Contextual research – Remote Learning comes to America

The top section of this entry is written on 21.02.2021 in response to the original CRJ entry I wrote my CRJ entry ‘Informing context Week 7 NYT remote learning comes to America’ 11.03.20

It is now nearly a year on from when I wrote the post below. A year of Coronavirus lockdowns and school closures. A year of a huge part of the world learning a ‘little’ of what educating a child at home is like. I must stress a very little. There is a huge difference between Elective Home-Education in the normal everyday world, and the (now called) pandemic-schooling, that a large part of country have been, I am not pushed to say , ‘enduring’, another big difference between EHE and pandemic schooling.

During this time it has become incumbent on the wider home-educating community to encourage the use of the correct terminology relating to alternative education. The reason being, that we are currently in the midst of a consultation into home-education in this country at the moment, where it seems the ‘powers-that-be’ are trying to erode a parents right to exercise their legal right to educate their children, as they wish. In the recent education select committee enquiry, the chair, Robert Halfon MP, suggested all home-educated children should be subjected to inspections in their homes, made to submit to assessments, follow curriculums and generally it seems ‘recreate school’ within the home.

The term home-schooling already has a legal definition in the U.K, and it is not how it is used within the media, or surprisingly, by a lot of government bodies. In the U.K, home-schooling legally refers to a child who is still on a school roll , their education is still the responsibility of the school and state, (as the parent signs over when they enrol a child at compulsory school age,) but whereby said child is unable to attend school due to, usually, medical reasons. When this is the case the school has the responsibility of supplying tutors for the child within their own home, this is the legal definition of a home-schooled child.

An electively-home-educated child, is instead a child for whom the parents have retained (or re-exercised) the right to educate said child themselves without the requirement of a school. Their child’s education remains the sole responsibility of their parents, with all financial costs and organisation falling to the parents.

Where a child is flexi-schooled this is where a child remains on a school roll, attending the school (who remain responsible for the child’s education) for part of the week, and then remaining at home, to be home-educated for the other part of the week. This is a private agreement between a school and the parents, and is at the full discretion of the school .

As you can see, for the sake of argument and the exercising of legal rights, it is absolutely essential that within projects like mine, research and the media we are using the correct terminology.

Looking back a these images now, a year, and an inquiry into home-education later, these images just anger me. The rights of parents to electively home educate their children, as set out by law is being threatened, and images and articles like this just add fuel to that fire. When I look over the images again I see nothing but a newspaper trying to fill parents with dread and fear. Showing them a dark and scary world, a world where they can’t cope, they aren’t enough, they should be terrified, no-one wants it like this, and it is infuriating and sickening. In the last week news channels on social media have been asking the public “would you switch to home-schooling when the pandemic is over” (Stoke-on-Trent live facebook / Gloucestershire live facebook) and the threads are full of people saying ‘NO” in huge letters, meme’s that show how crazy they are going with their kids in their own homes all week, and quite frankly some disgusting comments that I am shocked people would say about their own children in public, and you know what, I am fed up. Fed up that we, as parents that love our children, want the best for them, help (through time money and energy) find their groups, activities, friends, and opportunities are treated as if we must be up to no good, deranged abusers , who are obviously keeping our children locked up at home all the time.

I am done.

I love home education, our children love home education, we believe the life we have now is infinitely better than our lives were when the children were at school.

So, I make no apology for how beautiful my images are, how perfect or how ethereal they look.

The images in this article show everything I talked of below, but they show fear, control, sadness, dependency, and lack of faith in our own abilities as parents.

My images show pride, joy, strength, satisfaction, happiness, and belief , in both ourselves and our children.

That is why these images are dark, depressing and foreboding, the national media, the government and schools, want you to think that you cannot home educate your child , want you to think you need someone with teacher training, that you couldn’t possibly teach anything above where you achieved in your own education, and these images hold all that within them.

Mine, hold the very opposite, and always will, because I fundamentally believe the very opposite to my very core, and is that I am showing in my own art.

***

CRITICAL REVIEW OF THE ‘REMOTE LEARNING COMES TO AMERICA AS CORONAVIRUS SHUTS SCHOOLS’ ARTICLE IN NYT.

Yesterday , I was made aware of the above article that was published on the NYTIMES WEBSITE on Tuesday March 10th, in the wake of the spread of Coronavirus across America, and the world. I thought this would be an opportunity to try evaluating the images and the article based around the critical review thinking points we were pointed to by Steph. I wanted to attempt this with this article, as being newspaper based, and very current, not to mention the sensitivity of the article and the fact they are not images in a gallery or book, the images haven’t been reviewed as far as I am aware, so my points I will be raising will be entirely my own.

