Forget the Full Moon & Time Change; Focus on Scientific Literacy, Media Literacy, and Empathy During the Coronovirus Outbreak
What a crazy week it has been? Normally a time switch to daylight savings time along with a full moon in the middle of March is enough to put many educators on edge. However, this week has proven to be unlike any other one.
In a period of a week, we have gone from some concern over the coronavirus to canceling large gatherings of groups, closing churches, and urging people to work from home. In addition, many states have closed public schools. As a science teacher and technology facilitator, I have gone through a range of emotions. I watched as my college students received notice yesterday that the rest of their sport season is cancelled and witness their disappointment. I saw our 7th grade students leave school on Tuesday with excitement of going to Charleston only to learn a few hours later that the trip was cancelled due to concerns about the outbreak.
It has been a week of challenge and reflection. As I sit at my desk this evening, my mind runs among three main areas: scientific literacy, media literacy, and empathy. It is quite the combination. But I believe that it is these three areas that will yield the most answers and direction as we move forward.
In my forty-four years, I never recall a situation such as this. As the parent of 7-year old son, I am sensitive to the emotions, feelings, and challenges that impact him. As a public school educator for over 20 years, I am very aware of what many of the middle schoolers that I work with are experiencing and wondering. As a classically trained chemist, I am amazed at how much more work is needed in improving scientific literacy. As a technology facilitator, I am confident in knowing that media literacy is needed more than ever. So how do all these things converge?
In many of my conversations with students, friends, colleagues, and others, I have come to realize the need to have a good understanding of viruses and how they spread. I think that a lot of individuals have major misunderstandings. While there is some widespread debate about viruses (and if they alive) in the scientific community, they are basically the equivalent of DNA hijackers. They invade a host cell, insert into the genome structure, and force the host cell to replicate the new structure. They live off the host cell eventually spreading to other cells both in the host organism and other organisms. Viruses are common and most often, we are only impacted by them for a short period. This often results in staying home sick and symptoms that are undesirables. Healthy individuals tend to recover in a short period of time. Individuals with compromised immune systems are considered more at risk. Recovery times are longer and the symptoms are more extreme. There is a higher rate of death in individuals with compromised immune systems who are infected with viruses. The current coronavirus is one member of a large family of coronoviruses. Coronoviruses often causes respiratory illnesses, fevers, and coughs.
It important that we understand that these viruses are spread through contact and the best way to limit the spread is through limited contact with others. I am not advocating for living in a protective bubble though. Instead, the utilization of good hygiene practices is most likely a better route. Routine washing of hands with soap and warm water is one of the most common recommended practices. Additionally, the regular cleaning of surfaces with proper solutions will reduce their spread. If a person is coughing or sneezing, it is important these individuals cover their mouths or noses so they do not spread the virus to others. Finally, if an individual is showing symptoms, they should limit their contact with others and focus on recovering though plenty of rest and proper nutrition. Even with these practices, viruses can still be contracted and we must realize that is part of living in our world.
The sociopolitical impact of this outbreak has been very interesting as well. I think that a lot of individuals initially associated the outbrak with a political issue and this may have created some challenges in ensuring that everyone had correct information. This is why media literacy is so important. In today’s polarized world, many individuals simply agree with what their preferred politician instead of analyzing what said politician may be saying. I have preferred politicians and I usually like what they say. But it does not always mean that they are correct. In many instances, they are incorrect. I don’t think that they purposefully choose to be incorrect but rather they want to appeal to their supporters. I get it but we, as citizens, must be vigilant in analyzing what others say in the media and social media. We must be willing to do fact checks and accept that our preferred politicians may be speaking in hopes of public approval instead of accuracy. We have to learn how to verify information from multiple courses, apply what we have learned, and be able to determine the accuracy and shades of accuracy in what others say. We must be willing to challenge others whose words are not accurate. We have to be aware of the dangers of inaccurate information and limit the circulation of this information.
Finally, we come to empathy. This is one of the more challenging areas. Our students are unsure about what to feel. They look to us adults to help them make sense of this new reality. But we, as the adults, are often not sure what to make of it ourselves. We need to make sure that we have accurate information that can be verified (hence, scientific and media literacy). But we have to also make sure that we are supporting each other. Each of us will process and react differently to this new reality. It is okay to let our children know that we are not certain about everything. I think that we need to have open conversations where we listen to our students and acknowledge their concerns and seek to answer their questions. Our students and children must feel safe and we must make sure that we do our best to make them feel and be safe. We have to also ensure that we validate their feelings and help them navigate their complex feelings and emotions. We have to ensure that we take the time to really understand them and what they are thinking. We call this empathy. We must also reassure our students that they are supported and loved. This new reality can be a great learning opportunity for us to connect in authentic ways with our children and students. We must acknowledge that it is okay to be concerned and even fearful. We must reassure them that they have our support and we will work through these events together.
As we move forward, we must show love and kindness to others. The safety net that many of us have enjoyed (often not realizing) has been removed. So as we adjust to a new normal, be sure to help and support each other. We can always show our true humanity by taking the time to listen to others, support them, and help them find correct answers to their questions.
The ideas shared here are my own and do not necessarily represent my employers, associations, or organizations. These thoughts are entirely my own.