This past week I spent time with a number of schools discussing the important topic of learning loss among students in our Catholic schools due to the Covid-19 pandemic. While these conversations were meant to gauge schools’ level of concern regarding learning loss and to share strategic efforts, a different thread emerged that appears to be of equal or greater concern - the socio-emotional toll of the pandemic on young people.
The teen years are important developmentally as the march toward adulthood begins in earnest. School counselors and leaders have seen worrying trends for a number of years, witnessing heightened levels of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. The isolation of the pandemic has added more complexity, and schools fear that normal socio-emotional growth is being stunted.
Many young people are in a fragile state. They are bruised reeds wanting to stand tall but struggling to do so under life’s torrent. Fortunately, this is where Catholic schools do their best work. While academics are the first order of business for any school, the central mission of Catholic high schools is to witness the call of Christ which manifests itself most directly in the personal love and care provided to students by teachers, counselors, coaches, and school administrators. It should not have surprised me then that conversations about learning loss evolved into discussions simply about loss - loss of capacity to connect, guide, and support in ways that nurture the goodness that exists in each of our students.
By their nature schools are busy places. Between classes, counseling, meals, clubs, and practices, I marvel at the amount of activity that gets packed into a single day. Within Catholic schools there exists a deeper sense of purpose behind the activity that animates with some urgency a shared call to build God’s kingdom. These activities provide a system through which a school’s teachers and staff demonstrate care, so when the system shuts down our capacity to care seems diminished as well.
If anything, what this pandemic has demonstrated is the fragility of the systems and structures in which we invest vast resources to provide forward movement to our days. Whether in our jobs, relationships, or simply in traffic, for many of us (myself included), there is nothing worse than feeling stuck. Modern day society values advancement though we rarely take the time to consider to what end. It’s progress over purpose.
For Catholic schools it’s progress toward purpose, so when our traditional systems fail us the solutions we seek seem imperative. Learning loss, yes, but more importantly how do we provide hope when surrounded by so much “stuck-ness” and isolation? Perhaps this is the time to consider Isaiah 43 more closely, “A bruised reed He will not break and a smoldering wick He will not extinguish.” Though we may want to charge forward in our efforts, gentleness may be required in whatever we choose to do.
Recently I was introduced to the Japanese practice of Kintsugi which translates to “golden joinery”. It is the ancient practice of repairing broken pottery by artistically mending the fractured pieces using a special lacquer mixed with gold, silver or platinum. Kintsugi doesn’t attempt to return the pottery to its original state. Instead it celebrates each artifact's unique history by emphasizing its fractures and imperfections. In doing so, new beauty is born from the brokenness.
Perhaps this should be our goal as we accompany young people through this fractured time. Maybe in our efforts to “make things better” we should focus less on returning to normal, and more on studying intently the broken pieces - recognizing the history and beauty that exists within and delicately setting out to restore and renew.
It is also worth noting that the treatment applied in traditional Kintsugi contains precious metals. Similarly, when grounded in our Catholic ethos and performed with intention, the treatments we apply are themselves valuable and distinctly beautiful. It is through our collective effort that our students and schools will be revitalized.
We are all looking for a reason to hope. In normal times, Catholic schools want to do big things with the aspirational goal being to set hearts on fire. Perhaps right now, a simpler goal might be to act small so as not to allow the smoldering wick to be extinguished.
CONTRIBUTOR: Jeff Hausman is the Founder & President of Arrupe Virtual
vol 3 issue 7