LOS ANGELES - During the second week of distance learning, 6-year-old Ezra Karpf clicked the "unmute" button on his computer screen so he could ask his teacher a question. It didn't work.
Ezra's frustration simmered. Then it peaked. Then it exploded.
"I can't unmute myself! I can't unmute myself!" he shouted repeatedly until his mother rushed over.
The class came to a standstill. The boy moved off-screen, like a frustrated actor storming off the stage - weeping before his rapt, digital audience.
"My son was sobbing on the floor," said his mother, Courtney Patterson, 44, of Silver Spring, Md. "He didn't want to get back to class. He didn't want the class to see him crying."
Crying has been a ritual of school life for time immemorial. First-day jitters. Stage fright during a first play. Run-in with a bully. Best friend leaves for another friend. Tetherball to the face.
But never before has the simple act of a child weeping had such a vast and motley audience: Teachers, parents, fellow students and others participating in the often white-knuckle experiment that is remote learning in the age of the novel coronavirus.
Technology, which so many children love, has become a town crier blasting out their pain.
As the pandemic drags on, Zoom and other platforms used to teach children have provided a stage for emotional breakdowns. Some children manage to move off-screen as the tears flow; others turn their back to the computer screen, tugging at their shirts to dry the welling tears in an often fruitless attempt to hide their feelings.
"There's just so much going on for anyone," said Yalda T. Uhls, an assistant adjunct professor of psychology and executive director of the Center for Scholars and Storytellers at UCLA. "But at least adults have gone through other major catastrophes. For (children) that age, moving around, being physical, singing, dancing, all that stuff is really important, and that's been cut out of their lives."