Making decisions based on the dollars saved

Bob
Bob Wakeham
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It’s obviously unfair to suggest that all politicians and their top bureaucrats wear permanent blinkers that provide a singular view of the bottom line and a blindness to matters of the heart (unless, in the case of the elected, there’s a vote or two to be garnered).

But it’s equally easy to see where that reputation for coldness — and a “just the facts, Ma’am, just the facts” philosophy with little room for visceral policies — hovers like an ugly cloud over governments.

And I refer, at least in evidence arising in recent weeks, to the icewater-in-the-veins closure of the School for the Deaf, and the detachment employed by the province, and most other provinces, to the plea by sufferers of multiple sclerosis to have their elected representatives help finance a “liberation therapy” that is believed on many fronts to be a cure for some multiple sclerosis (MS) patients.

First to the School for the Deaf: on the surface, it appeared that an institution with only a handful of students should have been shut down, and its facilities better utilized. But the letter to the editor (“Closing school was always government’s plan,” Aug. 6) from Charles Harkins, the school’s principal from 1968 to 2001 — whose knowledge, one would presume, of the needs and desires  of  hearing-impaired youngsters and their parents would surpass that of any politician, bureaucrat or education official in Newfoundland — had a strikingly believable message. The reduction of enrolment was deliberate, an agenda-driven manipulation of information and part of a largely unqualified, all-embracing policy that every single child with a disability should be assimilated into the general school population.

There was also a powerful public message from a young woman attending a reunion (ironically) of  School for the Deaf students, on the unbreakable bonds formed by those educated at the institution, and her simple but powerful anecdote about how her friends teased her about the normal things that kids used for razzing (hairstyle and shoes), but of being mocked when moved to a regular school because of her hearing disability and nothing else. 

So, who do you listen to? Who speaks with the most credibility and sincerity? Is it the students and their principal for over 20 years or politicians and their mandarins? I know who would get my vote.

This was a decision based on dollars and cents, a decision about the value of a place that should never have been quantified. (And — although it’s a topic too enormous to cover here — those who adhere with absolute devotion to the movement of children with any kind of disability into the mainstream should listen to many teachers who talk with authority about the often counter-productivity of unconditional inclusiveness.)

In any case, the case for the School for the Deaf is now academic. The deed is done; another example, it appears, of the wallet overriding the heart. 

A similar case with MS

And the same could be said, up to this point, on the subject of those afflicted with MS and their desire to pursue any hope for a cure, individuals who quite rightly deserve every single crack they can get at longevity and a decent quality of life.

If it means the government has to loosen up a fair chunk of our change to determine, at the very least, which MS suffers could benefit from angioplasty, it would be money well spent. This is not some half-baked theory concocted by a wacko out to make a few fast bucks; from what I’ve read and heard, and based on the testimonies of people who’ve seen their lives improved to a measurable degree after the surgery, it has a high degree of plausibility.

And it’s not nearly good enough for those in control of the purse strings to continue to fall back on the over-used and easy excuse for inaction that this apparent medical  breakthrough hasn’t been adequately tested. MS sufferers do not have time for a definitive analysis and study after study after study. Nor can they afford to travel to countries like Poland where the treatment is performed.  

Having survived a deadly disease myself, I know something about the desperation to receive whatever medical help is available, even if there’s a question or two about its efficacy; the desire to live, to lead a normal life, supersedes the political correctness of awaiting a scientific verdict.                

Millions have been spent over the years on much less valuable matters.

The heart should have a voice here. Not just the pocketbook.

Bob Wakeham has spent more than 30 years as a journalist in Newfoundland and Labrador. He can be reached by e-mail at bwakeham@nl.rogers.com.

Organizations: School for the Deaf

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Poland

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  • Observer
    August 14, 2010 - 15:21

    I have been following these debates and couldn't agree more with Mr Wakeham. I believe the school for the Deaf closure was planned and deliberate. The parents, former principal and former students are believable. The current Principal spoke recently and made several erroneous statements such as Cochlear Implants weren't on the horizon years ago and they are new technology, a quick Google search will show differently - they have been around since the 18th century and have yet to "cure" deafness. I would think the Principal would know that. She stated that in 1973 when the school was at its peak they had a critical mass of 144 students. But now 199 is not enough to keep it open? She also made inadverent comments such as "not just denied enrolment but other factors too" So she confirms that students were denied enrolment. As well she said, " If you put children out without proper supports, inclusion does not work. The way we have done it, I've been back (from retirement) for three years and I have been heavily involved in this for three years." and "we have been doing surveys for the last three years" She seems to have contradicted the Minister who has said repeatedly said there was no plan. Sorry I side with Mr Wakeham on this one as he astutely observed: it was planned and deliberate, just like the current Principal said.

    • Mark
      August 16, 2010 - 00:46

      Sorry Bob but you have a contradiction in your argument. On one hand you say our government should not close the School for the Deaf because those in the deaf community say it is required and they know better than our politicians and bureaucrats. In the next breath you imply that the government should decide to fund this controversial MS treatment. Not one physician or medical group in our country has come out and stated that this procedure will indeed work. Only Saskatchewan is willing to fund a series of trials. Poland and Bulgaria are not countries known for leading the world in medical research and even if they have a great find here, certainly our medical community and that of other advanced western nations should be allowed to comment on its merits and recommend to politician and bureaucrats whether it merits funding. Everyone has sympathy for MS sufferers, but the emotional argument should not trump the quest for tested and proven facts in this case.

  • Observer
    August 14, 2010 - 12:13

    I too have been following these debates and couldn't agree more with Mr Wakeham. I believe the school for the Deaf closure was planned and deliberate. The parents, former principal and former students are believable. The current Principal spoke out "On the Go" and made many erroneous statements such as Cochlear Implants weren't on the horizon years ago and they are new technology, a quick Google search will show differently - they have been around since the 18th century and have yet to "cure" deafness. One would think as Principal she would know that? She also made slips of the tongue when she said "not just denied enrolment but other factors too" She confirms students were denied enrolment. As well she said, " If you put children out without proper supports, inclusion does not work. The way we have done it, I've been back (from retirement) for three years and I have been heavily involved in this for three years." She contradicts the Minister who said there have not planned it but she came back from retirement and has been working on it for 3 years. Sorry I side with Mr Wakeham on this one as he astutely observed: it was planned and deliberate, just like the current Principal said.