Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Thank You, Kids. You Are Saving Our Lives

These are challenging times for everyone. And frightening. Even those of us who are not afraid of the disease are afraid of what this will do to us economically, or the damage that's being done to our social fabric, or the toll it's taking on the mental health of our nation. We try counting our blessings, thinking positive, and focusing on this present moment, all of which makes at least a temporary difference, but it isn't until we take the advice of Mister Rogers and "look for the helpers" that we do more than distract ourselves. Gratitude is a powerful antidote to fear and worry.

So we thank the nurses. We thank the doctors. We thank the pharmacists and grocers and bus drivers and police officers and firefighters and all the others who are risking and saving and making our day-to-day lives possible. We thank the people like ourselves who are staying home, sacrificing for a greater good. This has been one of the bright spots of these interesting, becursed times, the flood of gratitude.

Yesterday, our governor announced that the public schools would be closed for the remainder of the school year. It was the right move, of course, schools are one of our society's more prolific incubators of illness. Normally, I half joke that educating immune systems is the number one mission of our schools, but it loses its humor in times of pandemic. I know some high schoolers, middle schoolers, and even elementary aged kids who are thrilled by the news, but most are taking it hard. And I don't know a single preschooler who is happy about it.

The heroes and helpers we haven't been thanking enough are the children who are staying home, staying indoors, staying away from their friends, grandparents, and teachers. If you think it's hard on you, think how hard this is for children for whom being in the presence of people they love is like the air they breathe. Never doubt their heroism in this. They are not the ones who are likely to go to the hospital or die of this virus. They are doing this for you and it is a massive sacrifice.

Never again should we adults be allowed to crap on kids. Never again should we be allowed to call them selfish or spoiled or to dismiss their concerns as superficial. An entire generation of young people is stepping up right now, taking their full responsibility as citizens, and this is despite being denied many of the fundamental rights of citizenship. We even neglect to recognize that they are citizens. Children make up approximately a third of the US population. One in five live in poverty. Their schools are underfunded. Infrastructure like playgrounds, swimming pools, and parks will be the first on the chopping block when the coronavirus cloud finally passes and the inevitable cut-backs come. Children are exploited, abused, and trafficked at rates far above those of any other demographic group. Their freedoms are greatly restricted compared to the rest of the population, both by law and by common practice. In most places adults can still even physically assault them ("spank") with impunity. And not coincidentally, they are the only broad category of people who are denied the fundamental right of citizenship: the right to vote.

If we are going to be truly grateful, we can't look away from these truths, because that's why gratitude works where counting blessings and optimism and meditation fail. It is an act of looking directly at reality with an open heart and seeing the helpers in the midst of the ugly. When this is over, the children will go back to being second class citizens unless we keep our gratitude alive by continuing to advocate for them once this is over, by helping them as they are now sacrificing to help us.

Personally, I'm thrilled that the schools are closed until next fall. I'm thrilled that this generation will experience what life is like without bells and desks and asking permission for every damn thing. And I'm already hacked off at those who will try to recreate the grindstone via Zoom or whatever. I will fight for their right to take these next few months as the laurel wreaths that are due heroes.

Thank you, kids. You are saving our lives. You are heroes. I won't forget. This is the story I will tell about you for the rest of my life.


I hate to do this, but I earn most of my income by speaking at education conferences and running in-person workshops. I've just had 95 percent of my income wiped out for the next 6 months. I know I'm not the only one living with economic insecurity, but if you like what you read here, please consider hitting the donation button below. 

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