Tuesday, April 7: The Coronials

A million years ago, back in mid-March, when the coronavirus was still a bit of a joke in America, predictions were made.

Cute, but now the actual plague-borns are here:

A pregnant South Jersey mother took matters into her own hands Friday after her husband was turned away from a hospital due to new coronavirus rules. .. The couple returned home when the contractions returned. Her husband suggested calling 911, but there wasn’t time. So she gave birth in their tub.

All of us are, in our own way, newborns this spring. The process for the rest of us is just a lot harder, and may not fully succeed.

Right now, the disruption of the school year is on everyone’s minds. New York State just cancelled the Regents’ exams. School-from-home (as opposed to home schooling, a different animal) is already running into serious problems. And these are just really “problems” (tech problems) not the actual freaking problems of: kids not getting their school lunches. Kids in the way of abusive parents. Kids in the way of parents who weren’t ever abusive, but might become that way due to the stresses of unemployment. Kids who can’t even use Zoom anyway because they don’t have a computer. Kids who will not learn to read properly. Kids who will get hit by cars on their bikes or start taking drugs or never get mental or medical help that they need… well, I have to stop here. I don’t even have kids and my mind is racing.

For two decades or more, American children and teens have grown up in a culture where almost all of their experiences are mediated by adults. Except for the promise of new technologies, the parameters of the world they would enter were clearly known. If they were among the more privileged half of their society, they would play on expertly designed playgrounds under the eye of attentive parents or nannies; go with their families on vacations to Disney or Europe, where everyone else had already been before them, and already posted on Instagram; and prepare to be selected for college by compiling the recommended collection of extracurricular experiences. They only thing they needed to improvise was how to deal with whatever private inner despair they were feeling with the well-trodden paths they were required to navigate. This is the story of every generation more or less, but each generation has seemed to have less and less of a vital wiggle room that is hard to define.

Suddenly, everyone — the adults included — have been plunged into a completely unmediated experience. Right now, everyone is still in the “weird, but fun” bike-riding-in-the-street phase. Later, as the economic pain hits the adults in the pocketbook, the kids of the 21st century will be left alone, unmediated, to become whatever they have to become. They will be smart and they will be tough. And the “Old Future” will never be theirs. The goals that their parents might have been training them for will become as relevant as whale-powered ocean travel.

As forward-thinking as I like to be, I cannot go there with them. But it’s tough. We’re now all Coronials. I’m on Day 19 of “work-from-home” and every day I wonder how we are all ever supposed to go back. The “New Future” seems both horrible and appealing. The “Old Future” is receding more by the day. (How weak a claim it had on us?)

Meanwhile, a hot topic of discussion is how educational delivery systems will evolve to meet the needs of getting kids educated. While the adults discuss this among themselves…

As Pauline Kael said about this movie,

The war has its horrors, but it also destroys much of what the genteel poor have barely been able to acknowledge they wanted destroyed.