Joshua Robison

Joshua Robison Local Columnist

As many of you know, the Illinois State Board of Education shared some guidelines recently about the return to in-person learning for the upcoming school year. Unsurprisingly, most Illinois residents took time to read the whole document, and then discussed the recommendations calmly and with a bit of good humor.

I’m just kidding.

In the interest of full disclosure, I also did not read the entire document. I am waiting for the Power Point version or, more likely, I’m waiting for whatever apocalyptic meme fuel that happens next (Super volcano? Mole People? Jurassic Park?) to render the guidelines obsolete.

No, in all seriousness, Mole People are extinct, and schools really are important. We want what’s best for our children and we also want them out of our houses, and so it’s no wonder many of us are feeling nervous about the return to school this fall.

One way to confront the unknown, however, is to reflect on the positive. For example, I’m really thankful I’m not an administrator right now, or a school board member. These folks will navigate the entire ISBE document, and they have to use that information to plan a school year that will have more complications and hidden traps than Omaha Beach.

If we truly want what’s best for our kids, we need to be praying for these people daily.

Speaking of Omaha Beach, I’m also thankful World War II was fought by a generation of men and women who understood self-sacrifice. This virtue — the concept of putting another person’s needs before our own comfort, the idea of loving our neighbors even when it’s not convenient — often seems to be in short supply these days.

Finally, as a teacher, I’m very thankful to be going back to actual school, where I will not be expected to feed anyone any food or find anyone’s hidden sock. (At least I don’t think I will be required to do this. As mentioned, I haven’t read all the rules yet.)

These guidelines are complicated, though, and also very controversial. One of the most provocative suggestions has to do with wearing face masks. Now, I don’t know if you’ve been out in public much lately, but there is not much face mask wearing. Our local COVID numbers are low, though. And some say, “Since the government wants us to wear them, we’re not about to wear them – so take that!”

The very reasonable question becomes then, “If we can’t convince adults to wear face masks, how will we get students to wear them?”

The short answer is, I don’t know. But I will say this: Wearing a face mask is not all that complicated. My 4-year-old daughter has been wearing a face mask for years when going to the doctor during winter months, and she does it without fussing. It’s just normal for her, like getting blood taken out of her arm every month. She just deals with it and moves on with her life.

Moving on with our lives, as in going to actual school and not needing to fall back on remote learning, should be a priority for all of us. Kids need school, and most parents needs their kids in school, but if we do have an outbreak, we’ll be right back to where we were in March. Avoiding another March in October should be enough to convince anyone to send their kid to school with not only a face mask but a pony keg full of Germ-X.

To be honest with you, though, when it comes to the face mask debate, I sometimes feel like I’m missing something. I feel like I’m back in algebra class, where if you miss a day of notes you’re so lost you might as well just go home. It’s like I took notes on Monday and Tuesday, but Wednesday I got called out of class to pick up a citizenship award and now it’s Thursday, and everyone’s screaming at each other about polynomials.

What is so complicated about this?

It’s a cloth mask! No one is being asked to wear a catheter to minimize restroom traffic, right?

We’re being asked to wear a cloth facemask, to contain the amount of germs we exhale and to reduce the spread of this virus that has not only killed hundreds of thousands of people, it has wrecked the health of millions and has basically crippled the planet’s economy.

Seriously, what did I miss, and can I borrow someone’s notes?

Are masks uncomfortable?

I guess a little at first, but so are pants. So are seat belts and helmets.

Are masks effective?

At keeping us from spreading our own germs? Absolutely. Why else would surgeons wear them?

Are masks part of some conspiracy to destroy America?

Folks, that doesn’t even make sense, and besides that, who is the bad guy pulling the strings in this conspiracy narrative that wants us all to wear cloth face masks?

Cobra Commander? The mask-wearing villain from G.I. Joe? The Federation of Old-Timey Bank Robbers? I’m confused.

No offense, but how much pharmaceuticals does a person have to ingest before they believe that being asked to wear a face mask is rule one of a New World Order dress code?

Listen, I understand that there are some students and staff, because of documented health issues, who might need an alternative to all-day mask wearing. I also understand that much of the media has hyped the disease for political purposes and simply to get more clicks. It’s what many of them do, but that does not mean that COVID-19 itself is a hoax.

130,000 Americans dying a slow and lonely death is not a hoax.

Remote learning, while much less serious, is also not a hoax. But if we’re willing to sacrifice some comfort – and if we’re being honest, sacrifice some of our pride for a relatively short while – remote learning could become a memory.

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