A political pandemic.
Health based on choice
The safety of our students
depends on who we’re voting for.
It makes me wonder: where’s my voice?
It’s all overwhelming, and I can’t take any more.

A virus swept through my country,
and I locked myself inside.
Now am I safe or am I in more danger?
I try to stay calm, to take this all in stride
But when I emerge, I am now a stranger.

Nobody listens to each other
With this, how do we again strive?
We need to hear one another
That’s how we get out of this alive

Please, come together
But not too close
We’re in stormy weather
But the sun soon shows

This pandemic has turned into a matter of political opinion. You either wear a mask or you don’t. You either get the vaccine or you don’t. Although there are some exceptions, the choice is not reliant on the safety of our country and all its citizens, no matter what “side” they’re on. One of the main issues in relation to this pandemic is whether children should go to school in person or not. Sometimes it feels like adults make decisions that are about me, but as a student myself, I have no say. I understand that everyone is trying to do what they deem best, but sometimes we can get so caught up in our own opinion that we don’t notice the cover in front of our eyes. It blinds us to what’s real and what’s not. And no one will ever decide something that everyone agrees with … so how do we determine what is best for the children in school during this historic time?

Asking Big Questions

One of my biggest questions during this whole whirlwind has been, “Why don’t people listen to the facts? To each other?” Facts are the cornerstone of any good debate. They are the building blocks of our opinions and provide the tools we need to logically argue. But when people spread conspiracies and lies, the foundation of logic becomes rocky and unstable, leaving us unsure of what is real and what is not. That is when chaos ensues, because two sides that argue with different ideas of “truth” can never agree. Guidelines for masking and distancing were given, supported by facts and written by scientists, but those facts were overturned and labeled by some as lies, or opinions at best. We need to find some common ground or a cornerstone before we can start building.

This brings me to my next persisting question: “Why can’t we listen to what our opponents have to say?” Social media is an additional factor that has combined with the pandemic to drive a frenzy. With anyone and everyone able to post, no matter what’s true or not, an echo chamber easily forms around every user. This comes directly from Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave,” which demonstrates that the ignorant can only be pulled from their world if they are given knowledge, facts, and truth. Once we are caught in our own echo chambers, anyone giving a different opinion seems outlandish and uninformed, even when they may be trying to pull us out. The key to spanning the political chasm is to listen to one another. Most of us are simply making the choices we see as right, so viewing another’s perspective helps everyone.

I was stuck in a small box on my teachers’ screens for a whole year. When it came to debating reopening schools, I appreciated that both sides were trying to do what they thought was best. However, the idea of “best” was split. On one hand, do we put children in school and risk them not only getting COVID, but spreading it to their families? Or do we consider the mental health risks of children having to stare at a screen for eight hours?

I will say this: My mental health suffered from the pandemic, but I was more afraid of going back if there weren’t the necessary health precautions in place. Since I was a new student, my case was especially difficult because I had no way of connecting socially when my peers were right there. When my school reopened for hybrid, in-person, or virtual learning, for safety reasons, I chose not to attend school in person. However, as my teacher taught in-person and online simultaneously, it was so aggravating to see other students chatting and laughing in the background of the Zoom call when I was stuck at home, day after day. However, I didn’t want to go back if that meant putting my family at risk for severe illness, with one 65-year-old family member and another 94-year-old. It seemed like a bad decision to go back with no vaccine available and a lot of students wearing their masks under their noses all the time. I know that the school community tried their best, but I was frustrated that I couldn’t go back.

This country could have done better. We could have done worse. Leaders could have come together instead of ostracizing the other side; could have had stricter rules; could have found better ways for children to connect. It is time to focus on the now. No more “could have beens” when we are now confronted with “will dos.” From the ashes, this country must rise again. The only way to do so is to come together (six feet apart).

Zoë Bain is an eighth grader at Fishers Junior High School in Fishers, IN.