I visited two elementary schools in the Sunnyside District to speak to the nurses about obtaining obesity data on their children.  Sunnyside is the only district in Arizona to mandate a nurse in every school.  Because of the nurses, fewer children are sent home with medical problems, and the nurses are able to immunize some of the children who haven’t completed their immunizations.  I know these days many Americans on both sides of the political spectrum think vaccines are dangerous; the diseases they prevent, like rabies, are still out there in the wild just waiting for us to let our guard down.  I find myself wishing they would get a case of measles.  Not complicated measles, which is not rare.  Just measles.  Maybe that would change their perspective.

All districts must check hearing in the 6th grade.  But Sunnyside additionally weighs, measures and checks vision of their students pre-K, 2nd, 6th and 9th grade.  Nobody else in the Tucson valley is doing this.  They don’t have extra money; they just decided it was important.

Because of their work, we have the first step to obtaining obesity data on middle school kids in Tucson.  From there, we hope to get the other districts involved and have county-wide data on public school 6th graders, which likely would be some of the best data in the state, if not nationally.  I’m pretty excited about the prospect.

It was eye-opening to watch the kids leaving the school going home.  There weren’t a line of large SUVs and vans picking the kids up.  Many actually walked home.  Imagine that.  The houses down there aren’t six to seven figure ones up in the Foothills.  Their parents aren’t movers and shakers.  They can’t home school their kids.  They are too busy trying to scrape by.  If they don’t have public education, how will these kids get educated?  Or is it just too bad and they should just stay in entry level jobs and be house or yard cleaners because they can’t do anything else?

America has given three things to the world — liberty, the national park system, and public education to support a vibrant middle class.  None of these has occurred as quickly or as effectively anywhere else.  In 1966, I learned what LIONS Club stands for “Liberty, Intelligence.  Our Nation’s Safety.”  Exactly how are we going to educate millions of children without public education?  Who is going to pay for it?  Or will volunteers step forward?  Why not have volunteers step forward to save public education?

Will this be an America where people don’t vaccinate, and visitors will need vaccinations the way I needed a yellow fever shot to go to Africa?  Already, immunocompromised children can’t go to day care centers, because there are too many unvaccinated children.  Will this be an America where we end public education, because it is a government program, and all government programs (except defense, of course) are bad?  Should people should be free to do whatever they want, including logging the rest of the redwoods and old growth forest, mining the national parks, taking oil out of ANWR, because somebody rich has bought the land and can do whatever they want?  Is this why I, among only 7% of Americans, served America in uniform?

If we end education, health care, food stamps, social security and Medicare, we will have people on the streets the way we have stray animals, lots of people, because the fundamentalists would have banned birth control, too.  We’d have people dying horrible deaths from treatable conditions, the way stray animals do.  Isn’t that a death panel?  And I don’t consider a stray animal an “only,” having taken in many.  Indeed, I rank companion animals above the Norquists and the Newts of the world.  Reread that.

Those who espouse smaller government have not been in these schools, learned nothing from Katrina and have not been down to the county public health department.

I don’t know how big our government should be.  But I do know that leaving people unregulated is akin to a fraternity house on a Sunday morning, the economy a year ago, the 60 to 37,000% fold difference in frequency of medical procedures depending upon where you live and worse driving than we already see.  How much do we regulate?  As much as we need without doing too much.  And what would that be?  I don’t know, but we better start figuring it out as a country and soon.

In these pages, I have stated that I am not religious.  But I think we have a duty as human beings to help make our society better.  Sometimes by saying no, we make things better and by saying yes, we make them worse.  Sometimes we should leave people alone; other times, we should step in.  Those who argue solely from one side are as wrong as they are loud and nasty, and I have never heard an ideologue naturally laugh, not once, nor make fun of themselves, which healthy people do.

Those who read my columns are in general well off in life, probably wealthy.  One of my mottos is “Those to whom much is given, much is expected.”  Give of your time, your knowledge and your resources to make this country better.


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