The pandemic has been very weird. On the one hand, you have a pandemic — something that, by definition is worldwide and happening concurrently — but then we’re seeing its effects in spots around the country instead of all over simultaneously. This is not a bad thing, per se. I’d rather we buy some time here and there to counter the effects of the pandemic than to have it strike all at once and take out a sizeable proportion of the population.
While all of that madness has been happening, we have struggled to keep the Toddler Ren learning. Like the toddler that she is, she has many questions. The whole world is brand new to her, so she wants to understand it as good as she can from the limited point of view she has as a toddler and as someone whose brain is still under construction.
For this, we were lucky enough to be able to afford a babysitter while the daycare was closed. There was always someone with her at home, and the babysitter did a great job looking after her. But I always wondered if Toddler Ren was missing out on something by not being in daycare. As it turns out, she wasn’t. A month after the daycare opened again, we took her back, and it was as if she never left.
This all got me thinking of how we pass down knowledge from one generation to the next. Of course, there is formal education, and we expect schools to teach our children a certain set of skills. But what about all that other stuff we learn from our parents? How does that get passed on effectively?
Yes, there is the whole “monkey see, monkey do” stuff. She certainly tries to imitate everything that we do around her. She wants to be like a grown-up, but doesn’t quite achieve what we can achieve because she’s tiny and inexperienced. In due time, and with plenty of practice, she’ll probably be able to do everything we do — and do it better. But what about all the other stuff we learn?
I was telling my wife the other day about how I was basically raised by television. When mom worked and there was no one to watch me after school, I’d go home and watch television while working on my homework. I knew that I would get to play outside with my friends if I got my homework done by the time mom got home. All that television-watching taught me a lot of lessons in morality.
I got to see how one small little lie snowballed into bigger lies and then into trouble for the protagonists. There were all those stories of crime not paying, or where the bad guy got their comeuppance. All of those stories were repeated over and over in almost all episodes of cartoons and television shows. Even shows like Bugs Bunny or Tom & Jerry had some morality tale woven into them.
Old stories I learned about in my Spanish and English literature classes were the same, for the most part. They taught the reader something about being honest, loyal and true to oneself. The bad guys never won. Love overcame everything. Those were simpler times.
Certainly, mom and dad — having been divorced a few years into their marriage — didn’t personally teach me about marriage and devotion to my wife. Oh, but they did teach me about the perils of getting married too soon and for the wrong reasons… And what happens when you don’t have respect for the other person involved in the equation that gives rise to your child.
So, yeah, I guess I learned some stuff.
As we continue to have this debate on what to do about schools reopening, we need to recognize that schools also play a big role in what our kids learn. Many of the life lessons I carry with me today are because of the people who dedicated their lives to teaching. I hope that whatever plan we come up with, it doesn’t end up hurting teachers. Similarly, I hope students don’t end up losing too many lessons.
For the time being, I’ve taken to writing Toddler Ren a series of essays on life and living. It will be awhile before she reads them, of course. Meanwhile, she’s going to be mirroring a lot of what we do, so we need to be good role models. And, by golly, I better make sure to live up to all that I’ve written…
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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