Back to School: A History Lesson from the 1918 Pandemic

We often hear that those who do not heed history are doomed to repeat it. From Great Wars to Great Depressions, we hope to learn from tragic failures. Ignorance can also prevent us from mimicking the successes along with avoiding the failures. The 1918 “Spanish Flu” pandemic is rife with lessons for those with ears to hear, yet we shouldn’t expect the usual talking heads to tell the story when there are flashier headlines to report.

Ron Jones — a historical kinesiologist, physical educator and host of the Lean Berets podcast and fitness resource center — is not a typical pundit. In his recent broadcasts via Facebook Live, Jones has muted his own opinions in favor of straight reporting on the archival records from different American cities during the peak of the Spanish Flu (roughly September to December of 1918).

Jones has uncovered a treasure trove of data, which can inform our future course as fatalities begin to wane across the country. As a classical P.E. teacher, Jones is particularly concerned with ongoing school closures. The longer we isolate our children at home in front of computer screens all day, Jones speculates, the harder it will ultimately be to smoothly transition back to in-person schooling.

Even in 1918, schools tended to re-open just a few weeks after the peak, and close again if necessary. Back then, the mortality rate was significantly higher for the overall population, and even more so for children. In many cities, school workers were at the frontlines of the containment and relief effort, even when schools closed. Today, teachers’ unions are setting a dangerous precedent by shielding their members from a comparatively small risk at the expense of vital learning.

Ron Jones joined us last week for an in-depth history lesson. We compare the responses of major cities, and helping us frame the hard decisions and trade-offs policymakers and parents are confronted with today.

Producer Charlie Deist guest hosts. Charlie and Ron also discuss the health crisis facing the youth, and how government and the public school system have failed to solve the problem.

LA Times, 1918. Los Angeles had already seen more than 10 times the fatality of COVID-19 when they were urging people not to over-react.
LA Times, 1918. Los Angeles had already seen more than 10 times the fatality of COVID-19 when they were urging people not to over-react.
Benjamin Franklin once said: "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety."
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