Societies and cultures are often judged by how they treat the weakest among them. In nothing are these judgments so justified as in the treatment of children. Just as parents who put their own comfort and safety above that of their children are harshly and rightfully scorned, so too should be societies that do so.
By this measure, Americans have much to be ashamed of in our fight against COVID. At every turn, our children have suffered so adults might feel more at ease.
If this was not already clear, and it certainly should have been, last week’s reversal of mask guidance by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was a blaring billboard graphically displaying this depravity. These scientists decided vaccinated adults and teenagers are now to be rewarded with a mask-free existence.
Who does that leave behind? Who must still cover their mouths and noses? Children younger than 12. Once it was said they should be seen, not heard. Now they should not even be seen.
Throughout the COVID crisis, we have been told to blindly “trust science,” to forgo thinking for ourselves. No matter how absurd the restrictions on gathering, dining, even dancing, we have slavishly trusted one set of experts. But now we must seriously consider where this obedience has gotten us. As American adults breathe free without that little sting behind the ears, our children remain constrained by symbolic fabric face coverings.
Many of these are the same children who have lost more than a year of serious education to remote learning and hybrid models that everyone agrees are far inferior to full in-person learning. Prior to the pandemic, would anyone have suggested that a child basically skipping third or fifth grade was really no big deal? Of course not. It is a lie that frightened adults tell themselves in paranoid terror of a virus that kills 0.02 percent of infected people.
Making children bear the burden of our fight against the virus would be bad enough were they a major vector of spread. If schools and soccer games were major contributors to COVID deaths, there would still be a serious debate to be had over cloistering them. But they are not a major vector of spread and children are not at great risk. Yet across the nation, children have paid the highest price for our fears.
These sacrifices imposed on our kids bring to mind a tragic legend of the Middle Ages. In 1212, the story goes, after losing the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem, France and Germany launched the doomed Children’s Crusade. It was thought that while Catholic adults had lost the fight for the Holy Land, their children could march into the Levant and peacefully convert the Muslims. In the end, the 30,000 children were either enslaved or perished and the Holy Land remained in Muslim hands.
As we march in our own Children’s Crusade, in which every adult is free to get a shot and return to normal life while our kids remain under unscientific restrictions, we should feel deeply ashamed. Instead, we hear that our children are tougher than we give them credit for, that a mask isn’t a big deal anyway, and that protecting teachers from children is more important than the children’s welfare.
So let’s ask ourselves if we are really going to do this. Are we really going to sit maskless in church while kids younger than 12 breathe through fabric? Are we going to return to our bars and nightclubs unrestricted while children go about their days with faces hidden by masks? Are we going to pretend that it doesn’t matter because experts tell us so?
What has marked and marred the coronavirus response more than anything else is Americans’ abdication of the responsibility to make their own choices, for themselves and for their kids. It is like a dream state in which the plastic of our reality bends before our eyes at the whim of so-called science. It is a solipsistic sleep from which far too many Americans refuse to awake.
If anything can make us snap out of our slumber, one would think it might be the welfare of children. But in a society in which even bearing children is often scorned as a loss of freedom or a threat to holy Mother Earth, we let them languish, all in the name of keeping ourselves safe from harm.
Of all the side effects of COVID, none is more stark and disturbing than Americans’ disregard for the welfare of our children. Let us pray that, like the virus itself, this horrible new normal in which we sacrifice our kids dissipates. And then let us beg their forgiveness.