Teachers and schools have an obligation to both their students and their community to behave in a professional manner and work to educate all. This holds true even when it means flying in the face of public opinion.
Recently, some schools in the US have been giving in to fear and ignorance regarding public and parental fears about the Ebola disease:
- A school in New Jersey informed parents that two children from Rwanda were joining the school but that they would not be allowed to attend school for 21 days.
- An assistant principal in North Carolina is not allowed to return to work for 21 days after a trip to South Africa.
- A Mississippi principal is on a 21-day leave of absence after a trip to Zambia after parents took their children home from the school.
- A teacher in West Virginia is on a 21-day leave of absence after visiting Kenya; the school is requiring all employees who travel internationally to prove that they are not sick before returning to work.
While there are some reports of schools that are actively fighting against fear-mongering, most of these schools are taking the path of least resistance and “taking extra precautions” in response to parental uproar. “We have to err on the side of caution,” is a phrase frequently invoked.
It is sad that fear and ignorance have taken root in these communities. It is even sadder that the schools are giving in to it. Taking the path of least resistance when angry parents threaten to take their children out of school does avoid interruptions to the children’s education, but a strong administrator who stands up to ignorant parents would be furthering the education of children and adults.
Think of the lessons that can be learned here:
Africa is big. Teach children (and parents) about how maps can distort sizes and distances. Use mathematics to calculate distances between countries and continents. Compare “straight line” distances with “great circle” distances. This is a terrific opportunity for people to learn more about their world.
Diseases don’t happen by magic. Viruses, bacteria and other organisms transmit them. And they do so in specific ways. When there is fear of disease, it’s time to teach about exactly how germs are spread and how we can prevent them from spreading.
How is the spread of Ebola being reported? What kind of messages are being sent out? How do different media outlets describe the pandemic? Compare local with international reporting.
…or Psychology, Ethics, Law…
No doubt these types of lessons are being taught in many schools. It seems, however, that not enough is being done by some schools to really educate people.