New school year, and thoughts on class handouts, and passing on germs

All over America kids went back to school this week. As a child of the 50s, I resent this. School is “supposed” to start after Labor Day. Perhaps this is because now I’m pushing into the category of “old”, any change in “MY world” is offensive to me. A sentence that starts: “In my day…”  always ends with the implication or statement that we did it better. I think a lot of things have changed for the better, generally  through a lot of people putting in a lot of hard work (from science to civil rights). One thing that IS better is that the reason there was a summer vacation when public schools were created was that the physical labor of the children was needed to run farms. People often forget that “summer vacation” wasn’t just an idyll for children to swim, bike, and “be children”.

Frankly, now that one income is no longer enough to support a family, and most parents work outside the home, finding someone to watch the kids after school and during vacations is a real challenge! Also schools are asked to teach more now- from computers to home-ec. Making schools 9-5 and all year long just makes sense. There’d be no need for a “late bus”, all the kids would go home at the end of the day. They’ll be able to put back the arts and music (balancing clubs and instruction), and include physical activities and sports on daily basis, rather than sporadically.  I’d like to see this combined with giving Teachers the pay they deserve, as well as better pay and respect for others in the educational team. Already school districts stagger winter or spring vacations so that everything from museums to alternative caregivers can better handle the unusual volume of children. It may take us time to get used to the idea, but I can see there are advantages as well as disadvantages. (One disadvantage of school in summer would add the problem of physically cooling the school buildings as well as heating them.) But since we aren’t using our children as farm labor any more, why not? When we toss away our assumptions about “that’s how it’s always been done”, alternatives burgeon.

On the other hand, this weekend I personally, had to change my plans for another (albeit equally universal) reason. I got sick. I was looking forward to a weekend of SCA fellowship at the Harpers Retreat event in Stonemarche with my daughters. In the evening, we’d get to enjoy the singing and tale sharing each night, and during the days Willow would have been helping people take home lovely silver, striped stockings, and other fun stuff from Cabochons, Kat would have been dressing people up like medieval live fashion dolls at the Gold Key, and I was going to enjoy sharing knowledge both by attending classes and by giving them: specifically stories of Anglo-Saxon Royal Women, herbalism by doing a Weed Walk, and teaching rune casting.

To console myself (and those who would possibly be disappointed), I posted a reminder that I’ve got some of the information in handouts up here on my website. I do flatter myself that when I give a class, that there is more in the presentation than what’s in the handout. I also really dislike the academic tradition of someone just reading their paper. If that’s all it’s going to be, give me a copy of the damned paper, and I’ll read it at my own convenience, and go to something more interactive. I try to make sure that when I’m teaching that the handout contains the basic facts, and bibliography so people can keep looking, and that frees me to use the workshop time to share more interesting stories, personal observations, and the aspects of the subject more pertinent to the people who actually showed up. When I’ve taught introduction to Runes, for example, most times the people in the audience are looking for the mystical meanings of the runes, others come hoping for a more historical background on how the Futharc developed and was used by Anglo-Saxons, Norse, and later folk. I like to be able to tailor the class to the people who show up. (In public school, since you know who that’s going to be, that would be easier.)

I am confident it was the right decision to not go to the event although I’m pretty much better now, because in my experience there are always reports after any gathering, whether an SCA event or a conference or festival, of people getting home and getting sick from something that was passed along at the event. “Con crud”, “Pennsic Plague”, and other such terms are fairly universal; and no one wants to be the “Typhoid Mary” who passed whatever you call the current cold on to a group of friends.

General wisdom about “when are you contagious” is not that helpful. When my kids were in school, the handbook always told parents to keep their kids at home if they were contagious, and at the same time put in fairly draconian methods to make sure that the kids lost as little time to illness as possible. (Bring a note from your doctor if the child was out for more than three days. It’s hard enough getting more that 5 minutes of doctors time, without inundating them with requests to document that your kid had a simple illness that the doctor wasn’t able to much less required to treat!) This totally ignores the fact that (using the example of measles) simply breathing (not sneezing or coughing) will spread the virus from the infected person to air in the room for four days before symptoms make the illness known. Clearly it’s impossible to avoid that sort of invisible contagion.

I like to console myself that while bacteria and virus are everywhere (apparently a third of children have strep bacteria in their throats at any given time), just being exposed to the germs doesn’t make you ill. Your immune system has to be stressed to provide a fertile bed for the available intruder to flourish.

(Here’s another thought: Perhaps schools could track how many days students are sick, and (factoring in other known medical problems), use how often they get sick to project their stress levels. I suspect kids who are being bullied get sick a lot more often. Maybe if you know who’s being bullied, it could help detect who’s bullying. On the other hand, this would be as useless as most drug testing.  Schools seem utterly incapable of reducing bullying through any means currently available to them.

Meanwhile the awareness that your body won’t “take advantage of” available germs unless under stress doesn’t help much when we take into account that for most cons, SCA events, etc., stress is inseparable from the experience: there’s too little sleep, less than optimum nutrition, excess heat, cold, and other stressors, combined with the sudden influx of sharing space with people who’ve brought brand new micro-organisms from distant areas where they live. It’s hardly surprising that after these gatherings a lot of people get sick.

Anyway, as I sit here trying not to think about what I’m missing at Harpers’, I console myself by expanding my website. I’ve added pages for Rune Casting and How to make your own set of Rune Tines. It occurs to me that in a few decades, if I get sick often enough, this website will be what I’d hoped it would be.

 

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