Teach the children well? Not quite

in Contributors/Terry Manning/Voices by

I remember receiving steady messaging when I was a child about avoiding doing things we might see older kids or adults do that would be bad if we tried them.

From anti-smoking posters showing cross sections of a diseased lung beside a healthy one to anti-litter television ads ending with a single tear rolling down the cheek of Iron Eyes Cody, we were encouraged to take care of ourselves – “Brush your teeth, so you won’t be a Yuck Mouth!” – and to take care of the planet we inhabit. Even the Super Friends warned us against littering.

We kids were challenged to do our part, and we could trust the adults would do theirs.

I wish people who are my age now would remember those lessons, because we seem to have forgotten them. In too many ways, we are failing to take care of our most valuable treasure, our children.

I remember when politicians used to threaten to bring the federal government to its knees because they were so concerned about debt being passed on to future generations. Republicans used to complain about “kicking the can down the road” on making tough budget decisions. In 2016 they picked up that can and threw it into the Potomac. Captain Planet would not approve.

School shootings are another area where young people might expect grown-ups to help, maybe by passing gun-control legislation. But no.

It’s never “the right time” to consider reforms. It’s always “too soon” after the tragedies to even discuss doing anything other than offering thoughts and prayers.

I wonder what the thoughts are of schoolchildren who pass daily through metal detectors. Do they pray for an end to constant active-shooter drills? Or maybe they have gotten used to the violence. Sure seems like the adults have.

We kids were told to make sure we ate a healthy breakfast (we didn’t want to “run out of gas” halfway through the day) but when President Obama tried to put healthier food choices in schools, parents protested. How dare children eat better food at school than the sugar-loaded, high-fat garbage many had at home?

Even Fat Albert knew junk food was bad, but these parents insisted: Kids have rights! Those rights now include not being made to wear masks during a pandemic, even though COVID suddenly is targeting the young in ways it didn’t previously.

Some parents care more about scoring political points and standing up against what they call government overreach.

I’m sure you have seen the video of the parents in Franklin, Tenn., threatening a doctor who urged adoption of a mask mandate in local elementary schools. He was all but chased out of the meeting, followed into the parking lot and threatened by the menacing swarm, “You can leave freely, but we will find you.”

Type “woman school board” into any search engine, and you’ll find pages of concerned mothers attacking school boards over COVID proposals. You might even find the Kansas woman who went viral for her speech that began, “There is zero evidence that COVID-19 exists in the world. … You will not experiment on our children. It’s always been about the children.”

“Nothing can stop what is coming,” she warned local leaders, an alert echoed in Shasta, Calif., by a military veteran who cautioned, “Good citizens are going to turn into real concerned and revolutionary citizens real soon.” All over mask mandates.

No one wants to see schoolchildren’s lives disrupted any more than they have been. Yes, virtual learning is a poor substitute for in-person instruction. Yes, we know children need socialization they can’t get at home. Nobody with sense is debating these points, but the simple fact is, we are not out of the pandemic.

The Washington Post reports more than 200 children under the age of 18 are hospitalized every day with COVID.

As you can probably tell from my expertise on children, I don’t have any. But I know right from wrong, and I know we are going in the wrong direction when we attack people who are trying to help us.

Children do and say what they see adults do and say. Right now, a lot of adults are modeling behaviors that would earn most children a good whupping.

These people know better. G.I. Joe used to say knowing is half the battle. The other half is doing, and on that count too many of us come up short.

Terry E. Manning lives and works in Savannah, Ga. He is a Clemson graduate and worked for 20 years as a journalist. He can be reached at teemanning@gmail.com.