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Sick of doomscrolling? Me too. I’ve placed myself on something of a news blackout to protect my mental health. There’s only so much emotional pugilism I will deliberately subject myself to.

Occasionally I do check in. Partly because I feel it’s my duty to know what’s going on, and I can’t do my part to make this planet a better place if I’m uninformed. But checking in always has its costs, as I always wind up feeling drained and sluggish afterwards.

Recently I decided to type “Good News 2020” into my search engine.

And I hate to say it: not much came up.

Which made me wonder why. Thinking about all the crazy shit this year has dished up, but being a naturally optimistic person, I honestly feel that not everything can be 100 percent awful, 100 percent of the time. That even when we suffer through an intensely difficult period as we are now, good things must always naturally grow from it. What goes up, must come back down, etc.

So I made a list of things I think might surprise us in a positive way.

Areas where things are likely to turn around. Places where things somehow, in some way, might wind up being better than they were before.

Education.

Education, both public and higher, has been broken for years. We’ve spent decades putting Band-Aids on a public education system that long ago stopped working for most Americans. Over and over again we’ve changed the way we teach and learn to fit the latest trends or research, without finding any real success or breakthroughs. Instead we have muddied the educational waters, forcing students to repeatedly adapt to hastily-made changes that don’t serve them.

The bottom line is, there is no way to deliver one-size-fits-all learning to a population that is not homogeneous. Since everyone is different, everyone learns and accesses information differently. So the default concept of kids sitting quietly at desks in classrooms listening to a teacher is really an outdated and ineffective way to educate, and only works well for a small segment of the population.

What excites me about education these days is the potential unraveling of high-stakes testing.

After the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, all states were forced to implement standardized testing as a way to measure how well states were teaching their children. This turned out to be a massive failure in that it created a culture of “teaching to the test,” which destroyed most of the autonomy teachers had in their classrooms, making learning rote and just plain boring. The inability to motivate students with this kind of teaching and learning became obvious as states failed to see the test results they were hoping for. NCLB was panned, and replaced with the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, but its after-effects have rippled through the system ever since. Teachers and students are burned out. School violence has been epidemic. And no one has been brave enough to eliminate high stakes testing.

Until, perhaps, now. In the age of COVID, it is impossible to sit children down safely in large rooms for such testing, while ensuring the testing is implemented fairly and correctly. In my own state (Massachusetts), there is a movement to suspend this high stakes testing for a minimum of 4 years.

Just think: 4 years! This would be a huge breath or relief for our students and teachers. And who knows what could happen at the end of 4 years; by the end of 4 test-free years, everyone could finally understand just how useless, ineffective, and destructive such testing is, and maybe we would be inspired to do away with it altogether.

I am excited about changes in higher learning, too.

Colleges, those expensive bastions of exclusivity, are being forced to alter their models to deliver virtual education. And a lot of students aren’t buying it: Many are refusing to accept a “virtual college experience,” electing instead to wait out the crisis by staying home and working until it is safe enough to resume on-campus learning. Many students opting for the virtual experience aren’t happy to pay the same price they did for an on-campus experience.

The longer this pandemic drags on, the more likely it is that the higher ed marketplace will be forced to rebalance itself. Some colleges will fail, and some students will realize that they don’t want or need to go to college; they can survive effectively in the real world without a college education. The end result of this would likely be that higher education prices will come back down from the stratosphere. Things were unrealistic, unequal, and unsustainable the way they were.

Just 6 months into the pandemic, it seems the SAT may also become a thing of the past.

The most notorious example of high-stakes testing, almost every college required it for admission. The intense competition to stand out with this test created an uber-competitive, overperforming, stressed-out norm for students, with the wealthier ones at an advantage by being able to afford expensive test preparation services.

Without the SAT, what will be the new criteria for college admission? The essay. And life experience. Think about this. We will now be placing value on what kind of people we are, rather than how well we perform on a test. This could be revolutionary for human growth, for rebalancing the overachieving world, crashing us back down to Earth and reminding us of our most important asset: our humanity.

Health and healthcare.

The obvious consideration in the health sector is access to, and affordability of, good quality healthcare. If more people sicken and can’t afford treatment, it will finally become impossible not to act; our existing healthcare model needs to be replaced, and fast. How this will play out is difficult to say, but healthcare will most certainly be at the head of political agendas for years to come.

Voting is crucial! The health care issue needs sustained pressure in order to initiate real change. Access to good quality, affordable healthcare is a fundamental human right.

As the focus remains on healthcare, personal health will become more and more of an important issue. In a time when good health is all-important as a protection factor from COVID-19, I’d guess that more people will start taking their personal health more seriously. I’d wager that smoking and vaping rates will decline, as smoking is emerging as a major complication factor in this illness. I also think more people will exercise more regularly, now that they have more time and personal health is becoming all-important.

Deglobalization and sustainability.

Pre-pandemic, I couldn’t imagine thinking that deglobalization would ever be a good thing, but when it comes to the effect on consumer goods, the pandemic may indeed prove to have a silver lining. For years we have been living in the Disposable Economy: if it breaks, throw it out and buy a new one. There is always more where the old one came from!

Now, with the shrinking global economy and cuts in manufacturing, old-school reusability and refurbishment is becoming hip. People are cooking again instead of going out to eat. People are dusting off sewing machines and making their own masks. As manufacturing shrinks further, they may begin making some of their own clothes, too.

Self-reliance is coming back into fashion, and this resourcefulness is great for both our collective self-confidence and also for the environment. Fewer disposable goods mean less space taken up in landfills, and fewer emissions and by-products from the manufacturing process.

Environment.

The obvious winner in this pandemic seems to be the environment. With the shutdown of global travel and decrease in manufacturing, it seems that the environment can’t help but recover somewhat during this slow time. We are seeing fewer emissions over manufacturing cities, resulting in clearer air in hubs in India and China.

Noise pollution has also declined, given the reduction in traffic, both ground and air. It is probably too soon for hard data on this, but some signs are pointing to the possibility of a full recovery of certain parts of our environment. We will still need to be hyper-vigilant and committed to facilitating this recovery, both fiscally and through legislation, but it is possible. Perhaps after seeing these hopeful environmental results, people may be more amenable to allocating dollars to protect the Earth.

Finance and Personal Savings.

Being forced to stay home, people are spending less. They aren’t going out to eat, or shopping as much. While this spells painful contraction for the global economy, ultimately, the trend to save resources and rein in discretionary spending will help cement some healthy consumer habits for when things recover. We need consumers to spend to fuel our economies, but we need them to save, too, so those economies don’t eventually collapse under ever greater and unsustainable loads of debt.

Maybe it’s too soon to find verifiable good news coming out of the pandemic, but I am absolutely certain things will begin to turn soon. However, to affect real change we need to step away from our devices, from our doomscrolling, and think.

And imagine a better way.

Positive momentum and belief that there is a better way always fuels innovation and growth. It’s what’s going to get us through this difficult time, and propel us into a better era. Don’t get hung up on the arguing and negativity; set your mind free, and focus on what could be. Together we can make it happen.

Heather Shaff

Heather is a book designer based in Boston who, when she’s not writing or taking care of the fam, can be found racing her bike, enjoying nature, or just daydreaming.

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