The year I graduated from the sixth grade and went into junior high, the roof of the city’s brand new school collapsed under the weight of snow. 

I don’t recall fretting much about it, personally, but oh, how the town elders twisted themselves into sweaty-palmed tizzies over it. 

Where would the children go to school in the new year, they demanded to know? How will the poor dears cope with having to have classes in an old, rickety school instead of a sparkling new one?  Why, they might be scarred for life by the upheaval of it all! 

I wonder what those old hand-wringers and pearl-clutchers are thinking now, in this brave new world in which young people may have to go to school without ever leaving the house. 

I think it’s safe to say that nothing in the coming new year will feel familiar. 

“BACK TO SCHOOL!” the signs in all those store windows should read. “BUT REMOTELY, NOT IN PERSON. PROBABLY. MAYBE A MIX OF BOTH. WE’LL LET YOU KNOW WHEN YOUR LOCAL SCHOOL BOARD GETS IT FIGURED OUT. BUT START SHOPPING ANYWAY!” 

The only rules for the coming school year appears to be that there ain’t no rules. None yet, at any rate. 

I feel bad for the kids, because not only do they have all those tricky and disgusting hormones flying around, but now they have to plan their back-to-school tactics without knowing whether they’ll be sitting in a classroom surrounded by judgmental peers or doing all their work from home where nobody cares at all what they look like. 

Back to school in this age of COVID must feel like a giant question mark, one of those upside down ones you can never locate on your computer keyboard. Do they need to prepare themselves for the psychological experiment that is the school bus? Should they start doing chin-ups and wind sprints early so they don’t look a fool in gym class? Is gym class even a thing anymore? 

The uncertainty may also change the way a young person chooses his alliances in the hyper-political schoolhouse environment. In normal times, depending on what you hoped to achieve that year, you’d be inclined to befriend the jocks, the brains, the tough guys or that kid who is already rebuilding car engines from scratch in shop class. 

But maybe that’s all changing with COVID, too, and the whole classroom hierarchy will be altered forever. Maybe now kids will be deemed cool, not based on good looks and fast cars, but on the sleekness of their gadgets and the ability to thrive, with high resolution clarity and a healthy refresh rate, in the online community. 

Johnny may be able to bench press 250, but whoa! Get a load of Billy and all that bandwidth he’s got! 

That kid whose parents just bought him a new BMW for his birthday? Yesterday’s news, bro. He might have a sweet ride, but he’s never going to measure up to that stud with an eight core processor and top shelf video card. 

This new emphasis on remote learning and online everything could forever change the laws of the social jungle that is the schoolyard, and that includes romantic encounters. 

SUZIE SENIOR: ” Girl, I think you should go to the prom with Liam. They say he’s got an amazing datagram protocol and almost no network latency.” 

JULIE JUNIOR: “Super dreamy. But what about that Eldrod? He’s got multi-bitrate streaming software and his router is pushing 30 megabytes per second!” 

SUZIE SENIOR: “Golly, it’s a tough decision. Say, what is a ‘prom,’ anyway?” 

Whatever fond memories you have of your own scholastic experiences, you can toss those quaint recollections right out the window because your kid ain’t going to have anything similar. Not unless this COVID business mysteriously vanishes some blessed night, and when is the last time something awesome like THAT happened? 

Of course, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. Everyone with eyes and ears understands how much of a bummer this is. Everyone knows that young folk are getting cheated out of what should be the best years of their lives. You can see it in the tense, frightened eyes of the school committees as all those well-meaning parents, teachers and administrators flounder to do what’s right; to do what’s best for the kids; to not screw up so royally that hundreds of young lives are thrown in disarray because of it. 

You can hear it in the endless arguments among adults, each who believes that they know the best way forward — arguments that include words and phrases that would have sounded like sheer gibberish back in our day. Cohorts? Hybrid teaching? Socially distant learning? Are you all on dope? 

Every time a school committee member person mentions the delicate notion of “re-entry,” I feel like I’ve mistakenly stumbled into a room full of NASA engineers discussing the intricacies of the latest space mission 

It’s going to be a strange year and everyone seems to be in a full-time twist over it, yet I suspect the kids themselves will tolerate the chaos better than anyone. Kids are adaptable. They aren’t encumbered by nostalgia the way adults are. They don’t have years of experience giving them high falutin’ ideas about how things ought to be done. 

The kids will go back to school, wherever school happens to be, and who knows? Maybe they’ll be better for all the drama and complexity.  

Perhaps in 30 years or so, they’ll all be boring their grandchildren to tears with stories about what it was like to go to school in the age of COVID, when everybody had to manage his own network infrastructure and transfer protocols. Uphill in both directions. 

Maybe, is what I think I’m trying to say, the kids in the middle of all this lunacy will benefit in some way that we can’t see right now. Maybe, like the people who lived through the Great Depression, they’ll come out the other side stronger, wiser and even happier because of the strain and turmoil. 

That’s what I’m hoping, anyway. And if you’ll excuse me from class now, I’m off to look up “network latency,” because it definitely sounds like something I wish to avoid. 

When he’s not shooting down the rabbit hole of tech vocabulary, Mark LaFlamme is a crime reporter for the Sun Journal. He can be reached at [email protected]


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