We all pitched in for Peanut Kid

“I want a peanut butter sandwich.”  That’s all Declan would eat for lunch and most dinners: peanut butter. There was no use arguing, sitting him down, reading another child psychology book, and saving the food until it turned green or saying things like “You’ll eat what I cooked,” like my mom did.

She saved my cold, icky liver until breakfast the next day.

Declan ate peanut butter, and once in a while egg whites, perfectly separated, flipped in the air like a chef. That’s it.

Then he went to school where peanut butter is more illegal than a six pack of beer. It’s a serious offense. Schools are so strict about peanuts that Charles Shultz was once banned from an elementary school appearance.

Instead, lunch staff serves “sun nut butter” which is 3M glue mixed with dirt for color. It’s awful, but it keeps Peanut Kid alive so I’m all for it.

In the end, Declan survived lunch.  It was a blessing because without Peanut Kid, Declan never would’ve discovered his beloved chicken nugget, the food that would take us into the next ten years.

As a teacher, peanut bans didn’t always make sense to me, because I had “Orange Kid” in my class.

“Miss, I’m deathly allergic to oranges,”  she said when a basketball player peeled an orange on game day.

I dove over the desk, and tossed that thing out the window like a grenade. I’m proud to say Orange Kid is alive today.

Another year, I had Strawberry Kid–not a deadly allergy, thank goodness. I kept her alive, too. I kept soda and candy stashed for Seriously Unstable Type 1 Diabetic Boy. And every teacher has a Bee Kid–there’s one in every class.

The point is this… In 18 years, I didn’t feed even one Peanut Kid a Snickers. I brought gluten free birthday treats for my celiacs and even had dinner cooked by an allergy-certified chef and brought into the prom so The Most Serious Peanut Kid of Them All could eat with her friends.

We all worked together to take care of each other, no matter what the need. We were a team.

“Peanut Kid” Will Save the Day…

Right now, we’re deciding whether it’s safe to go back to school this August and if so, what school will look like.

One point of contention (in schools and public spaces) is mask wearing.

“My kid can’t wear a mask for medical reasons, I’m not revealing the reason (HIPPA), and I’m not going to make him. And, he has to be educated–he has a right to a public school education.”

One mom said that in a thread this week. It’s a valid point and it’s true. But, it made me think of Peanut Kid–one of the most excluded kids of time. Peanut kid is the hero in the “to mandate or not to mandate” story. I realized,  “We can mandate this… we already do.

There shouldn’t need to be a rule–we should all look out for each other… we are a team. But, as long as we need a rule today, Peanut Kid has gifted us the precedent.

Peanut kid has already answered this (legal question) for us.

Peanut Kid is one kid whose single need changes the rules for an entire school. Kids with food allergies either get a dedicated table for peanuts or an area swept by peanut minesweepers to clear out the last airborne molecule where Peanut Kid and friends eat.  No one can violate the sacred space. It’s a real mandate and very much enforced.

I never once retained an attorney to assert Declan’s right to a peanut butter sandwich, no matter how much he wanted one for lunch. We protected Peanut Kids and looked out for them outside of school, too.

So for people saying, “You can’t make my kid wear a mask… ” I’d argue we’ve already got a clear precedent that says schools can make similar rules for health reasons.

Is it convenient? Maybe not. Should peanuts be universally banned? Probably not–many years there was no Peanut Kid and I had Orange Kid instead. I didn’t need a rule–everyone took responsibility. This year, it’s not peanuts or oranges. It’s masks.

There’s public debate over whether masks are effective at all or even if this virus is more deadly than, say, the flu, a common cold, or any other calendar year where people die.  I can’t answer that question without the proper credentials, but I can look at whether I should wear a mask and require my family to do so.

Four hundred years ago a philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal, was faced with a similar problem with an equally unsolvable answer.

“Does God exist, and given that we can’t know for sure, how should we act on earth?”  Party? Or go to church? If God’s not real, can I live any way I want that gives me the most pleasure and benefit?

I can use Pascal’s logic today.

His logic suggests masks are still good even if this whole pandemic was exaggerated and we look like a giant national K-Pop band for another three months.

Pascal's triangle

Picture: http://ptri1.tripod.com/

Pascal’s wager

Pascal is considered the father of modern probability, but you know him best from his triangle. Pascal’s triangle has tortured generations of math students, because apparently regular triangles wouldn’t do for future generations Common Core. It’s been applied to things like cell division, disease spread, and immunology, too.

Today, we’ll look at his thoughts on the existence of God, and the way he ultimately resolved the issue:

Pascal wagered that reasonable people should live as if God exists whether or not they believe in God.

Here’s the logic:

If you don’t believe in God but you’re good–no harm, no foul. You make the world a better place. If God exists, you go to heaven when you die. If he doesn’t, you didn’t lose out by helping people and being good. There’s no bad outcome except you didn’t get to party that much–that’s a small price to pay for the potential of an eternal reward.

If you don’t believe in God and live the gangsta life then God turns out to be real…holy hellfire, Batman… you’re going there. Forever.

That’s a big chance you’re taking. The risk of acting as if God isn’t real is exponentially larger than the inconvenience of acting properly, just in case God is real.

Pascal said everyone has to make a bet on the existence of God and it’s an all-in bet. If you win, you win big. If you lose–you lose it all.  Therefore, any reasonable person would only have one course of action: Live as if God existed… just in case.

The same, I argue, applies to masks. Either everyone wears them, or everyone’s exposed.

Masks are a big-deal argument today.

People are arguing about liberties and Amendments as if King George himself said masks were mandatory and taxed each one. Mandating masks in schools is no different than schools banning my kid’s peanut butter sandwich. We do it for the common good, and no one is arguing about that.

Banning Declan’s sandwich is the price we pay to keep Peanut Kids safe.  That’s the rule in schools today. That’s what it must be for masks, too.

Let’s apply Pascal’s wager to this problem.

We have two outcomes here. Either the virus is real and dangerous (Pascal: “God exists”) or it is not (Pascal: God doesn’t exist.”).  We have people taking positions on both sides.

If this was a poker game, what would you bet?

This is a zero sum game, and you have to make a bet. You have to go all-in.  Should everyone wear a mask or should some people be excluded if they have reasons?  Remember, this is all-in. If even one person doesn’t wear masks AND the virus is serious, we all suffer and many could get sick or die.

If it was serious and we all wore masks, we saved lives.  But, we’ll never really know how serious it was since everyone was protected.

Pascal would argue it doesn’t matter if we know. Just like we can’t prove the existence of God, we can’t know if our mask wearing warded off mass death–since no one died. The only way we can test this is by having someone’s school unmask…then we collect and compare the data.

I’m not going to be in that control group. I’ll wear the mask. It’s the least inconvenience possible for the best possible outcome.

The most important thing

We need a consistent policy across all schools right now, and we need to reframe the “freedom” conversation to this, which I’ve used in my civics classes: “With great freedom comes with great responsibility.”

It’s become cliché, but it’s important.

No one’s asking anyone to go out and collect rubber for the War effort, start a bond drive, or live on ration coupons. Wearing a mask or staying home if you can’t is temporary, but if this virus turns out to be as deadly as some think, you may have made a life-saving call. If it’s a hoax, than you were definitely inconvenienced…

Pascal would weight those outcomes, run the risk-benefit, and act.

Schools are in a difficult position trying to decide whether to open at all, but, if we go back, the “mask or no mask” question is easy.

Pascal would wager wearing one is the only reasonable choice. 






For more (probably unnecessary) reading, please see the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on “The Common Good”.