Freedom of choice; what a novel concept

As schools have attempted to reopen as normally as possible during this never-ending COVID-19 pandemic, it has been interesting to listen to the ever-changing and impossible-to-meet expectations placed upon school leaders and teachers by the “experts.” The three most popular recommendations (or demands, if that is your preferred term), are the same ones we all hear on a daily basis; that being the importance of social distancing, wearing masks, and washing hands and keeping them away from one’s face.

As debates have raged about the importance of enforcing these standards, one has to wonder if the people creating them have ever set foot in a school building, watched a group of children eat, observed them scattered on a playground like frenzied army ants, or even observed just one child in action.

If they had, they would realize how unreasonable it is to expect students to adhere to their safety standards.

It has also been intriguing to watch the response of those not in charge. Take the mask demand, for example. While I’ve not heard anyone who disagrees with mask wearing edicts demand that those who wish to wear them not be permitted to do so, proponents of mask-wearing often have no qualms about demanding that all others wear them, too.

That seems a bit unreasonable.

Let’s begin with expecting students, particularly very young ones, to wear masks. For the sake of argument, we won’t even entertain the debate about whether or not masks, as people normally wear them, are effective at preventing the disease, since respected health professionals come down on both sides of that debate (although the media will legitimize only one side).

Nor will we consider whether or not forcing children to cover their noses and mouths in non-air-conditioned spaces, as some schools are, as a form of cruel and unusual punishment. Let’s just focus on how unreasonable it is to expect children to adhere to standards that many adults refuse to follow.

As parents or grandparents of typical five-year old children can attest, expecting them to independently put their shorts on correctly while dressing for school, is a fifty-fifty proposition at best. Add to that the challenge of getting their shoes on the correct feet, and the odds for success are lower still.

Are we really supposed to expect these same children to properly wear their masks all day without constantly touching, readjusting, playing with, or losing them? Every day, adults can be seen in public foregoing masks altogether, wearing them incorrectly, (i.e., below their nose, above their mouth, or around their neck), or touching them incessantly, which even mask proponents admit reduces or eliminates their effectiveness. We also see the very state and national leaders who demand that we wear masks refuse to do so themselves when they think we aren’t watching.

Why in the world would we expect children to do better than that?

Believing that students will observe social distancing guidelines is just as silly. Youngsters are incredibly social and tactile beings by nature. Not only is it normal for them to interact verbally, but it is just as normal for them to play, touch, and roughhouse with one another. These behaviors are key to their normal development. Asking them to ignore what comes naturally and is essential for their social growth, whether it be in classrooms, on buses, on the playground, in the cafeteria, or in the hallway, is unreasonable; maybe even harmful.

What we can be sure of is that teachers will be spending much of their time trying to enforce mask and social distancing guidelines instead of actually teaching, and school staff will be roundly criticized for merely trying to implement rules the government has forced upon them.

That seems rather unfair.

People opposed to reopening in-person schools may point to these factors (and others) as the reasons why they shouldn’t be permitted to reopen at all. After all, if the rules can’t be enforced as written, why take the chance?

Of course, if we expected 100% compliance in every other business like, say, grocery and department stores, eating establishments, and gas stations, to name a few, where employees and patrons alike ignore social distancing and mask rules that we are told are essential for our well-being, they would all be closed as well.

But, we haven’t done that, have we?

The fact is, isolating human beings, especially young ones, as we have now done for months, harms them. For many children, schools are their sanctuary; their one opportunity to receive a healthy meal, to interact normally with adults and their peers, to receive the medical, dental, or mental health care they deserve, to feel safe and protected, or to see what is normal and acceptable behavior. We know that not giving them these services hurts them. Period.

As parents have tried to weigh the pros and cons of sending their children to school, and school administrators have wrestled with the right thing to do, it would have been nice had this pandemic not been politicized, so they could have had all the relevant data at their fingertips. But, alas, that would be too much to ask.

To be fair, even had we been given all the relevant facts, this is one topic on which reasonable adults would most certainly disagree. If we’ve learned nothing else over the last several months, with the safety measures constantly changing and different state governments adopting different standards, it has been that nothing is absolute with this virus.

Given that fact, it seems that the most American thing to have done would have been to open schools as normally as possible and give parents, not the government, the freedom to decide what is best for their children.

Freedom of choice. What a novel concept.