July 28, 2022

Article at Mindanao Gold Star Daily

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A pleasant surprise

New David Haldane

NO one was more surprised than I was.

Enrolling our 11-year-old son at St. Paul University’s private elementary school here in Surigao, we fully expected administrators to tell us they were not yet resuming full-time face-to-face classes. In my mind, I was already composing the scathing column I would write.

Ah, but then the premise of that column dissolved. “Why, yes sir,” the registrar said cheerfully, “full-day in-person learning will begin here in August.” I was so stunned I could barely hold the pen steady enough to affix my signature to the enrollment documents.

The befuddlement stemmed from several events. Back in September 2020, after living in the Philippines for two years, my wife and I made the painful decision to temporarily return to the United States. The reason: schools there were discussing reopening while, in the Philippines, no such end was in sight. Having watched young Isaac suffer the vagaries of online “education” for an extended period, we couldn’t bring ourselves to let that farce continue.

Back in California, things went well; the schools reopened in time for Isaac to spend his entire 5th-grade year learning in an actual classroom surrounded by peers. I even wrote a column describing his joy at returning. “This morning I heard my son singing in the shower,” the piece began. “It was a merry song, the kind an 11-year-old boy performs while getting ready for a new day at school. A far cry from the overbearing silence of the 18 months he spent learning online.”

At the end of the school year, we planned our return. On May 30th, then-Philippine Education Secretary Leonor Briones announced the resumption of face-to-face classes beginning next month. Immensely relieved, we quickly bought tickets and boarded a plane.

Ah, but then came the inauguration of a new president who suddenly improvised a new national tune. Maybe, Bongbong announced, full face-to-face learning wouldn’t resume until November. Oh yes, and maybe not until all the school kids got vaccinated against the newest Covid variants.

“My God, they’ve got to be kidding!” my wife and I screamed in unison. Our dismay was framed by the fact that the Philippines had already set the world’s record for the longest schools shutdown, been warned repeatedly of the permanent damage it would inflict on a generation of children, and, oh yes, had no more per capita infections than most of the world’s other countries.

Bottom line: the alleged threat was highly exaggerated, especially for children.

Unless, of course, you believe the alarmist headlines published daily in the Philippines and abroad. “The Worst Variant is Here!!” CNN recently screamed. Not to be outdone, the Manila Times chimed right in. “New super contagious Omicron mutant spreads.”

Reading between the lines, what those stories should have been saying was that the new variant may be the most contagious yet, but hardly the most harmful. In fact, as one or two of them mentioned far down in the text, it’s probably not very harmful at all.

But, hey, why let inconvenient facts impede a great alarmist story? And so the world bowed once again, nowhere more than in Asia. We have an expression in the US that I think applies here: sometimes the cure is worse than the disease.

Most parents everywhere instinctively understand that. When America’s fierce debate on school reopening began over a year ago, the teacher’s unions fought to keep them closed. It was only the unwavering will of parents, expressed angrily and publicly, that eventually ruled the day.

A recent Pulse Asia survey showed that 94% of adult Filipinos believe full in-person classes should resume. Products of culture sometimes value politeness over confrontation, however, many have preferred to suffer in silence rather than raise their voices in protest.

Ah, but why am I bloviating when my son’s school is among the growing number of enlightened institutions nationwide finally opening their doors? Next month, barring any unforeseen glitches, he will be back in class.
I’ve even promised to pack his lunch.

(David Haldane’s award-winning memoir, “Nazis & Nudists,” is available on Amazon. A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is an author, journalist, and sometimes radio broadcaster currently dividing his time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Surigao City.)

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