“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul,” Nelson Mandela famously said, “than the way in which it treats its children.” By that standard, our society now has the soul of an abusive parent. The pandemic has turned American adults, or at least the ones who make the rules, into selfish neurotics who have been punishing innocent children for over a year—and still can’t restrain themselves.
When the pandemic began, the lack of knowledge about Covid-19 justified this behavior. That excuse has vanished. It became clear long ago that the virus is less dangerous to children than the flu, and that keeping schools open poses minimal risk of spreading infections. Yet despite this evidence—and despite the widespread availability of vaccines to teachers and other adults—many schools have yet to reopen full-time, and others are still making students as miserable as possible.
Schools have canceled many sports and other extracurricular activities, isolated students in Plexiglas cells, and forced them to wear masks in classrooms and on playgrounds. Social distancing and masks hinder learning while harming children emotionally, socially, and physically, all for no purpose other than providing false comfort to adults who ought to know better.
The rationale for forcing anyone to wear a mask is questionable, as my colleague Connor Harris has meticulously demonstrated. Wearing masks might provide some protection for some high-risk adults in crowded indoor settings, but the evidence is mixed, and masks can be not just uncomfortable but harmful. Some adults may judge the trade-offs worthwhile for themselves, but for children it’s all pain and no gain.
The mask mandates are especially cruel to young children. Adults are supposed to ease their fears, to reassure them that monsters aren’t hiding under the bed. Instead, we’re frightening them into believing they’re being stalked by invisible menaces lurking in the air. A year of mask-wearing will scar some of them psychologically—and maybe physically, too, according to a team of Italian professors of plastic surgery, who warn that the prolonged pressure from the elastic straps could leave young children with permanently protruding ears. By hiding teachers’ lips and muffling their speech, mask-wearing makes it harder for young children to develop linguistic skills and prevents children with hearing impairments from lip reading. Unable to rely on facial cues, teachers and students of all ages are more likely to misinterpret one other, a particularly acute problem for children on the autism spectrum. How are children supposed to develop social skills when they can’t see one another’s faces, sit together, or play together?