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As we move into spring with warm weather and the end of the academic year, people are increasingly restless from the past few months of stay-at-home orders and social distancing.
News reports show individuals and groups becoming increasingly frustrated and confrontational with various government officials. All of this is understandable, because we as humans are social, by nature, and we are also often iconoclastic and resistant to authority.
No one likes being told what to do.
As an educator, this spring semester has been challenging for numerous reasons. Though the majority of the classes I teach were fully online to begin with, like many educators I too had to move some of my classes online. And yet, despite these unforeseen circumstances, I found the pandemic to be a subject too important and impactful to not attempt to address in my courses.
In one of my composition courses, I had students read and discuss essays by Susan Sontag, such as “Illness as Metaphor” and “Disease as Political Metaphor” to explore the power of language and its power to help us understand our world.
For example, how the word “viral” gained the meaning it had prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. I, for one, cannot think of this term in the same way now nor will I likely ever think of it in the same way.
I teach Advanced Placement classes in Comparative and U.S. government courses. One of the central features of the Comparative class is to look at the various ways in which the countries studied govern their people. Among the six countries that serve as the focus of the course, China, Iran and the United Kingdom have all been substantially affected by the pandemic. Each of these countries have different forms of government running the spectrum from authoritarian to democratic governments.
As we attempt to navigate the avalanche of information regarding the pandemic, how countries across the world have handled the situation has been central to the world’s response to this crisis.
Among the most trenchant responses to the various local, state and federal regulations regarding the pandemic has been how these public health measures have impacted the fundamental civil and constitutional rights Americans possess and cherish.
I have spent more than a few class sessions considering how to balance these often-competing claims. While freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, there is not a similar Constitutional mandate for public health crises.
Nevertheless, one of the most famous phrases associated with United States history is “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” While liberty and the pursuit of happiness are cherished freedoms, class discussions noted that neither of these liberties are possible without the first — life.
Finally, I have repeatedly told my AP Psychology students how for the past few months we have been living in the world’s largest psychology experiment. I gave my students assignments allowing them to explore how each of us as individuals and we are a society are processing the various changes to our world.
In every class, my goal has been to help my students to learn the course material, but also to be able to apply this material to our daily lives. More now than ever, education remains central to our lives as we as a society gradually reopen in our tenuous efforts to move forward.
Nicolas Shump is a longtime educator and writer in northeast Kansas. He can be reached at email@example.com.