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JOHN EGGERS COLUMN: A new vaccine is desperately needed

The new vaccine is called “A High School Diploma” and we shouldn’t rest until everyone is vaccinated. In fact, it is so critical that our young people have it, we need to mandate it.

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When I was in elementary school in the 50s, I can vividly remember the time when I thought for sure I had polio. We had a vigorous game of touch football where we played for an hour or more. The next day after getting out of bed, I could not reach down to tie my shoes. The first thing that occurred to me was that I had polio without realizing that my muscles were just sore.

Polio was a huge scare in the 40s and 50s. It peaked in 1952 with 58,000 cases. The contagious virus was so scary that many city officials closed swimming pools, movie theaters, schools and churches. For every two out of 10 who suffered paralysis the end result was death.

The breakthrough came in the form of Jonas Salk's polio vaccine, which was approved in 1955. Case numbers dramatically dropped as more and more children were vaccinated. Widespread vaccinations began and by 1979, the virus had been completely eliminated in the United States. Think about this. Due to a vaccine, which everyone took advantage of, especially children, polio was eradicated. It no longer was a danger.

Almost two centuries after Dr. Edward Jenner discovered a vaccine to combat smallpox, the 33rd World Health Assembly declared the world free of this disease on May 8, 1980. Many people consider smallpox eradication to be the biggest achievement in international public health. From polio to smallpox and measles to mumps to COVID-19, vaccines are the answer in stopping the spread of diseases.

What if we had a vaccine to cure some of society’s worst nightmares. What if there was, for example, a vaccine to solve the disease of drugs or crime or poverty or homelessness or just bad health practices? Wow, wouldn’t that be something? Think of it.

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What if we had a vaccine to deal with all of these issues? Think of how much suffering we could eliminate; how many more lives we could save; how many more people could reach their potential; we truly could become a more perfect union. What if we had a vaccine that could do all of this and more?

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” said Nelson Mandela. I think most of us would agree with Mandela. Everything we have ever done that amounted to a significant achievement has been the result of learning, of education. Would Edward Jenner or Jonas Salk have discovered the vaccines if it were not for learning, if it were not for education?

C.S. Lewis said, “The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.” We strive to give young people the tools they need to irrigate deserts. In other words, he was thinking like Harvard Professor Kingsfield in the movie Paper Chase, “You come in here with a skull full of mush... and you leave thinking like a lawyer.”

We want kids to be able to think for themselves and make good decisions based on truths, not on lies or hearsay. We want kids to be able to use what they learn to create new vaccines when the need arises.

Let’s have a drum roll. Let’s have a trumpet blare. Let’s have the canons boom. Here is the new vaccine that has been around for at least 100 or 200 years but, in the words of Rodney Dangerfield, it doesn’t get a whole lot of respect.

The new vaccine is called “A High School Diploma” and we shouldn’t rest until everyone is vaccinated. In fact, it is so critical that our young people have it, we need to mandate it. “No one leaves school without their high school diploma.” If it takes two or three or four years beyond high school to achieve it, that’s fine. Young people have all the time in the world.

But, John, you can’t mandate a high school diploma vaccine. Why not? Already every state mandates vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, chicken pox, measles, rubella and mumps. (One exception is Iowa.) Other vaccines are required in many more states.

All these vaccines are good, right? They prevent our children from getting sick and dying, right? We want our kids to lead productive and healthy lives because we, as adults, know what it is like to not have good health, right?

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Having a high school diploma is no panacea like a polio or smallpox or measles vaccine but it is better than not having one. If everyone had their high school diploma, we could, as I indicated in a recent column, have less poverty, less homelessness, fewer people on drugs, fewer people in jail, more people voting, more people going to college, more people living longer, and more people who know what it means to irrigate deserts and not cut down jungles.

The advantages of having a high school diploma vaccine are huge. The beauty is we already have the vaccine but we haven’t made it available to everyone. That’s a crime, it really is. There is no cost for this vaccine. In fact, schools would gain billions of dollars extra in revenue by vaccinating everyone in school with a high school diploma. How much would communities save if there were fewer homeless victims, fewer incarcerations and so on? The amount of dollars is almost incomprehensible.

Bemidji and every community in the United States needs to take responsibility for this vaccine. It’s cruel and inhumane to continue what we are doing to deny kids something that every young person is capable of achieving. It’s not the students' fault they aren’t graduating. It’s the fault of we adults who should know better. We need to find unique ways to administer the vaccine.

Alexander Pope said, “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” That’s the problem with today’s education. Too many people are getting just a little learning. A little learning just doesn’t cut it anymore. Even a high school diploma is not enough but at least kids are getting off to a good start. Let’s make sure everyone gets vaccinated with a high school diploma. We can do it.

Riddle: What did one insect say to another insect? (Answer: Stop bugging me. When every student has a high school diploma, I will stop bugging you.)

100%

Thanks to First City Lions for being the most recent organization to support our goal of a 100% graduation rate. They are truly a group of doers.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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