I imagine that I’m hardly unique among people who studied abroad in high school and college, that I came home with tons of stories waiting to be told. Last time I blogged about my experiences in Russia, I spoke about people I’d met outside of the planned curriculum.
This time, I want to speak about something that was a planned part of my studies, presumably scheduled long before I left the United States. But if you’re going to a city like St. Petersburg, there are some things you just have to do.
As a part of the curriculum organized by the Council on International Educational Exchange, my group of Americans took several walking tours of the city and its environs. (That probably happens with all cities, mind you; I can only speak to what I saw in St. Petersburg, though).
One such tour, was about the devastation wrought during the Siege of Leningrad, the period of nearly 900 days during World War II, when the Soviet city was completely cut off from outside help, by the Nazis.
Our tour guide spoke of the brutal living conditions, the death toll, the magnitude and cost in human lives, but also the tales of every day bravery undertaken to help keep people alive in the hope that the siege would end soon.
The simple truth is that nobody who had to hunker down during the siege, knew when it would end and hopelessness and despair slowly took over the longer the siege lasted.
We are left to guess what it must have been like, if you had young or adolescent children to care for during the siege. How much should any parent tell their children about what’s going on in a situation like that?
I’ve been thinking of that tour a lot lately. We may not be facing a direct famine like the people of Leningrad more than 75 years ago, and it’s not a time of war, but there’s still a deadly disease out there, spreading at a pace that borders on uncontrolled. If I’m properly understanding the current research, our children are, for the most part, safe but they can still carry the diseases to family members who aren’t, if they should become infected.
I understand that it’s obviously better for our children’s emotional well-being, that they be with their friends at school, rather than being cooped up at home. But if doing so could endanger themselves, their teachers, and their families, we should do what’s in the best interests of society, of our towns and neighborhoods. We can deal with the emotional consequences after the pandemic is over.
That’s why it’s disappointing to see, in the Facebook group I’m in for parents of students in my kids’ school district, such a strong push for fully opening our schools. I disagree with the people who are pushing for it, and have said so. I’ve gotten people attacking me for my position, and others supporting me.
Earlier this month, the schools implemented a partial reopening. Less than a week after it started, I got a call from my younger son’s school nurse, telling me that he had come in contact with someone who tested positive, and that he has to quarantine for two weeks. That quarantine will be over in a few days. My son hasn’t developed any symptoms, and I’m cautiously optimistic that he won’t.
Both of my kids have been very good about wearing masks and social distancing.
But when I see the parents pushing for reopening our schools, I wonder about how they would have dealt with the situation had they been in Leningrad during the siege. Would they have been pushing for a reopening of the schools, with the risks associated with a Nazi attack? Or would they have been more protective of their children?
I suppose an argument can be made that spreading the family out in case of an attack could ensure someone’s survival, but that just seems like a scary argument to make, at best.
I understand that a plague is not the same as a war. And I understand the problems with boredom when cooped up at home. But in the year 2020, we have tremendous privileges that didn’t exist in the 1940s. We have television, video games, internet, and ways of communicating with others that previous generations could barely dream about.
You can argue that I’m being more conservative than I need to be, considering the death rate from the novel coronavirus. I’m not sure I’d say “need to be” so much as I’m saying that I’m more conservative or cautious than other parents.
But given the recklessness I see in other parents, I’m merely trying to strike a balance. If others were more cautious, I’d be more open to meeting them in the proverbial middle.
If nothing else, I think we need to retire the cliche “avoid that like the plague.”
Then, when it’s all over, maybe I’ll find an excuse to talk about the walking tour I took of the life of Alexander Pushkin in St. Petersburg.