Of Schools and Screens and Lockdown, and Socialising Scenes

There was a young man walking past outside my window as I was dressing this morning, and I had already opened my curtains. If he had looked up he would have had quite an eyeful (and needed some years of therapy too, I imagine), but fortunately for my modesty and his medical aid savings account, he was so engrossed in his cellphone  (never mind that since it was during the exercise hours of lockdown, and he should have been jogging) that he did not notice the matron in her knickers in the house across the road from his morning constitutional.

But as I streaked (literally) into the bathroom, I contemplated what I had seen: a pedestrian on this glorious morning, face in his phone, not noticing the colourful dawn (or even where he was going). Much has been said about the zombie apocalypse of technology at our fingertips and I don’t want to comment on that, but I worry about our children in these times when all they are doing is on their devices – even school now.

The socialization of young people is being significantly affected the longer we stay in lockdown, in that they are not spending time in the same spaces as one another, because physical presence is so important for appreciating the nuance of meaning via body language, tone and pitch, as well as social development within groups. This is something that homeschoolers recognise and ensure that they take their children out of the home to places and activities where their children can mix and mingle.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating for social development above health and safety from the virus, but I am saying that this is an area to consider when it is time to return to school. Pre-school age children are particularly likely to show social lags if they do not return to school with their mates after lockdown. Of course, some children are physically vulnerable, because of pre-existing conditions, and one can appreciate the need to protect their health above all else, but none is immune to poor socialization following long periods of isolation, so parents who choose to wait some months before ‘re-introducing their young into the wild’ should consider finding ways to do ‘virtual play dates’ or ensuring they spend time in unstructured play in the same space (with their siblings at least).

Children in lockdown are missing out on collaboration that is a very real part of the creative process and of 21st century education. Peer learning is vital for childhood development. Studies show that children with better social skills in pre-school, perform better academically in Grade R (Kindergarten) and are better adjusted to Foundation Phase, are better able to regulate their emotions and maintain more positive friendships in later years.

Long term social isolation leads to loneliness and can affect brain development, and mental and physical health. I am sure that parents are tired of their youngsters underfoot already, but more and more I am reading about children really missing their friends and weeping from the sheer stress of being stuck indoors with the same people, no matter how loving we may be. We are starting to see really increased stress levels in children and must beware of depressions, especially in teens.

I have a son in matric this year. This was supposed to be the year he played his last season of hockey for the school; he was cast as the Mad Hatter (why am I not surprised?!) in Alice in Wonderland and was looking forward to his matric dance. Now most if not all of the magic of matric has been stripped away from the Class of 2020 and they have been left in a ‘winter of discontent,’ a barren year of stress and study.

That is really hard for them emotionally but there is a vicious cycle happening here as well: their social isolation at a time when they most need to have some belly laughs, a quick game of football at break, or a round table on the latest gossip, has been taken away. And I am not sure that a nightly game of whatever murdering adventure is popular in the gaming microcosm of their network counts as true socializing, with its attendant eyeballing of mates and endorphin release. You definitely cannot be socializing properly over the ‘gram or WhatsApp because we all know what happens to tone and context in those virtual worlds. Misunderstandings and misrepresentations abound.

Without the release found in the fun part of matric, students’ stress levels are likely to rise considerably and they now have only the parentals at home who are putting additional stress on them because we are stressed for them and the looming examinations sans class time.. 

This will inevitably lead to inability to concentrate and process information. My high school has added a free social session on Microsoft Teams for a kind of virtual break, so that the teens can interact, but of course some are still keeping their videos off (because – ‘pyjamas and bed-hair- duh!’) so they are still not receiving important social cues such as body language and tone, nuances that are so important for maturing social intercourse.

As much as educators allow for some fun and chatting in online classes, you either have lethargy and apathy from your audience or giddiness with junior school learners which is draining for an educator to control and far more difficult than when they are all in the same room:

With prep school children who are having great fun waving their virtual hands and commenting online, to the chagrin of the odd parent who happens to peer over a shoulder, it’s tricky to ensure they are focusing on the content delivery.  But that’s also an elementary school child mindset. We need to let them have fun. We all learn when we are having fun. But it’s also why too much live online work can impede learning. Having said that, online etiquette has certainly improved as the weeks have passed, as we’ve navigated the remote learning space and children are co-operating with correct online decorum.

With high school learners’ videos and mics off (to save data) who knows whether the blighters have gone back to bed even?! It’s tough enough getting signs of life out of teenagers on a Monday morning at the best of times, but now a question such as ‘’You all with me?’ which in class is easy to observe, even if all the responses you get are adolescent grunts, is really hard for a teacher to measure when faced with a blank video wall of cute profile pics.

The moment when a teacher does this sort of informal class benchmarking, is when some of the best learning happens – when an individual ‘fesses up to not having a clue; there is some laughter and everyone refocuses and learns after additional assistance. There is a clinical nature to online ‘live’ teaching that cannot replace the human relationship element so vital for teaching. After all, we teach children, not subjects.  School teaching is not lecturing. We need group work and personal interactions to bring lessons to life. So, it’s not just the peer relationships that are being missed out on, it’s the mentor-learner ones too. I salute teachers who have abandoned their human form and overnight out-transformed Optimus Prime, and who are still ensuring that they nurture their relationships with their charges despite the challenges they face. (Can we clap at about 23:00 for them, when they finish their workday?)

Even the second-year university student in my house, who is a true introvert, is missing the subtle social interactions that happen mid-lecture, which aid learning and build the kind of connectivity that can never come from MTN or Vodacom.

