Allergic to Ignorance
“The good we secure for ourselves is precarious and uncertain until it is secured for all of us and incorporated into our common life”. (Jane Addams)
In Jewish tradition, a great sage named Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”
I am sure you have all heard the story by now. A six-year-old girl in Edgewater Florida suffers from life threatening peanut allergies. The allergy is so severe that it is considered a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act. To protect the girl, students in her class at Edgewater Elementary School are required to wash their hands before entering the classroom in the morning and after lunch, and rinse out their mouths (with water). Peanut products are also not allowed in the classroom, and the students are required to leave their lunch boxes in the hall. The students’ desks are wiped down with disinfectants and the school has installed peanut-free zones in the campus and in the cafeteria.
According to Nancy Wait, the spokeswoman for Volusia County Schools, the school “is legally obligated to take these safety precautions because of the Federal Disabilities Act. It would be the same thing as putting in a handicap ramp for a student that is physically disabled. The only difference with this is that is affects other students.”
Enter the protesters. A group of parents and children began to protest outside of the school, with picket signs and a call to end the accommodations being provided to this child. One parent, Chris Burr, a father of two older students at the school whose wife has protested at the campus, said a lot of small accommodations have added up to frustration for many parents. “If I had a daughter who had a problem, I would not ask everyone else to change their lives to fit my life,” said Burr. Other parents have called for the girl to be removed from the classroom and home-schooled, rather than deal with special rules to protect her health, according to a school official. Parents claim that the requirements put into place are taking “up to 30 minutes of educational time away from their children each day.”
Aristotle said that, “Educating the mind without educating the heart, is no education at all.” So, what can the students in Florida, and students everywhere, learn in that time that they are washing their hands, wiping off their desks & placing their lunches outside of the classroom? Are those really “30 minutes lost” in their educational lives? I don’t think so. I think it teaches them the very real lessons that they will need to be truly successful in this life. They learn what it is to work side by side with someone who is different. They learn responsibility and patience. They learn to look out for one another, and that even the most vulnerable among them is deserving of their efforts. They learn what it is to be a caring community and they learn that yes, we are indeed our brother’s keeper. When did these lessons become less valuable than those taught in the textbooks? And if we don’t begin to teach them now… then when?
“No one has yet realized the wealth of sympathy, the kindness and generosity hidden in the soul of a child. The effort of every true education should be to unlock that treasure.” (Emma Goldman)