School resumes tomorrow after two months of “remote learning”, or two months of trying to teach lessons through Microsoft Teams, which is an altogether different thing from learning. Looking through exercise books at work done before Christmas is the only clue as to the point some of the students have reached, for some of them have done nothing since, at the instruction of the government, the school abruptly closed on 17th December.
Much of the work is indifferent, many of the students were already disengaged and listless. The prospects for Christmas had been diminished by the raft of restrictions and there was little enthusiasm for anything. Occasionally, though, there are real expressions of insights into issues, real understanding of the material with which they were working.
The theme for Year 10 work had been good and evil and one lesson had focused upon the causes of crime. Students were asked whether they had any sympathy with those who had committed crimes, were there any causes of crime which they felt were more understandable than others?
One student, who writes very slowly, and whose work is sometimes barely legible, expressed an opinion that had neither come from any of the content of the teaching nor from anything in the textbook:
“I feel sympathetic towards mental health issues as some people can’t control their mental health and things end up happening that they did not mean to happen.”
It is an articulation of health issues that might lead to crime, but more often will lead to bewilderment at what has happened, confusion as to how things reached the point that they reached. Perhaps the student’s answer was drawn from an empathy shaped by real life situations, perhaps he was gifted with a capacity to imagine the feelings of those whose circumstances have overtaken them.
The answer identifies those moments when there is a feeling of incomprehension, panic, overwhelming anxiety, at outcomes that were never intended. There is no vocabulary, no conceptual framework, to provide a rational explanation of what has happened because the behaviour was not rational in the first place.
The answer contrasts sharply with those from many of the students. Life and the world are much simpler when one is fifteen years old and questions such as the causes of crime are answered in black and white terms. The nuanced approach of the student who wrote of having sympathy for those with mental health issues is not one much found among many teenagers. The understanding is mature for the years.