So, as much as I know that we can continue with remote learning for as long as it takes (well at least at my privileged school we can) I look forward to the day we can teach flesh and blood human children, not their screen avatars.

In the meantime, parents, I beg you: send them outside to play and exercise, but if they cannot see other youngsters in the flesh, be a little more lenient with screen time. Facetime and Zoom calls are better than nothing. It may be the only social interaction they are getting.

And tell them we miss them.

Or just show them this:

Or this:


Perhaps we should give in. Who needs great rhetoric or literature. Move over Cicero and Demosthenes. Sit down Marlowe and Plath. We’ve gone back to hieroglyphics:

I just hope we don’t go back to this:

At least there’s one for me (the specs are Versace):

Dear Fitting Room Designers:


Image result for fitting rooms in stores cartoon

I made the mistake of trying on a pair of pants for size in Woolworths, yesterday in their brand new shiny change rooms. Too shiny. I didn’t buy the trousers. And it was the place’s fault.

If I were asked to survey fitting rooms in clothing stores, I could really give them some pointers.

Firstly: subdued lighting is a must. Harsh neon lighting just doesn’t do it for my skin. The last thing you want if you’re trying to flog clothes is for me to be so grossed out by my own face that I cannot look in the mirror. I do not know anyone who looks good under fluorescent lights. For me it is certainly not my best look – the freckles stand out, surrounded by pasty, creamish blahness, no matter how many layers of face paint and contouring have been applied. I have dark rings under my eyes too which make me resemble a nagapie at the best of times. I do not need stage lighting to assist. Also if I am tired, the little critters are Gucci-carry-on-luggage- sized bags, so they definitely detract from the garments I am fitting on.

And it’s not just our faces that we have to see in this light: it is our derrieres, which are normally…well…behind us, where we can pretend they are smooth discs of even, beach-ready roundness. Instead we are confronted by massively cratered moons which are nothing like Queen imagined in ‘Fat-bottomed Girls’ – multiplied by three – going all the way to infinity if the looking glasses are angled into Alice’s bizarre world. Personally I believe the dark-side of the moon is a better look.

Mirrors should also be artfully angled so as to make one be longer and slimmer. Even if we know this is a clever illusion, we still want to imagine ourselves looking a bit like the impossibly slim wax mannequin, adorned outside on the shop floor in the garment in question. (Have you noticed that they are always on tippy toe – probably so they can show off outrageously uncomfortable high-heeled shoes too – but that makes them seem even taller.) Every film study student will tell you that a low angle shot makes one look taller and more powerful. I’m happy to go with both those delusions.

Curtains versus doors? Definitely doors (which lock, please). So often, one ends up with a faulty door latch. One that bolts is preferable. While sumptuous curtains look good, draped dramatically across the opening in oh-so-elegant boutiques, I am always terrified that some over-eager stick insect assistant will just pop her head in and reveal me in my big panties so that the creepy chap lounging outside will have an eyeful of the rear end of the Bentley.

The door should fit all the way to the floor, I beg you.

Image result for fitting room mirrors multiple images

For those of us who have had divide clothes into ‘Not-in-this-lifetime,’ Maybe-if-I-lose-10kg’ or ‘Oh-Baby-You’re-So-Hot! hooks (there must be at least three hooks) while dodging a pair of boys playing with a car, and hopping on one foot as you attempt to free the inside-out trouser leg from the shoe you should have removed first, it is no fun then to have said vehicle be sent down the back strait and under the door, out of reach of the soon-to-be screeching boys (even men-children hate shopping).  Then you have to twist around quickly, with your boot still caught in the once neatly ironed pants, to prevent over-helpful big sister from lurching out to fetch it for them, at which point, once again the dodgy oom outside is treated to a gander of your moon broekies.  If it’s not your own children who reach under those awful saloon-style doors, it’s other matrons’ sticky fingered brats whose fingers appear like tentacles of slimy, Nik Naks goo tempting you to injure said digits with a healthy tap dance. So, dear retail outlets, given us full-figured doors I beg you.

While pondering whether objects in the rear view mirror are closer or really just as large as they appear, you realise it is the fault of those disturbingly deceptively sized numbers that are the right size, but too small:  You could swear they will fit you and then you get the bodice on and your arms half in and ‘gasp’, you can’t breathe, and – worse – it’s not on properly and no matter how much you attempt to make like Connie the Contortionist, you can’t get it off. Inevitably it is at that moment that Shannon will have put a Jelly Tot (the bribe to ‘behave’) in Liam’s ear or Caitlin will have swallowed yet another R2 coin. And you are, like ‘Chad’ in Charlie’s Angels – well and truly STUCK. ‘Ripping your clothes off’ takes on a whole new meaning, but the temptation is real.

And you can’t really leave the cubs outside the cubicle because then just as you are realising that  what appeared to be stylishly loose fitting on the rack merely hugs all the unmelted baby fat, you hear Michael’s infectious giggle becoming louder. And you just know something is up out there. Dreading that it is your children’s paws which have invaded another patron’s shopping nightmare and which are about to be pierced by a suburban stiletto heel, you burst out to check/glare/chide so you at least appear to be in control of the five worms lined up against the wall, catching the eye of the petite assistant who frowns at the sight of you balancing a dress on your hips and once again there are those knickers for the old man who is seeing more of your skin than a Russian dancer at Mavericks.

Image result for cartoons of fitting rooms

She shakes her head knowingly as you hand her the unpurchased hangers of clothes as you leave shamefacedly, wondering why you can never find anything to buy. Or else you avoid the body-shaming experience entirely and just buy whatever looks attractive on the hanger, only to end up with a cupboard full of ill-fitting clothes.

Well that’s my excuse anyway.