I know an extremely important part of this module is underpinning our own thoughts and ideas with those of industry critics, authors, and artists, however, I think it is also important to test the waters on your own as well, and to know the value of both.

This article was exceptionally well suited to my photographic theme, and being an ongoing news concern, it is in the forefront of our minds.

Interestingly, I have actually seen on some of the national home education groups lately, parents asking for help for friends whose children are off school with school closures, and how to keep them entertained during the day, and stop them from going mad. I find this quite an amusing concept, as it implies that anyone who home educates, must indeed be staying in the house all the time to the extent of what a quarantine is like , for some families this literally couldn’t be further from the truth, indeed, one could argue a child who is in a school building for seven hours a day, five days a week, thirty nine weeks a year, have a much better understanding of what a quarantine is like, than a family who can come and go as they choose, wake when they choose, sleep when they choose, study what and when they choose, and do as many ‘field trips’ a week as they wish. Indeed, I know some home educators who spend very little time at home at all, to the point of the phrase ‘home-educating’ being as foreign a concept to them, as institutionalised state education is to the community. 

The article opens with figure one below . The images shows very clearly what the topic is about with the image/text combination. However, there are undertones of humour in the image with the reference to ‘bingo night cancelled’ and how this is comparable to people loosing their lives, or indeed families having to rework commitments, and work, for children being at home. It shows both the seriousness of the issue, and the disconnect that a lot of people have been feeling across the world. The inclusion of the daffodils, is a tug at the heart strings, for all these children are giving up, one can assume by being ‘in the house’ , that it is the start of spring, and children should be in nature, enjoying the outside. The irony here is that many of these children would be spending only an hour of their school time outside in a day. The use of light and shadows in the background talks of impending doom, like a darkness descending on the light. Whilst the white railings makes us think of the quintessential white picket fence, and the American dream it represents, and how it (the state, THE America) is fighting at ‘keeping out’ this impending doom, or at least attempting too. The inclusion of the zebra crossing, also makes us think of it’s links to safety , and how our safety is currently threatened, or more specifically, how our families , our childrens safety is threatened, both by this virus, and in the larger context, by the economic and social fallout of it.  The text is somewhat of a mystery, the use of capital letters bothers me, but I am not an English student, it may well be correct in this instance , but it neither looks nor feels it. It serves as a disconnect for me , it looks like something isn’t right with the way it is placed, and lined up, and the seemingly random use of capital letters, also bringing a sense of ‘something isn’t right here’ . All in all , the image speaks of impending doom from every corner, and this may well be what the photographer/newspaper was trying to convey, as there’s no denying , impending doom drives up sales on newspapers, and clicks online. If this was the case, I believe the image was successful. However, conversely, it could of been trying to drive the narrative that it’s all a joke (the bingo night reference) , that the light in the background is pushing out the dark, and that the plants (that were planted by man) shows mans’ control over nature subconsciously implying we can indeed control this attack by nature), and that the ‘white picket fence’ or ‘American dream/way of life’ is indeed keeping that darkness out. Personally I feel this narrative is much less successful, but that may indeed be severely skewed by my own thoughts on coronavirus, and how threatened I feel by it personally.

The same could be said of the readers of the newspaper, in which case you could say this is an exceptional well executed and implemented photograph for a newspaper article as the people who are worried could take their meaning from it, whilst the people who aren’t could take their own meaning from it, each equally as valid, and each equally as strongly represented in the symbolic nature of the image as the other. Subsequently I am not entirely sure the newspaper even had a dominant reading they wished to express with this image, they instead, wanted to appeal to all and left it as open as possible. Whilst the text is purely factual and leaves no trace of the viewpoint of the paper or authors at all, aside from the capital letters making you think it is an important and pressing matter. 

Fig 1. Sorensen Hansen, Christian. 10.03.20. For the New York times
Fig 1. Sorensen Hansen, Christian. 10.03.20. For the New York times

The image very much reminds me of Ed Ruscha’s 26 gasoline stories , Ruscha said “All it is is a device to disarm somebody with my particular message.” (Tate) I certainly think this image certainly disarms with it’s message. 

gasoline_15
Fig 2. Ruscha, Ed. 1963. gasoline_15

The second image shown here below. Is discussing the fact that the students, and their families, started work at dawn. The blue hue of the image, is melancholy, the fog is menacing like a horror movie. 

