I didn’t think it could get any worse. In a world when everything is sucked into the vortex of technology, I am still amazed that anyone thinks that the Real World can somehow be replicated digitally. I know that I am a confirmed luddite and that I was dragged kicking and screaming into technology long before Covid forced my hand, but I also know that there are just some things that cannot be done through a screen, no matter how much we want to believe that it can.
Watching my students go on a virtual tour of the Negro League Baseball Museum, I am struck by how detrimental it is when we just… miss. This tour has all of the pieces in place: a docent to guide and orient, the ability for visitors to navigate the halls and exhibits, a workbook compendium to help students interact with the information, and even a fireside chat. The timing is purposeful, allowing visitors to browse and explore at their own pace, and the exhibits are fascinating, retelling the history of the Negro League through the voices of those who lived it. The museum is amazing. Except we’re not there.
We watch from my classroom, on my big screen with its scratchy volume. They watch from home, on their own individual chromebooks that lag and freeze without warning. We watch and try to imagine it, try to hear it, try to see it. But, like all things virtual, it is just slightly off. The voices are just slightly out of sync with the moving lips. The glitches are surprising and somewhat jarring. We are left wondering about what is just out of the screenshot. We have no idea how the halls echo or how the seats feel when you sit. We have no idea what it smells like or where the bathrooms are located. We’re not there.
The passion for this piece of our history is in every detail, carefully constructed to entice students as we continue to slowly move from honoring Black History Month to celebrating the incredible history of Black Americans. I am impressed with everything about this virtual field trip, from the museum itself to the minds at Microsoft who figured out how to transport it out to the world to my own administration that is not just talking the talk, but beginning to walk the walk. I want to hold on to all of the good and keep it front and center in my memory of today.
But I am sad. I am sad that this experience will be remembered as a waste of two hours, by students and teachers alike. I am sad that we missed an incredible journey into a unique part of our American history. I am sad that in a moment of hope I am, once again, forced to add one more thing to the list of what has been lost this year.