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EDUCATION BEAT: The value of human touch

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Talley, Ben  Education Beat (mug)

Ben Talley | Education Beat

This virus has been devastating to humanity in countless ways. Yet perhaps its most diabolical delivery has been to attack one of our most basic and endearing human desires; our need for physical touch.

I visited my old school, Van Pelt Elementary, a few weeks back. I stuck my head inside the gym to say “Hi” to a group of children. (I dearly miss being around children and I wanted to view a group from a distance, at least.) But lo and behold, it just so happened to be the same classroom of children that I last laid eyes on the day school let out for the remainder of the year last March.

They all had on their little masks, of course. And they were all spread at least six feet apart exercising, of course. But the very instant they saw me, they apparently forgot all that and came running toward me for a huge group hug. No, I didn’t initiate it. But I didn’t stop it, either. Something deep inside me, something primal, something very powerful (stronger even than this virus), told me it was OK, at least in this instance, and at that special moment. And for a moment, if only for a moment, our shared instinctive love of human touch was enhanced for us all again.

The New Testament records that Jesus healed people many times simply by the power of touch.

But what if the power of physical touch is taken from us? What happens to us then? Do we become less human?

Each new dawn we find that tens of thousands of school-aged children across our nation are developing newfound symptoms of depression and anxiety. Yes, part of those numbers may very well be attributed to the fact that most students are now learning largely by electronic means only, rather than by more hands-on/natural methods (a topic of which I’ve preached tirelessly about in this column).

But surely much of those alarming new numbers are due to the fact that our children are no longer free to touch each other, or anyone — even those who love them dearly — as often, or in quite the same way, as they once did.

I used to get “written up” for doing so many hands-on, small-group, highly interactive outside learning activities, eschewing the computer as I did for more natural methods. I’m willing to bet those same administrators, wherever they may now be, might take a somewhat more appreciable view of my teaching style, could they wind back the clock.

But time will not rewind for us. What we have instead in our current time and place is a virus that is entirely reshaping the way we learn. Reshaping the human mind, even.

Along our way, I so very much hope we don’t lose our deeply engrained need and desire for simple human touch.

In years past, while on my nightly sojourns to help the hidden homeless in our midst, I would sometimes stumble upon a prostitute or two walking the streets (particularly in some other nearby towns). I would offer to help them, too, of course, a prospect at which I sometimes succeeded. One of the more remarkable lessons these dear souls proceeded to teach me was about how remarkable is the human touch. No, not “that” kind of touch, my friends. Which is precisely my point. These good ladies of the night were the all-time masters at discerning human touch. In about as quickly as you and I can blink an eye, they could tell whether my touch (yes, I’m a hugger, and always have been) was genuinely kind and sincere, or “up to something else.” Yes, by my touch, they could fully discern my real inner intentions. Not by my voice. Not by my words. But by simple human touch.

With highly touted vaccines now peeping over the near horizon, I am hopeful that we can ultimately regain and enjoy the immense value of simple human touch again. Yet deep down I know that things will never be quite the same. I can only hope that the dominate way in which future elementary-aged children learn does not take place so remotely, but much more face-to-face and hands-on.

This virus may prove to be among the greatest of our teachers; if we learn from it how to more deeply cherish and revere the value of simple human touch.

his virus has been devastating to humanity in countless ways. Yet perhaps its most diabolical delivery has been to attack one of our most basic and endearing human desires; our need for physical touch.

I visited my old school, Van Pelt Elementary, a few weeks back. I stuck my head inside the gym to say "Hi" to a group of children. (I dearly miss being around children and I wanted to view a group from a distance, at least.) But lo and behold, it just so happened to be the same classroom of children that I last laid eyes on the day school let out for the remainder of the year last March.

They all had on their little masks, of course. And they were all spread at least six feet apart exercising, of course. But the very instant they saw me, they apparently forgot all that and came running toward me for a huge group hug. No, I didn’t initiate it. But I didn’t stop it, either. Something deep inside me, something primal, something very powerful (stronger even than this virus), told me it was OK, at least in this instance, and at that special moment. And for a moment, if only for a moment, our shared instinctive love of human touch was enhanced for us all again.

The New Testament records that Jesus healed people many times simply by the power of touch.

But what if the power of physical touch is taken from us? What happens to us then? Do we become less human?

Each new dawn we find that tens of thousands of school-aged children across our nation are developing newfound symptoms of depression and anxiety. Yes, part of those numbers may very well be attributed to the fact that most students are now learning largely by electronic means only, rather than by more hands-on/natural methods (a topic of which I’ve preached tirelessly about in this column).

But surely much of those alarming new numbers are due to the fact that our children are no longer free to touch each other, or anyone — even those who love them dearly — as often, or in quite the same way, as they once did.

I used to get "written up" for doing so many hands-on, small-group, highly interactive outside learning activities, eschewing the computer as I did for more natural methods. I’m willing to bet those same administrators, wherever they may now be, might take a somewhat more appreciable view of my teaching style, could they wind back the clock.

But time will not rewind for us. What we have instead in our current time and place is a virus that is entirely reshaping the way we learn. Reshaping the human mind, even.

Along our way, I so very much hope we don’t lose our deeply engrained need and desire for simple human touch.

In years past, while on my nightly sojourns to help the hidden homeless in our midst, I would sometimes stumble upon a prostitute or two walking the streets (particularly in some other nearby towns). I would offer to help them, too, of course, a prospect at which I sometimes succeeded. One of the more remarkable lessons these dear souls proceeded to teach me was about how remarkable is the human touch. No, not "that" kind of touch, my friends. Which is precisely my point. These good ladies of the night were the all-time masters at discerning human touch. In about as quickly as you and I can blink an eye, they could tell whether my touch (yes, I’m a hugger, and always have been) was genuinely kind and sincere, or "up to something else." Yes, by my touch, they could fully discern my real inner intentions. Not by my voice. Not by my words. But by simple human touch.

With highly touted vaccines now peeping over the near horizon, I am hopeful that we can ultimately regain and enjoy the immense value of simple human touch again. Yet deep down I know that things will never be quite the same. I can only hope that the dominate way in which future elementary-aged children learn does not take place so remotely, but much more face-to-face and hands-on.

This virus may prove to be among the greatest of our teachers; if we learn from it how to more deeply cherish and revere the value of simple human touch.

 

Ben Talley is an inductee into the National Teachers Hall of Fame, a former Virginia Teacher of the Year, and a McGlothlin Award Winner for Teaching Excellence.

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There is no better Bible verse that would govern our life in 2022 than the text, “We will walk in the name of the Lord our God, this year, as long as life shall last, and forever and forever.” (Micah 4:5)

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