About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Is our educational system aiding in creating the flu pandemic?

Many may have noticed that I haven't written a blog for a while. My kids went to a school dance a couple of weeks ago and 4 days later came down with (most likely) the H1N1 flu...along with 400 others. I guess the school was lucky it was only half of the 800 at the dance.

My daughter actually attends an alternative school in the school district (for science and technology) and my son went as a guest of one of his elementary school friends. My daughter's school, a technology based, project based, group learning based school which draws students from multiple locations in a 200 square mile radius, requires students to continue to check into school and expects sick children to keep up with their work while they are ill. As a result, my daughter went back to school fever free, but still not well as we were having internet connection issues. The school is still unprepared for the students coming down with the flu. Even before my daughter got the flu, her work was affected as there was always a team member sick from the first week of classes. However, as there is a greater critical mass of students coming down with the flu, a letter has finally come out outlining what students should do. This still does not address how those that are WELL or teachers should handle classes and projects that can't be completed because a majority of group members are ill.

The high school where the dance was held initially sent out a letter stating that the flu was the "general flu", not h1n1 despite the rapid spread of the illness. They did not shut down the school, despite the fact that a quarter of the students were ill. The next day a "clarification" was sent out in conjunction with the health department which began to monitor the situation at the school. In fact, there were no other confirmed flu types in the county (although there were some in other nearby regions). So most likely, any flu students from the school came down with was h1n1.

My son, being a typical teenager, did not tell anyone at school that he was feeling feverish. His driver's ed teacher had told them that the flu was not an acceptable excuse to miss class. If that wasn't bad enough, that evening my son played a soccer game which he had been looking forward to for the entire season. So he played, then proceeded to shake hands with the opposing team, and went home where we discovered he had an 102 fever.

What the flu reveals about our schools and healthcare system

I recently heard an interview by the head of the CDC who said that they were recommending the schools not close down because students were safer in school (healthy) than unsupervised (also healthy). This reveals the role that education has taken in the US. Schools are safe havens from communities that have broken down and duel working parent families (or single parent families). No longer is school just a place to educate students. So shouldn't we be putting more money into after school programs, family and student support services, and even healthcare?

My own experience at how the different approaches the colleges in which I work take demonstrates the different approaches the healthcare system can take. At the one college, students see health professionals, initially at the health center. However, as more incidences of illness has begun to take place, there have been emergency health screening available at the dorms. On this campus, we have diagnosed strep, the two different types of flu, and mono (a common occurance for college students). Students are put on medical leave, sent home, and not allowed back until they are feeling better. Surprisingly, there has been less long term illness (from students in my class) and my students seem much healthier than I usually see this time of year. It will be interesting to see if they perform better, as they are allowed to heal.

The second school has only self reporting, with very little diagnosis of the illnesses. The health center does not really see any cases as they don't have the man power to do so. My classes for the last 3 weeks have really diminished. In some cases, at other colleges, I have heard about incidences in which professors will fail students for x number of absences, whether they were diagnosed with the flu or not.

Our society believes that it is better to "work through" any illness. This is in line with our "hard work" values, individual over group (you wouldn't go into work to infect your colleagues if you valued the group), and our relationship with nature (we can overcome nature, work through illness). In addition, we have a tendency in our healthcare system not to seek treatment until it is critical, nor do we want to overwhelm an already overwhelmed system. On the part of education, our society reinforces these values in the school. We need to "get through content", keep students safe, and keep pushing the envelope for student achievement.

However, perhaps it is time we start investing in a healthcare system that can meet the challanges of the unexpected. Perhaps we should start providing healthcare and "sick beds" in schools for those times when parents feel they can't take time off. Perhaps we as a society should allow parents to take the time off for family illness and start developing protecals and infrastructure for work from home.

And for anyone who gets the flu, don't go back to work too soon. While I only had a fever for one day, and had been fever free for 3 days before I went back to work, it took me a good 2 weeks to feel healthy again. The same was true for my children.

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