Consider me an H1N1 believer. After seeing my daughter struggle through 103 degree fever, an asthma attack and pneumonia, follwed by a bout of the stomache flu, and having a colleague hospitalized with pneumonia after a nasty bout of the flu followed by bronchitis, I have new respect for this illness. My school district has 120 schools. So far, only seven schools don’t seem to have any students or staff members sick with the flu. Yikes. And the official flu season hasn’t even begun yet! If this is a mild strain, I don’t want to see what severe looks like.
High fever? Check. Body aches? Check. Cough? Check. Sore throat? Check. Miserable? Check. One scared teenager? Absolutely.
After eight weeks of washing our hands incessantly, coughing into our sleeves (which still feels weird), and stocking up on hand sanitzer, my 14-year-old has come down with the flu.
Unfortunately, due to the media hype, she’s fairly convinced she’s on a fast train journey to the grim reaper. Assurances from her father and I that she’ll live to try out for baskbetball have little impact, especially since our graduate degrees are in education and communication, not medicine.
Having older children, I realize this tendency to think your parents are idiots will dissipate sometime in her twenties. Right now, however, it looks like it’s going to be a long flu season.
Today I spent about two hours chasing down facts to refute an erroneous story involving one of our schools that was aired by a talk radio station last spring. It popped back up today as yet another talk radio station, fed by blogs, recycled the story as part of its coverage of the latest “Obama song” flap, this time at a New Jersey elementary school. All of which left me wondering, what if we could capture all this outrage and focus that energy on tutoring kids in reading, mentoring teens or feeding the hungry? We might actually solve some important issues and do some good rather than spending limited time and resources managing non-issues and non-news events.
During our school board retreat today, our vice-chairman called the need to dramatically improve our low-performing schools a “moral imperative.” We have the levers for change at our disposal: research shows that principals and classroom teachers can make a signficiant and lasting difference in improving student academic performance. His empassioned and eloquent call for change made me think of something another board member shared with me recently. If scientists studying a lake found only one or two fish of the same species dying they would likely attribute the deaths to natural causes. If all the fish in the lake began dying, or if one particular type of fish began dying enmasse, the scientists would raise the alarm about environmental factors and start assessing what is present in the lake that is so toxic to these fish. Her question to me, which echoes our board vice-chairman’s remarks, was simple. When the evidence is so overwhelming that students of color, particularly African-American children, and students who come from poor families, are not doing well in our schools, why do we assume this is caused by the students and their families and not by the school environment? The fish are dying. When are we going to quit blaming their parents and start looking at the lake? It’s a good question.
Why is everyone so angry? For those of us in public education, outbursts like Senator Wilson’s shout “You Lie” at the President are nothing new. We hear angry accusations everyday, along with the underlying assumption of ill intent, the sneer of disrespect. It was disheartening to see our President treated this way, and not particularly comforting to learn from an NPR historian that decorum at this hallowed event has been steadily eroding since the Clinton administration. I spend a fair amount of time each week helping folks understand that we really don’t spend all our time in central office plotting how to make folks miserable, or that teachers and principals aren’t purposefully trying to keep children from learning to read, write or “do” math. The assumption of incompetence can be a bit galling at times, but I find that easier to deal with than the doubts about integrity, the assumption of some stain of guilt or lack, of truthfulness, of good intent, or shared values or goals. An early mentor of mine once said “that credibility is like virginity, you only lose it one time.” Of course, this advice was given when facts still seemed essential to matters of truth or opinion. It’s hard to have a civil debate when facts are viewed as inconsequential, when positions matter more than sound public policy, when style masquerades as substance, and when talk radio is considered credible.