I was born in 1939, and I began kindergarten in South Bend, Indiana, in September 1944. My neighborhood school was six blocks from my home. My mother arranged for me to walk to school with three older neighbor children. World War II was raging; we had blackouts and rationing. My father, a physician, was serving far away in the U.S. Army.
We children went to school. Five days a week. There were no vaccines for influenza and a variety of childhood diseases: measles, chicken pox, mumps and whooping cough. During my grade-school years, I had all of them. And I recovered.
Polio was every mother’s nightmare. There was no vaccine, and the disease was crippling and life-threatening.
Sadly, some children who contracted these diseases died. Vital statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control in 1948, when the U.S. population was 146.6 million, reflect the following deaths nationally: scarlet fever, 68; whooping cough, 1,146; measles, 888, poliomyelitis and polio encephalitis, 1,895. (Table 6- Deaths from selected causes (exclusive of stillbirths or deaths among armed forces). Nevertheless, children went to school.
If our parents were afraid for us, or for themselves, they never said so. Despite the disruptions and fears caused by the world war, families on the home front carried on, quietly and with patience. And after watching their elders, so did children.
Today, as school boards cower and citizens fret, wear their masks, and anxiously endure or avoid social contact, I wonder what has happened to my country.
For many reasons, children need to be in school. We are learning that children have a very low infection rate and do not appear to be transmitters of Covid-19. The odds are with them. The virus, we are told, attacks old people like me.
More important than our own anxieties are our obligations to the children -- who are watching us and looking to their elders for reassurance.
We know that many children who don’t go to school and learn in a classroom will suffer intellectual, physical and emotional hardship. Online learning doesn’t work with young children. They need in-person interaction with their teachers and their classmates. If this doesn’t occur, they will be denied an opportunity to grow and fulfill their God-given potential.
I am grateful for the devotion and care provided to all of us in this time by our health professionals, first responders and law enforcement officers. I am also so very grateful to the many brave essential workers who are transporting food and other necessaries and stocking and staffing our grocery stores and pharmacies. Teachers should also be considered essential workers. I hope they will find a way to continue our children’s education, full time and in person.
Joan Caton Anthony