Remote Learning Humanism
But humanism is exactly why, in my view, a classroom with human bodies in it, struggling over the meaning of a short story, works. Because the literary arts are not the same as the study of economics or astrophysics. The literary arts are about emotions and human consciousness, and so the instruction can’t be converted into data points. The literary arts are more about a human in the room feeling something, expressing it, and the other humans listening, and, ideally, feeling similarly. Such is the invention of compassion. Our instruction is not only about dispensing information; it is also about bearing witness, grappling with the complexities of another.
Remote learning may be the only feasible way to instruct in this lethal time, but that doesn’t mean remote learning represents the best idea in humanist education, or that it is anything like the long-standing model of the liberal arts, a two-thousand-year-old idea of teaching that may be the basis for the university itself. What we are selling now is a hastily arranged experiment. And it’s easy to grieve over that. But what we cannot give up on, in our grief, is the students themselves, at home, panicking, and soon to be found in the video postage stamp on Zoom or Slack or Canvas or Hangouts.