If you watch CNN, the BBC or any other media outlet, they’ve suddenly switched from saying the world has ended from the “economic crisis” to now we’re all doomed by “swine flu”. Those people not living on planet Earth, or those who believe what they read in the news, would think it’s the end of the world. But so far all it is is a complete failure of how the world is educated, on so many levels.
Failure in maths
The reason the flu or any other pandemic is dangerous is because it has the potential to become huge. But we’re no where near there yet. From the reactions of news readers you’d think that millions of people had already died. But so far it’s “only” a few hundred. I say “only” here because obviously the death of someone close is unbelievably painful. But we have to look at the big picture, to understand what that number really signifies. Yesterday several thousand, that’s more than ten times more, people died in car accidents. But nobody understands what that means. That’s much more horrific, but why aren’t the media reporting it as such? It’s because people wouldn’t listen, because they don’t understand the math. They can’t see the difference between four hundred and four thousand.
Many people still incredibly believe that air travel is more dangerous than travelling by car. It’s a total failure that people can believe such things simply because they can’t balance the emotional impact with what the numbers really mean.
You think it’s not important? What happens if this thing became big and millions of people got infected. Or billions. Would you know what that means? Would you know when it was safe to go outside or go to the store for food?
Failure in biology
The first things that some people started saying were things like “should we start taking antibiotics?” Why, it’s a virus not a bacterial infection. But many people don’t know the difference. Again some people think science isn’t important, but last week how many would have known whether to take an antiviral or antibiotic? One will help, one will make bacteria stronger in the future.
Governments have to put out warnings telling people to wash their hands. Yes, wash their hands! It’s unbelievable that people don’t already do that in a supposedly educated society such as the United States. How can they not know about this simple method of disease control? “They know, but they just don’t do it” is what some people say. But that’s where the failure is. The teacher has failed if someone merely knows about something but doesn’t put it into practice. That’s lecturing, not educating.
Some people believe that because the media label it as “Swine Flu”, presumably because Mexico’s embassies don’t want it called “Mexican Flu”, that eating pork is bad. Again it’s a total failure that so many people don’t know such basic biology.
Failure in geography
The latest headlines are always “another new country infected”, “dozens of countries reporting cases”. Countries are an artificial, and totally out of balance way of measuring this planet. I admit I’m guilty of it when I say “used in over 200 countries” but it doesn’t really mean anything. The world is one these days. Just ask any kid, they don’t see lines on a map, they see continents on Google Earth. But most adults just don’t understand where on the world they live and where other people live. How can we not know where our neighbours are?
Failure in thinking
The worst thing I’ve seen so far is so called experts from the WHO using the phrase “worrying.” In any success course the first thing you learn is that “worry” is one of the biggest wastes of energy and dangerous things you can do. It’s the proverbial fear of fear itself. If there’s something you can do to stop something, then do it. If there’s nothing you can do then use your energies elsewhere. But worrying serves no purpose at all. It’s not an emotion or even a word that professionals should ever use.
Where’s the positive side?
Those people who know me will be wondering why on Earth I’ve written such a negative sounding post, isn’t my job to genkify people? Well yes, but I’ve never seen anything like this before where so many different areas of education have failed so much. And it’s by acknowledging these basic failures that we can improve things for the future.
It doesn’t matter if not everyone on the planet speaks perfect English or can do advanced algebra. But everyone on the planet must, has to, should understand some of the very basics of human existence such as simple biology or the understanding of basic probabilities if we are to survive any major upsets to our lifestyle.
Swine Flu may turn into a pandemic and we’re bound to face even bigger threats in the future, but without the skills to see what is really happening then panic and worse will ensue.
Education is always the way we will fight these things. Education in the form of science and communications has already revolutionised how experts fight disease. But now we need everyone, not just the experts, to be up to speed on the key points of human life so that we don’t have to tell them what a virus is or to wash their hands several times a day.
If this thing does become pandemic people need to know the difference between 5% and 40%, between a virus and bacteria, where infections are located, they need to evaluate the risks of travelling, buying bread or going outdoors.
So let’s make sure we understand the world that’s around us, rather than relying on gossip, distortion and fear mongering that the media provides today. Emotions are fun, exciting and make life interesting. But let’s make sure basic skills to overcome emotion when needed are a fundamental part of what we teach. Knowledge and skills, education, is the light that lets us understand the problems we face and helps us find the solutions.
School isn’t about exams, it’s the instruction book for life. How to be happy, successful, caring and, if this thing does become big, stay healthy.
UK Government’s pdf Information Pamphlet on Swine Flu – yes aimed at adults, not children, although it could be good to use in class!