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Perspective: A proposal for a required course

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Right now, all high school students in Illinois are required to take one year of U.S. history, one semester of civics and one semester of another social studies course. I’d like to propose another required course fitted to our times: The History of Diseases That Used To Kill Or Afflict A Lot Of People That Don’t Anymore Thanks To Science.

As a public school administrator, the last thing I should push for is another state mandated course. But people armed with the best information usually make the best decisions.

The starting point for the course would be a graphic examination of many of these diseases themselves: smallpox, yellow fever, malaria, cholera, polio, tuberculosis, the 1918 flu, the Black Plague, tetanus, diphtheria, typhoid fever, and dysentery. All of these afflictions in one form or another proved to be a miserable, gruesome and agonizing way to die.

Following that examination would be a deep dive into the consequences of epidemics and pandemics. There was a reason General George Washington ordered troops to be inoculated against smallpox. There was a reason yellow fever and malaria had to be eradicated before work on the Panama Canal could commence. There was a reason why anyone who could fled major East Coast cities in the summer until the first freeze would kill the mosquitos. There was a reason parents were terrified of their kids swimming during the summer months.

And in every single instance, medical science figured out a way to stop, treat or create vaccines against these scourges. It would be good for people to know that in the future.

Andrew Nelson has been involved in public education in northern Illinois for more than three decades.