in empathy and understanding, and we faced difficulties together, for each other. So while I don’t have a problem with masks no longer being mandatory, I hope many of us choose to keep them on. I will definitely be wearing mine next week and suspect many of my students will too. Cases are still high in school settings with an average of 75 children hospitalized each week since December.
I would like our consideration for each other to continue and I would also like our system to become less individualistic, competitive and rigid. I’m nervous about school on Monday. I hope a lot of people agree to keep a bit of a mask, to take our time with everything, to be a little slow and deliberate.
No one is going back to some kind of normality because the truth is that normality is entirely made up. It’s fiction. Normal is always up for grabs and we should want to grab the best version possible.