Put a Mask on Your Kid: Fighting Liberal Paternalism in the Age of COVID

As a proud progressive who believes society should have a robust safety net to assist those most in need, I would like to address an alarming trend occurring with my fellow progressives: advocating with great passion that the government take care of some people’s EVERY need. These well-intentioned progressives feel that asking socioeconomically disadvantaged people to demonstrate any level of self-sufficiency is evidence of one’s privilege. Let me address a recent exchange I had with progressives to demonstrate just how out-of-control this paternalism has become.

There is a small school district in Oklahoma that announced last month it was no longer providing free masks to middle or high school students. Under the new policy, if a student arrives to high school or middle school without a mask, the student will need to either call their parent to bring them a mask or buy one from the school for $1.00 (the district’s primary school will continue to provide students with free masks each day). The high school said it decided to make this change, at least in part, because the school was giving away 100 masks every day to a total student population of 291, and at the end of each day, teachers were noticing trash cans filled with masks.

As a school board member and parent, this policy makes sense to me for several reasons, including: (1) It is reasonable to ask middle school students and high school students to come to school with a mask. That is a responsibility a child between the ages of 12 and 18 can manage; (2) When a child comes to school without a mask, it exposes other students and staff to risk of infection until that child is able to obtain a mask from a school official; (3) Schools are overwhelmed with the many challenges of teaching during a pandemic. We do not need to put on them the additional burden of obtaining and distributing hundreds of masks each day; (4) It appears the free-mask policy led to a situation where many students had stopped making any effort to bring their own mask or conserve/reuse the masks they were provided; and (5) Masks are so exceedingly inexpensive that it is reasonable to require every parent provide one to their child. On this last point (the cost of masks), I would like to break down just how cheap it is to mask one’s child and the various options available to do so:

Paper Masks – The number of paper masks needed for a child to attend school will fluctuate depending on a variety of factors including how many days the child goes to school per week and how often a child reuses a mask (by the way, paper masks can be safely reused). For this analysis, let us assume each paper mask is never reused and the child attends school in a hybrid model (i.e., attends school every other day)—the most common format currently being used in the United States. Under this model, each student would need approximately 10 paper masks per month, or about 90 per school year.

Paper masks can be found online for 11.6 cents per mask ($6.99 for a box of 60 masks). In case a person does not have an Amazon Prime account and is not comfortable using someone else’s Amazon Prime account, he/she can purchase a box of 50 paper masks at Wal-Mart for $7.97 (16 cents per mask).

Using these assumptions, a parent could mask their child each day with a new paper mask for 29 to 40 cents per week, or $10.44 to $14.40 per year.

Cloth Masks – For those who are on even tighter budgets, or are more environmentally conscious, they can purchase cloth masks. A three-pack of cloth masks can be purchased at Wal-Mart for $3.97 (or $1.32 per mask).

If a parent purchased this 3-pack for their child, it would allow the child to wear a clean, cloth mask each day of the week at a cost of just 11 cents per week, or $3.97 per year.

Even Cheaper Options – The numbers above assume a parent purchases masks, but there are other even more economical ways of obtaining masks. For instance, many stores give away free face masks, including Sam’s Club, Whole Foods, Best Buy, Ikea, and Apple stores.

JOANN’s Fabric offers the public free kits to make one’s own mask as well as all the supplies necessary to do so at no charge.

Many counties and municipalities offer free face masks at health clinics and testing sites.

There are also countless videos one can watch to learn how to make a mask. These videos include methods that allow one to make his/her own mask with old clothing/unused fabric, requiring no sewing machine, and able to be done in approximately 10 minutes.

As the above demonstrates, the cost of masking one’s child is negligible. And even if 11-cents per week, or a one-time purchase of $3.97, is too great a burden for a family to absorb, there are numerous resources available to mask one’s child at no cost.

Despite this, there are some progressives who think asking parents to put a mask on their child is unacceptable. My support of the above-mentioned school’s policy to require students be masked resulted in me being accused of “showing some hardcore privilege” and being “woefully ignorant” to the plight of poor people. It was explained to me that it was unreasonable to ask underprivileged families to take on this burden of obtaining masks and that I failed to appreciate the challenges faced by them.

When did being a progressive become being so “woke” that we expect nothing from people? When did being compassionate mean throwing away all notions of personal responsibility? When did caring for our fellow man and woman turn into tossing out all common sense?

I made an effort to discuss this subject with people who I know had experienced poverty or lived in impoverished communities. They were offended by the paternalistic and condescending position that others believed them so helpless that they needed the government to provide their children with masks. As one person explained to me, “We may not have a lot of money, but we are a resourceful people. We don’t need people swooping in to save us from our own helplessness.”

I think that is exactly right. We help no one by expecting nothing. There is, without question, real privilege out there. As a white, cisgender, educated, able-bodied, economically secure individual, I benefit from extreme privilege every day. I freely recognize this and do what I can to make the world a fairer place. There are countless ways of doing so, but these efforts should not include treating the less privileged as helpless and attempting to take care of their every need—no matter how miniscule. Doing so is offensive and counterproductive.

So when we address vital issues around equity, let us remember to include common sense and personal accountability. For some progressives, the first step can be requiring (and allowing) all parents provide a face mask to their child.

– Dylan

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