Has education improved us? - Keith Roulston editorial
So the kids finally went back to school on Monday – at least the kids in our area who weren’t impacted by that day’s storm in central and eastern Ontario. Many nervous parents are hoping it’s the right thing to do.
Certainly, for what has become the norm – families where both parents work outside the home – kids being back in class makes life simpler, unless there are mass outbreaks of COVID-19 in the schools that have reopened. But parents who have had to stay home to supervise their children’s education on computer screens are, on one hand, relieved schooling is no longer their responsibility, but on the other hand, worried about whether being in classrooms near others who may be infected by the highly-infectious Omicron variant is the best place for their child.
Many experts cheer this return to normal for kids, saying they have suffered because of the isolation that kids have experienced through learning at home. For some, I’m sure this is true, but I’m sure this reality is not so absolute. I know whereof I speak.
I was in Grade 5 when I spent three months at home from school with rheumatic fever – a disease unknown today to most Canadians, killed off by more rapid use of drugs like penicillin. My infection was among the last suffered by kids in those days. I had a fever and sore joints in the fall, was diagnosed by a sharp family doctor and was sent to bed, because in those days before medicare, my family couldn’t afford for me to stay in the hospital.
If we were handicapped by the lack of universal healthcare, I was blessed by the fact that in those days, it was normal for the mother to stay home. My bed was moved to a corner of the living room so my mother, who’d one leg amputated, did not have to run up and down stairs every time I called for something (which I suspect was more frequent than I’d appreciate as an adult).
My mother also had to take on my education. Using lessons sent home by my Grade 5 teacher, she kept me up to date with my classmates – only it was easier. My teacher would send home, say, 25 long-division questions. My mother would give me five and if I demonstrated I understood the concept, she skipped the other 20.
Although I missed being with my friends, I didn’t miss school where I was a shy kid who was teased a lot. I did miss a winter’s hockey in the local house league and never caught up with others of my age. And it turned out I had a weakened valve in my heart that I recently had to have replaced with an artificial valve.
One thing that’s changed since those days is parents’ faith in the medical professionals. I read recently that in Ontario, 13 per cent of the population is unvaccinated for COVID-19, yet the unvaccinated made up 70 per cent of the patients in hospitals.
I was young, so may have missed something, but I don’t recall such skepticism, for instance, when Dr. Jonas Salk invented a vaccine in the early 1950s to prevent the deadly disease, polio. Jill, my wife, recently reread Before the Age of Miracles, the autobiography of my childhood doctor William Victor Johnston, who later retired to Lucknow after being founding director of the College of Family Physicians of Canada in the 1950s. In his book, Dr. Johnston gives a table of the cases of polio in Ontario from 1920 to 1960. Cases of this literally crippling disease ranged from a low of 51 in 1927 to a high of 2,544 in 1937. One of our
family suffered from the disease in a bad outbreak in the early 1950s. Yet the disease literally disappeared after kids were vaccinated.
Though there were fewer deaths from polio than COVID-19 (currently 31,500 in Canada), authorities had less qualms in using schools as part of the solution in the 1950s. I remember vaccines being administered to students in schools when the polio vaccines became available. Perhaps because of fear of anti-vaccine demonstrations, I suspect, we’ve avoided giving COVID shots in school, even though we could immunize more of the population faster if we did it there. Meanwhile our hospitals are overwhelmed.
I hope I don’t have any illness that requires hospitalization in the current situation. Even people in need of heart surgery have
been told they have to wait – because hospitals are filled up, staffs are diminished and doctors and nurses are worn out by treating the pandemic.
I’m torn. On one hand, I agree with personal choice when deciding whether or not to get vaccinated. On the other hand, if they do get COVID, the non-believers are still going to hospital – and are bumping out others whose lives are endangered.
Sometimes I can’t help thinking my parents, uneducated by modern standards, were farther ahead than today’s generation.