By Eda Erdogmus
What does distance learning (or, virtual learning–depends who you ask) and sharks have in common? Is it a one-way respiratory system, also known as gills? Is it the limited accessibility (i.e. sharks are limited to their respective layer of the marine ecosystem, and distance learning is limited to when in-person is too risky)?
The etymology for the word “shark” reveals that the word most likely means “predator, one who preys on others.” In Dutch, “schurk” means “villain, scoundrel.” Sound familiar? Perhaps these adjectives are reminiscent of the experience many of us have had through distance learning.
Distance learning comprises its own challenges which both students and teachers have had to deal with over this past semester. Internet connectivity problems, failure to understand and comply with Zoom etiquette, embarrassing instances where one’s camera or microphone were not turned off or muted, respectively, all make up only a fraction of negative experiences with distance learning. Combined with the tedious (seemingly busy-work) teachers have resorted to providing, it paints distance learning in an aggravating light; a sour taste left in the back of one’s mouth.
The transition to distance learning has left thousands of students in distress; I, myself, and many of my friends certainly suffered from having our strict schedules being ripped away so suddenly. In a matter of hours, we had lost our club events, parties, SAT testing slots, and the very structure which held up our lives: school.
How does this relate to the shark? A beast, which in reality, is a gentle occupant of the sea, a creature which evolution has deemed so pristine and perfect, there has not been major changes in the organism since the Permian–that is, millions, upon millions, of years. If we view the shark through a critical lens, then one will see that, in theory, it is a bulky and primitive design. A shark shall perish if it does not continuously move, for it has no way to pass water through their gills otherwise. A shark can not recognize the difference between a seal and a human on a surfboard. What benefits would come from a shark needing to go through some 30,000 teeth in their lifetime? Why do they not have teeth affixed to their jaws?
We see the shark as a dangerous predator, constantly out for blood–our blood. We make media portraying this, and have characterized the creature as some sort of monster. But a shark does not know any better than the prey it is hunting. Sharks should not be feared, they should be treated with respect.
Distance learning is similar to the shark. Something we have learned to be reviled, that is heinous, and detrimental to our wellbeing. With all honesty, it is true. Students without access to stable internet, a computer, or the time to attend their classes because they suddenly had new responsibilities thrust upon them, are suffering. Students who need the support of their teachers are suffering. Students who need the support of their friends are suffering. But like the shark, perhaps the issue is not the predator, but the emotions which are formed around it.
There are many schools who are online only, and students who attend get a proper education. Most of our experiences with distance learning coincided with the onset of major life stress. This is not all too different from how many of people’s encounters with sharks are through an attack, or witnessing one.
Perhaps we need to address that distance learning is not the issue. Our instructors tried their hardest to provide us with enrichment opportunities through less-than-ideal conditions. We were trying to beat odds that were stacked against us.
Our lives share more with the humble shark than we may think. Its structure is identical to the cartilaginous skeleton of the shark; while it is sturdy and flexible, serving our daily purposes, it is reduced to nothing with the flowing sand of time. Distance learning should not be denounced, for it is doing nothing wrong; just like the shark.