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My daughter, Lauren, is in New York City in the middle of a pandemic.  I have been fairly quiet about it because frankly, I am a bundle of nerves. Every time I get a text, I fear she is sick or she has bad news about her job.  I also feel some judgement from friends and family.   I sense it in the messages and even in the silence from some of my friends. Why am I letting her stay there? Why haven’t I gone to retrieve her?  Am I not taking this seriously? Is she one of those typical Generation Z’s who don’t care about anyone but herself? 

For the most part, I have stood clear of sharing or posting anything of a political nature regarding this crisis. Lessons will hopefully be learned from policy decisions and will be righted.   But warning, this post is actually political and it deals with a segment of our population being demonized by both the left and right. 

It’s about Generation Z. If you are in Generation Z, you were born in the early to mid 90’s through the early 2010s.   I am a pround member of Generation X where the music was truly the best of all generations.  We gave you 70′s rock and grunge, yet also disco and hair metal, but I digress. 

If you were born in the earlier years of  Generation Z, you had several years of bliss before the proverbial crap hit the fan.  My kids were six and four on September 11, 2001.  They remember little but don’t know a world when the United States wasn’t involved in war or responding to terrorist attacks.  That changes your outlook on things.  

The message that I repeatedly see is that Generation Z doesn’t care about the sick and elderly.  I have seen loving people categorize them as selfish, entitled brats who are too self-absorbed through this crisis to care how it affects  their grandparents. We see them congregating on beaches and it’s easy to paint them with the broad stroke of selfishness. 

Let’s look at the message that we have sent this generation since 9-11. Our elected leaders can’t agree on anything. Apparently, compromise is an antiquated notion that only the framers of the Constitution could manage.   And if politicians do try to meet in the middle, they are jumping off a political cliff. Therefore, being reelected matters more since there are no term limits and you get a cushy retirement with guaranteed healthcare.  No one cares enough about this generation to compromise on affordable health care or to help them with burgeoning student debt.  No one cares enough to listen to them about common sense gun laws or acknowledge data on climate change.   They see organized religion as hypocritical and categorize themselves more than ever as spiritual, not religious.  They consistenly get the message that those in charge don’t care about the future of Generation Z. Why should they care?  

We need them to care. It’s ok to remind them to do their part in this social distancing. It’s critical to our healthcare system. My point is to handle them gently. They are the future of America and they deserve some empathy from those of us who haven’t managed this country very well for them. They don’t get prom, high school graduation, beach weeks, college graduation, trips, summer jobs and internships.  They don’t get to finish their sport seasons or possibly even start back up school in the fall.   There is going to come a time over the next few months when we need to make some decisions about not only their future but of other generations’ futures, but that is a  controversial opinion piece that I will reserve for now. 

Recently, a friend from Nashville shared her thoughts on home schooling her three daughters while trying to work.  She admits she’s not cut out for it but her teenage daughter, Clara, sent her a clear message about  Generation Z.   After arriving home from worshe asked them to present what they had learned in their independent study for the day. All three had written their notes on paper.  She asked why they hadn’t used index cards.  Clara explained, “Well, my school was destroyed by a tornado, and then 3 days later a global pandemic closed all the schools in the nation..and my index cards were in my locker. ”   As Brooke said, “While I’m worried about my kids losing a couple months of education, they’re learning a certain level of resilience that most us could never appreciate.”

This is Generation Z: resilient and fearless because they have learned it as a means of survival.  Imagine the possibilities of what they could do if they took an honest look at the failed policies of the older generation and made decisions that are for the common good and for future generations.  

I have an independent, resilient kid.  Currently, she is sheltered in her lower Manhattan apartment.   She ventures out for groceries every couple weeks; hopefully using the supplies we have sent and listening to the advice I have given her about the dangers of being in public for even a short time.   I won’t share why she is choosing to stay rather than come back to me in Virginia, but I will just say that I am proud of her reasons.

“Together, Apart” has been the rallying cry for this crisis.  Can we learn from this experience and after the dust settles change that mantra to “Together, Connected?” Can we be resilient and fearless and work together for the common good?  The future of this nation depends on it.

 

An Abrupt End

I was completely and utterly wrong. For weeks, I predicted that school closures in Virginia would extend through the middle of April.  We would be back to finish our year. I even looked forward to a spring of deep learning unencumbered with the pressures of state testing. Yesterday, the governor announced that our year was over. Poof. Over. It reminds me this passage from Ray Bradbury’s science fiction classic, All Summer in a Day (read it online. You have time).

“It was as if, in the midst of a film concerning an avalance, a tornado, a hurricane, a volcanic eruption, something had, first, gone wrong with the sound apparatus, thus muffling and finally cutting off all noise, all of the blasts and repercussions and thunders, and then, second ripped the fim from the projecor and inserted in its place a peaceful tropical slide which did not move or tremor. The world ground to a standstill. The silence was so immense and unbelievable that you felt your ears had been stuffed or you had lost your hearing altogether.”

From my writing chair, the world outside of my window looks the same as it does every spring. The same birds have returned and are buzzing around the house trying once again to get their nests up outside of the front door before we notice. The daffodils came up again just like they always do. The cardinal continues to throw his body into the window over and over and over again. All of the natural world is certain and predictable, but our world does not feel the same.

I see my social media friends setting up learning stations for their children: a daily schedule, plenty of books, online resources, a computer for each child, even decorations to mimic a classroom. Your kids aren’t the ones I am losing sleep over these days. They will be fine. In fact, they will be great and may even learn more in a quiet place without the constraints of the regular classroom. They won’t have that Kid in the room who comes to school angry. You know, the Kid they tell you about at dinner every night. “Guess what Kid did today? He threw something at the substitute and then said a bad word.”

What teachers worry most about is not your kid, but that Kid. Unfortunately, there isn’t just one in each classroom. Not all of the ones at risk are behavior problems. We worry about the quiet ones who ask if they can take home the extra fruit and milk from breakfast and snack. We worry about the ones who have told us about drugs, alcohol abuse, bad touches and physical and emotional abuse. We worry about the ones who don’t have a computer or internet. We worry about the ones whose parents are probably losing their already low paying jobs. We worry about no one being able to help them with their bag of work. We worry about no one at home valuing education enough to turn off the tv or video games and set aside time for learning.

If you are reading this blog today, you are fortunate, and I am by no means denouncing your homeschooling. I am truly grateful for your dedication and love for your children. You are a teacher’s dream. Thank you. But please take time if you are so inclined, to pray for those who depend on the structure, the stability and predictability of school. Thanks.