Fig 2. Sorensen Hansen, Christian. 10.03.20. For the New York times
Fig 3. Sorensen Hansen, Christian. 10.03.20. For the New York times

The main oppositional reading I am taking from this, is that having children at home is like some kind of horror movie playing out, which is further emphasise by the phrase “a new educational reality” . This sounds like it has come from a sci-fi / thriller film about some zombie apocalypse . The houses with no lights at the windows, speak of a desolate world, not that far removed from what a zombie apocalypse would look like in a movie, and is remanicient of Stephen kings ‘the mist’ or Netflix’s stranger things below

fig3, stephen king's the mist.
fig3, stephen king’s the mist.
Fig 5, stranger-things-2
Fig 5, stranger-things-2

The third image in the set , I actually really like from a pedagogical point of view, the lighting and closeness of the family shows connection, and possibility. However, from an aesthetic point of view, I can’t think why the photographer would of chosen to not shoot either slightly further round the the left, to get the (phone?) in, or from the other side of the table. I can see that the they were trying to include the different spaces in the house, and utilise the available light, it’s just a shame that it didn’t include the families point of focus in it. I also like the way that the text includes Ander’s “And a half” , it’s a nice point to the inclusion of the children, and the fact that this is about them, and the acknowledgement that it is their story, and they have given their consent. 

Fig 6, Sorensen Hansen, Christian. 10.03.20. For the New York times
Fig 6, Sorensen Hansen, Christian. 10.03.20. For the New York times

The remaining images show a mixed set of the children, the teachers and environment. I actually really like the images, the intimate nature of them, the way the photographer seems to be both within, and without of the story draws you in, the framing in a lot of them is slightly on the voyeristic side, however, like my own project, we have to concede that there is indeed an element of voyerism here in that we are outsiders, looking inside a personal space, but it appears from the images at least to of been done in a sensitive and thoughtful manner, for a community that is already stressed and out of ‘sorts’ enough as it is. The use of text, is slim and factual, like much of the reports we are getting from the governments and scientists, keep it short, stick to the facts, don’t get drawn in to long lengthy, potentially scary discussions. Families will be able to view these images and relate to them, and what they are going through. Families not yet educating remotely, or working remotely, will be able to look at them and be less worried, and see how it is being done, and see it doesn’t look that scary, much as what I am anticipating with my own project. It is all about demystifying at the end of the day, people are apprehensive about what they don’t know, don’t understand. Many of these families are going into new territory here, and these images, I believe, on the whole, will help to make people feel less scared, and more prepared. 

REFERENCES

Weise, Karen. 10.03.20. Remote learning comes to America as Coronavirus shuts schools. New York times. Available at https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/03/10/us/covid-19-seattle-washington-home-schooling-remote.html (Accessed 12.03.20)

Tate. Edward Ruscha ‘Twentysix Gasoline Stations’ 1963. Available at https://www.tate.org.uk/about-us/projects/transforming-artist-books/summaries/edward-ruscha-twentysix-gasoline-stations-1963 (Accessed 12.03.20)

Pedersen, Erik & Andreeva,  Nellie. 27.09.2017.  ‘The mist cancelled after season one by spike. Available at https://deadline.com/2017/09/the-mist-canceled-spike-stephen-king-adaptation-one-season-1202178401/ (Accessed 12.03.20)

Fuller, Graham. 24.10.2017. Culture trip.  13 Films That Influenced ‘Stranger Things’ Available at https://theculturetrip.com/north-america/articles/13-films-that-influenced-stranger-things/ (Accessed 12.03.20)

FIGURES

Fig 1. Sorensen Hansen, Christian. 10.03.20. Remote learning comes to America as Coronavirus shuts schools. New York times. Available at https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/03/10/us/covid-19-seattle-washington-home-schooling-remote.html (Accessed 12.03.20)

Fig 2. Ruscha, Ed. 1963. gasoline_15. Tate. Available at https://www.tate.org.uk/about-us/projects/transforming-artist-books/summaries/edward-ruscha-twentysix-gasoline-stations-1963 (Accessed 12.03.20)

Fig 3. Sorensen Hansen, Christian. 10.03.20. For the New York times Remote learning comes to America as Coronavirus shuts schools. New York times. Available at https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/03/10/us/covid-19-seattle-washington-home-schooling-remote.html (Accessed 12.03.20)

fig4, stephen king’s the mist. ‘The mist cancelled after season one by spike. Available at https://deadline.com/2017/09/the-mist-canceled-spike-stephen-king-adaptation-one-season-1202178401/ (Accessed 12.03.20)

Fig 5, stranger-things-2. Fuller, Graham. 24.10.2017. Culture trip.  13 Films That Influenced ‘Stranger Things’ Available at https://theculturetrip.com/north-americ

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This blog is written as part of my studies on the Falmouth University photography ma, an accredited educational programme.