On Avoiding Catastrophe

I’ve been studying and writing about vision in the classroom for some years now, including for the last two years under this column. I understand that these ideas seem odd or difficult for some people, but I persist because we all need to understand some fundamental things about how vision affects us, especially the young.

Underlying all of this work has been a concern for schoolchildren and their families, on the one hand, and a desire to improve outcomes in education while reducing costs to taxpayers, on the other. Some (a few) have opined that I do what I do because I want to sell glasses (as though making a living is controversial…) But no, that’s not my primary goal in educating the public about vision concerns in the classroom. (As it turns out, the vast majority of my readers are too far from my clinic to buy anything from me – though I have clients as far away as 1000km).

More to the point: In Canada, ensuring equality in opportunity is so fundamental, we have enshrined these principles into our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, one of the most hopeful, kind, and powerful documents ever to be produced by Parliament. The Charter is divided into sections which include Legal Rights and Equality Rights. Not only does this document guide our law-making, but it works to ensure that we all have equal access to opportunity and freedom from oppressive conditions. It is, in my opinion, a model for the world to follow – but I digress.

Of special interest from the Charter are the following statements:

“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice.”

“Everyone has the right not to be subjected to any cruel and unusual treatment or punishment.”

When we ignore vision, we virtually guarantee that thousands of children across the Province will suffer needlessly, partly because we force them to engage in intensely visual tasks in the classroom. For these children, schoolwork is a difficult, if not impossible task, but it need not be. It is because we can do something about it, but don’t, we are guilty of depriving those affected children of opportunity, quality of life, and in many cases contributing to unnecessary loss of vision. Sadly, this is not overstatement: You don’t have to travel to far off lands to see how vision contributes to poverty and suffering, it’s a simple fact in every classroom and community in Alberta. (These ideas will be detailed in more depth in an upcoming book “Wait to Fail: Why Some Children Will Never Succeed in School”.)

It’s tragically embarrassing to think that children in our own midst have their lives put on hold because of the lack of proper care.  Schools need to insist upon vision exams for all children entering Grade 1. Period. Psychologists, pediatricians, and teachers need to insist on this – most often, after learning about the details, they do. This is my main reason for writing. As awareness around the role of vision in learning increases, school authorities will need to address this issue proactively if they are to avoid costly legal battles and claims.

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