Last year’s, and the year before that, and the year before that, the unit's opening pantomime games, their first chance at acting, were met with minimal participation. Students were sheepish, reluctant to stand or form a circle on the stage. Students felt unsure, put on the spot with strangers in a bold way. They listened, but with a wary eye around them at all times. Behavior disruptions, students who didn’t get along in middle school, broke up over the summer, didn’t make the team again this year… it’s all relevant at school. The school climate is intoxicating. They’re stifled by these extraneous factors. They’re crippled by that environment.
At home, the differences are magnified. These children are confident. They feel like themselves. They’re comfortable in an incomparable way.
I spend weeks, sometimes months, with each new group of Theater students each year building connections and making them feel comfortable. This year, they’re already in a group chat outside of class, and following each other on Instagram. They’re learning in their language, in the environment they’re comfortable in: not just their own homes, but the internet itself.
“But they should be prepared for an environment outside of their home. We can’t all live on the internet. They can’t always live at home, they’ll likely work or go to college, they’ll need to socialize properly.” This is what is said in response. Very valid points, and the fears of all educators entering this challenging school year.
“Properly” is an interesting word choice. It’s changing its definition, to say the internet isn’t proper socialization; it is socialization, and it has its own etiquette. These kids thrive in that environment, they were raised by it and continue to feel more at ease in it. It’s their territory. They recognize the code switch of a class Google Meet and a friendly FaceTime with their squad, don’t they? Because they know how to socialize properly.
“They’ll work or go to college”… likely online. Online college is more affordable, and in an environment they already feel comfortable, their home. They’ll have online classes at in-person universities, most likely. I did and I graduated in 2013, it’s certainly grown since then. Many work environments are moving to online, from banks to customer service to doctor’s offices. Even an in-person office is never so crowded as a public school. The factory setting the public school was modeled after is hardly appropriate; even in comparing modern day factory jobs. The sheer mass of people in one building, in one classroom, is an unreasonable way to learn. My average class size over my career has been 32 students, that’s more than an average office space.
“An environment outside their home” is the mall, their favorite restaurants, concerts, sleepovers, sports, clubs, and organizations, and many, many job opportunities in customer service, from mechanic to sales associate. These are experience-driven choices that a person will make. These things will continue to be a part of human life, moreso in the aftermath of the pandemic, I’m sure. It won’t go away, it will only be enriched by the addition of virtual alternatives. Much can be done online - my friend coaches field hockey online twice a week. My book club meets virtually now. Birthday parties are celebrated across social apps. Netflix hosts watch parties. Restaurants and bars deliver, and still host trivia and karaoke online.
“We can’t all live on the internet” but increasingly it is the safest, most reliable, and more effective means of working and socializing. During a pandemic and otherwise. Eliminating job commutes lowers car accidents immensely and saves all parties money, on gas, repairs/vehicle aging, and insurance. Dating online eliminates sexual assault possibilities, and gives people a chance to get to know their prospective partner in a safer environment. It also eliminates the need for uncomfortable social situations, and to make a first impression as yourself for what you say, not how you look. Job interviews can be conducted more easily before transfer, and online companies can expand their horizons with employees from around the world.
All of the above can be done to make the internet a more suitable place to socialize and exist. It is the answer to a pandemic, our saving grace for months. It is the solace of our free time, where we meet life long partners and make new friends we’d never meet in the real world. We can indulge our passions, our niche hobbies with ease and connect with others. The internet may be the most social, exciting world we have built on this planet, if we’re willing to accept and adapt with it. The outdoor festivals and walks in the park won’t change; the connections might just be deeper and further, enriching our lives with a new world.