By Leon A Smith
January 25, 2013
Once again the light dusting of snow wreaks havoc in London. Newspapers have been full of despairing comment pieces relating to public transport problems and the closure of schools. Thousands of schools have been closed for reasons which are not always totally comprehensible or transparent. How many times have we heard that schools need to be closed? One of the reasons often referred to is the fact that there are health and safety issues and that “it’s no good having all of the children turning up to school if some of the teachers can’t get there”. One wonders how determined are they to make that effort in order that they can be in their workplace to further the education of those in their charge?
I run a large care home of almost 200 residents. All of these people are old, vulnerable, frail and many are in need of 24 hour assistance. Unlike a school, I cannot close the care home and send all of the residents home because the staff might not be able to get to work! Staff do come to work. It’s not easy.It’s disruptive. It’s cold and unpleasant and it would be much easier to stay in bed! But people don’t. They make the effort because they have a sense of responsibility to those for whom they are caring.
They know the high degree of dependency which our residents have and if they, the staff, are not present, the consequences would be critical. One therefore wonders why in one sector of public life, staff are unable to get to work and in another sector, a sense of responsibility is shown and people do get to work.
I am sure these comments will be an anathema to many teachers reading this but it is an inescapable fact that many people today – particularly younger people – are closeted, wrapped in cotton wool and simply not exposed to the real world. Cold weather and snow is the real world! It’s not extreme. We are not in deepest Siberia. It’s not Antartica. It’s just a bit cold with a little bit of snow. Are school pupils really that fragile they cannot be put through that sort of risk?
You will hear numerous people of my own generation saying that we “never had school closures in our day” and truly I cannot ever remember a day when my school was shut because of bad weather. But to our parents' generation the behaviours displayed in society today must seem almost laughable. When one looks at the hardships so many of our parents generation have suffered – physically, financially and emotionally – the thought of schoolchildren today being protected from the cold and wet surely beggars belief.
That does not mean of course that everything a generation ago was either acceptable or desirable but the truth is that the senior generation today are clearly much more hardy than the generation of tomorrow are ever going to be. The vast majority of our children and grandchildren will not have suffered true hardship or never have been exposed to the serious rigours of life such as poverty, hunger, persecution or worse. Whilst on the one hand protection and consideration for the wellbeing of our children and grandchildren is a laudable aspiration, this must be balanced against the dangers of over protecting them from the real world.
Older people come to the Nightingale Hammerson homes because they need care, protection and warmth. It is our responsibility to deliver that. Children go to school to be educated. It is the responsibility of education authorities and those running schools to ensure that they receive that education without unnecessary interruption. The young have so much to learn from the old – I always welcome the opportunity of bringing together groups of younger people with groups of our residents. The interaction is always of the highest quality and stimulating for both groups. I suggest that the more that these two generations interact, the better.
On a vaguely related note, I am delighted that Nightingale House is hosting the Board of Deputies Jewish Way of Life Exhibition and during the coming weeks hundreds of local school children will be visiting the Home, hosted and guided by a number of our volunteers and staff. Again, this gives enormous pleasure to our residents to see so many young children in our building.