Saturday, March 12, 2011

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Dirty Hands and Peanut Butter Crackers?

An elementary school in Florida has implemented a series of minor classroom policies to help protect a 6 year old girl in a first grade class who has a severe peanut allergy.  Peanut allergies, unlike many other allergies, can cause asphyxiation.  Meaning a 6 year old could die (yes, die) from the particulates and oils from peanut products including peanut butter.  We’re not talking about a tummy ache here.  In that light, the policies of the school district seem almost laughably fair—no food in the classroom, students must wash their hands and rinse their mouths twice a day, and the surfaces in the room are wiped down with Clorox wipes.  Some other parents in this district heard that their own kids might be forced to wash their hands as much as twice—Twice!—a day and went completely berserk. They picketed the school with signs informing the elementary school principal that their children were “special too” (‘cause really, this is a message we never hear in elementary schools these days—that every child is special) and encouraging other parents to demand their children’s rights.

Now, I’ve read the constitution (because I had one of those lazy, slacker teachers who wanted to be paid his exorbitant salary while not doing any work, so he made us read something someone else had written!) and nowhere in it is there a guaranteed right to have peanut butter sandwiches for lunch or food of any kind in the classroom.  Yes, I know what you’re going to say…implied rights and all that…but I still can’t seem to get from freedom of assembly and protection from unlawful search and seizure to peanut butter or Little Debbie snack cakes.  Maybe I’m missing something.  Nor have I found anything about freedom from cleanliness, which would cover the hand washing and Clorox wipes.

Let me set aside, for a moment, the fact that these parents (to be fair, most of them mothers)are upset that their children are being inconvenienced in the name of protecting another child’s life.  Has it not occurred to any single one of these parents that these policies are not only minor inconveniences, but that they might have some positive effect on the health of their own children?  There was a time not very long ago when we never allowed food in the classroom—not because of allergies, but because it was unsanitary.  Allowing kids to have food in the classroom and inadvertently teaching them that it was important to be eating at any moment they weren’t actively doing something else may very well have contributed to the current obesity problem we face.  The prevalence of obesity in this age group is approximately 20%.  None of these children will starve if they aren’t allowed to have pretzels and fruit punch during a Valentine party in their classroom.  They’re in the first grade; if these screaming moms hadn’t pointed it out with a neon sign, they wouldn’t have known it was strange NOT to have food in the classroom.  The CDC has done everything but send people to personally knock on our doors to plead with us to wash our hands several times a day to prevent the spread of the flu.  In an elementary classroom, even infrequent hand washing (and let’s face it, for 6 year olds, twice a day is infrequent to the point of absurdity) can help prevent the spread of not only the flu but colds, strep, and a number of other bacterial and viral illnesses.  Likewise, wiping down frequently touched surfaces is also an effective method of stemming the spread of viral and bacterial illness.  Do these folks think their kids have a right to be sick?  Personally, if the teacher had only insisted my daughter wash her hands twice a day when she was in elementary school, I think that might have prompted a conversation with the school personnel.

So even if you’re selfish enough to be outraged that your kid is being asked to make some adjustments to their day to accommodate another child’s well being, you might at least acknowledge that these adjustments actually work in your child’s favor.  And we really are talking about selfishness here.  I hear people complain quite often about the sense of entitlement and level of self absorption among teenagers and college students.  If that’s true, and I’m not entirely convinced that it is uniformly true, doesn’t it stand to reason that they learned such behavior from being taught that they should never have to accommodate anyone else’s needs and never be inconvenienced in any way no matter what the cause?  To scream that my child is being picked on because he’s not allowed to bring snacks to school and has to wash his hands, is more than a little like saying “I’m in a hurry; why should I have to stop just because the school bus is letting kids on and off?  Shouldn’t you people teach your kids not to walk out in front of cars?”

Maybe I shouldn’t give them any ideas.

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