October 2020


By Lisa Catterall

Every particle in the universe was once contained in an infinitesimal speck…a theoretical point in the void with no measurement. It must have been very heavy. After an explosion, the particles of the current universe moved rapidly outwards, gathering into tiny molecules then forming and reforming into more organized forms. In the smallest split second, the tiniest moment of this timeline, life on Earth existed and evolved and became the now, 2020.

Some say it is the worst number yet. A complete disaster. A slowly filling “bingo card” of horrific and chaotic events.

Yes, and…

If you are a human being, like me, for whom the reality and horror of systemic racism roils your belly and fills you with anger, fear, sadness, or perhaps depression, this year has become a relief. Finally you see your feelings expressed by the people in your town and all around you, and you know you are not alone, that you can speak up and that the world will change. It may be reborn.

If you are a teacher, and you’ve wept as you give everything you have to your students and some still tell you you’re not good enough, this year made you laugh inside, just a little bit. Finally you know you might just be appreciated, and the world will perhaps change for the better.

If you are a climate scientist who has known the defeat and depression of understanding what was becoming inevitable before your eyes, and felt that you were shouting into the void, the void answered. The apocalyptic orange skies of the West Coast said to you, “nature will now insist on change. You are not crazy.”
If you were struggling to manage very young children, while keeping your job and paying your mortgage, and no one believed you could do both and work from home, you finally got to prove them wrong. And you spent your lunch breaks with your babies in your arms. By now, those babies have grown up with their parents more present than ever.

If you were a healthcare worker and felt invisible because you are not a doctor, this year, you became visible. In the eyes of the world, you were finally seen as the hero you have always been.

Perhaps, rather than trudging through the dark tunnel of 2020, we can see that we have, in fact, been trudging through a much longer, darker tunnel. We’ve been walking on and on, for many years, trying to believe the story that says over and over, “everything is fine.” This may be the year we finally emerge into the light. This may be the year we come out wiping away the tears, cleaning up the mud, holding our neighbors’ hands, stronger, kinder and more resilient, removing barriers for everyone in our world, caring deeply for the planet we live on, and quieting fear. This is a year to be reborn.

This is a column about teaching that went far astray. But all of it is part of returning to school. Teachers have new resolve to celebrate diversity and difference and to teach children how to care for the Earth. Teachers and students have new technology tools that will crack open much of what has been hidden. This year, the silo of a classroom or a single subject can reach across the entire World Wide Web, and it can do that for more people than ever before. Parents and communities have a new appreciation of the highly evolved operation that is a school, from how a playground works to how much education it takes to teach a room full of children to read.

Nothing stays the same. Every school year is an experiment. This is a historic one. If we hold change in our hearts with humor and companionship, we will walk out into the light this year, and find joy in our uprooting. Dreams that have died at the hands of misunderstanding and hate will be resurrected in hearts built from undying hope. Consciousness will evolve. Collectively, teachers are reborn every September; this year we emerge with a Chromebook in one hand containing hopeful faces in tiny lighted squares, and a phoenix rising from ashes in the other hand. Welcome back to school.

Lisa Catterall teaches STEAM, math, science, and art at Mount Madonna School and is a senior associate of the Centers for Research on Creativity. She lectures and trains teachers and administrators on innovation in education in Beijing, China. Lisa has five children and lives in Santa Cruz County.

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