Op-ed Showcase

How am I supposed to learn when the world is on fire?

Photo by Selena N. B. H. via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

As students at West Chester University are certainly familiar with, online classes began at the start of this week. Some of us have classes on Zoom, others have regular D2L assignments and others have a mix of both among other things.

Learning and working is something that feels normal to me. I love to immerse myself in new knowledge and I want to push myself to expand my mind and take in new information. While I am desperately trying to cling to anything that feels normal right now, something about having to focus on learning at this time feels a bit off.

I get it —we can’t just cancel half of a semester and end with the grades we left for spring break with (trust me, I would not want that at all). When everything seems mixed up and the world feels like it is crumbling around you, focusing on which literary devices were used in a text from the 1800s or teaching yourself how to conjugate words from another language just to pass a test feels so trivial.

I know that in op-eds we are supposed to have a super strong and crystal clear opinion, but I am afraid that with this one, I just don’t. I want to learn and I want to feel normal, but learning like this is hard and, if anything, it might only make my life feel more topsy-turvy. 

We are used to working in an environment of our choosing that is conducive to us. For me, that usually looks like packing up my things and leaving my on-campus room to go to Sykes or the Starbucks in the library to spread out and get my things done. It does not look like locking myself in my childhood bedroom for several hours a day to try to get some space while my family stomps around below me and I cram my earbuds in my ears to focus on a Zoom lecture. 

Things aren’t bad, per se, but this is not the way I am used to consuming information and doing the work that comes along with it. As a whole, this is not the way anyone is used to living, so trying to keep one area of our lives — in this case, our education — business-as-usual feels really hard. 

Thankfully, the university has switched to a sort of pass-fail system which means that we have a little more wiggle room to adjust and the ability to stress less about the way this crazy semester will affect us overall. I want to do well and I want to get all of the information out of it that I would have if I was sitting in a real classroom every day.

As a result, I feel a little bit cheated. I signed up for these courses not knowing that my life was going to fall apart halfway through the semester. I didn’t sign up to sit in my bedroom and work with the hopes of just scraping by. 

The truth is that I really don’t know how to learn and do well like this. I have simply never had to. That is no one’s fault, but it is the reality of the situation that we are in. I don’t know what I am doing and I feel certain that many other students don’t either. 

Things are insane and they are scary and they are unprecedented. So no, I don’t think that schools are necessarily wrong for trying to keep us working and learning during this weird, uncertain time. I just don’t know how to learn when the world is on fire. 


Ali Kochik is an English writings major, minoring in journalism and women’s and gender studies at West Chester University. AK908461@wcupa.edu

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