(Editor's note: The following is a letter Eastbrook Middle School Principal Greg Bailey wrote to the Eastbrook community.)
Normally, my beginning of the school letter focuses on the academic and athletic successes of the previous year and the focus of the coming school year. However, the 2020-2021 Eastbrook school year looks to be like none other as we face uncertainty and develop new norms. I am writing a very different letter to our school family and community.
Being the oldest of the grandchildren on both sides of the family, I was told many stories by my grandparents and great-grand parents who lived in Knoxville, Tennessee. I distinctly remember them discussing the great influenza epidemic of 1918. It must have been a horror knowing friends, neighbors and relatives who were perfectly fine one day and dead the next. Knoxvillians’ lives were disrupted as schools, pool halls, churches and silent movie theaters were closed.
Most upsetting was the Tennessee Valley Fair was cancelled just three days into the event. The people were not happy, and there was much economic loss. There were orders to wear masks, and police enforced health mandates. The first World War was raging, and University of Tennessee football had been canceled.
Knoxville was a city of 85,000 people. In the fall of 1918, over 10,000 Knoxvillians contracted the flu and about 250 died. Sadly, more Knoxvillians died of the flu in 1918 than the number of young men from Knox County in the entire conflict of World War I. The number of deaths in Chattanooga, Memphis and Nashville were much greater than those in Knoxville.
I am rehashing all this history to prove one thing: history repeats Itself. Winston Churchill said it more eloquently, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” Students, faculty and parents: we are repeating history! Only the future historians will determine if we learned anything from 1918.
I find the parallels between the current events and 1918 eerie. My grandparents were elementary/middle school-aged children during the 1918 flu, and it had a strong effect on them. I believe this pandemic will have a profound impact on our students, and this is something they will tell their grandchildren. Hopefully, we will get through this difficult year, and medical science will learn to control the virus with a vaccine.
My grandparents were from what is commonly called the “Greatest American Generation.” They were children as World War I was raging. They endured the great stock market crash of 1929 and suffered in the Great Depression. They fought in World War II and established America as the greatest economic and military global power.
They laid aside their political differences when it came to their children’s health as they combatted polio and created the March of Dimes. It took nearly 30 years for them to defeat the disease. They would go on to create vaccines that eradicated mumps, measles, chicken pox, whooping cough, smallpox, tetanus, diphtheria and rabies — diseases that killed their parents' generation.
They started out riding in “horseless carriages” and as they aged, they put man on the moon.
They went from the abacus to the computer.
They started great social reforms that would begin to right some of the wrongs of the past.
They paved the way for our great American way of life, and we owe much to them.
Currently, there is great division and strife during this pandemic just as there was in 1918. My hope is that history will once again repeat itself, and my middle schoolers will become the "Greatest American Generation" because they learned from our mistakes. I still believe our best days are to come, and the American dream can be achieved by all of our citizens. I see great promise in young people’s hearts.
The role of my staff is to teach students the tools to make our children the “Greatest American Generation” and hopefully make my dream come to fruition. Only time will tell!
All adults need to be mindful that our children are listening and watching us during this time of distress and uncertainty. They are learning from our example. Amid all of the division, we will hopefully embrace that we are All Americans, and together we will persevere to foster the "New Greatest American Generation."
This will be my last year in public K-12 education. I want to thank the community for giving me the gift of Eastbrook and allowing me to serve you!
Eastbrook Middle School Principal Greg Bailey is a long-time Whitfield County educator who is retiring at the end of this school year.