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DEBRA HALE-SHELTON: The price we're about to pay

by Debra Hale-Shelton | August 9, 2020 at 8:33 a.m.

I think of the "good old days" a lot these days.

Maybe that's because I'm getting older. I'm retired now, my daughter returns to college soon, and I have more time to think--not always a good thing in today's world. Or maybe it's because I yearn for happier times--with less hate, less greed, more hope.

We Americans don't seem to agree on much of anything anymore, whether the subject is Donald Trump, Black Lives Matter, church and state, gun control. or the right to life. And when I say "the right to life," I mean all lives, not just fetuses, not just people on life support, but all lives. And I mean lives of quality, not just breaths, not just heartbeats.

All this doesn't even take into account the deadliest of threats hanging over our nation today: who we'll go to war against next.

Let's see: We've already fought Great Britain, Mexico, Germany, Italy, Japan, North Korea, North Vietnam, Iraq and, of course, ourselves--the Confederacy vs. the Union (or should I say the Confederacy vs. the United States?).

Granted, there's nothing to keep us from taking on any of the above again, even though there are two other strong candidates these days: China and, despite President Trump's unflinching admiration of pal Vladimir Putin, Russia.

But there is a third, even more likely candidate: ourselves as in a-21st century civil war.

After all, we Americans spend more than enough time lately arguing, fighting, demeaning and hating each other. We adults do a pretty good job of imitating second-grade boys and girls who like to call each other names. We too often defend or forget the rapists but condemn rape victims for their choices (or lack of choices) before and after the assault.

We fulfill our addictions to cigarettes, alcohol, adultery and money but condemn the prostitutes, the meth addicts, the homeless. We preach the Bible--the parts of it we like--but conveniently forget other parts, like the parable of a rich man clothed in purple and fine linen and a beggar named Lazarus.

We gripe about the woman asking for money at the street corner where we must stop every few days. We wish the police could intervene even when she's done nothing other than hold a sign asking for money, a request we are free to oblige or to ignore.

We act as if America is God's country and places like Mexico, Guatemala, Iraq and Afghanistan are anything but that. Our nation's president even decreed some places to be "s*hole" countries. He wasn't talking about Scandinavian or other predominantly white countries either.

We send missionaries to poor countries but don't want the residents of those countries coming to our country. I can't find words to describe the irony or the hypocrisy of that. Maybe they should send missionaries to our country and teach us how to hate less and love more.

We say we're pro-life but work to end many people's health-insurance coverage even as a deadly pandemic kills thousands. We say we want medical care for all who will work. But you tell me how many middle-income people can pay $300 a month for 30 pills to treat diabetes. I can't. I won't. And I've worked most of my life, not that it's relevant. It's not.

We rightly decide to help Americans struggling after they lost their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic, then fret over whether we are helping them too much. Those wanting to clamp down on the monetary help are, of course, generally wealthy politicians who get good salaries, good health insurance and vacations, and then dare to call themselves "public servants."

It seems to me that the term "public servants" might better apply to teachers, cafeteria workers and other school employees whom our state and much of the country are forcing back into already-crowded classrooms. Little do the politicians seem to care that school buildings are about to become coronavirus laboratories. The doctors care, but these are health decisions that the politicians think they should control.

Members of Arkansas' Education Board agreed in a virtual, or online, meeting rather than a traditional one in a room with an audience that the state would resume traditional school classes on site this month. The hypocrisy of that decision is appalling.

As a former public school teacher in Arkansas, I'm fully aware that this state has shown little respect for its educators over the years when it comes to salaries and work conditions. But I didn't think state officials were callous enough to expect teachers to risk their lives. Maybe the state should consider something like combat pay for educators and other school employees.

Most children are good kids, but most aren't perfectly behaved. Junior high students are notorious for misbehaving and will now have a new toy to deal with in class. I know that masks are essential safety apparel, not toys. But if the nation's president can't fully grasp that fact, I doubt we can expect sixth-graders to do so. And what about teachers of the youngest of children who won't have to wear masks to school?

If you've ever taught school, you know that when teenage boys fight, someone has to pull them apart. The youngest of children and even older ones often get upset, cry and need consoling. A teacher can't do much consoling while standing six feet from a first-grader.

The youngsters will be carrying the school lab experiment home with them too. Just as they'll bring their backpacks home each day, some also will bring home the virus and give it to their parents and grandparents.

If you think we have economic problems now, just wait. By the time we find out how bad things can really get, we'll be lucky if we can afford to buy enough masks for our children, much less hire enough substitutes to replace all the sick teachers.

The main liberty we'll be concerned about won't involve a mask. Rather, it will be about losing our lives as the lab experiment takes over our schools, our homes, our lives.

Debra Hale-Shelton can be reached at dhaleshelton@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @nottalking.

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