Healthcare Reform, Democracy & Schools

DemocracyI am concerned about the unfolding process of working out changes to our healthcare system, and particularly how it is being covered in the media as a contest with winners and losers rather than an exercise in compromise to find a working consensus. I think the framing of the debate in the coverage reflects a conventional wisdom that our political and legislative process is more akin to a spectator sport (where our political elite are alone on the playing field) rather than a societal effort to mitigate conflicting interests and find a compromise that can begin to improve the healthcare context for all of us. I for one, put a lot of blame on our education system.

My personal preference would be to treat healthcare basically as a public utility and adopt a single-payer system like they have in Canada, which I think would unleash the currently tamped-down entrepreneurial spirit in our country and liberate a great deal of pent up creative energy that could be directed toward starting more small businesses and reinvigorating our economy. Short of single-payer, some sort of government-run “public option” would be a step in that direction, and I imagine that fact is why so many conservatives and others vested in our for-profit medical establishment are fighting so fiercely against any sort of additional “toe in the door” alongside Medicare, the VA, and Medicaid.

That said, I have a sophisticated enough understanding of democratic process, including consensus building and vote counting, to understand that, at least at this point in time, there is not the consensus in this country to adopt a single-payer system. Furthermore, I also understand that though there is a majority in the country and in the U.S. House for some sort of a government-run “public option”, there do not seem to be the 60 votes in the Senate to pass it outright. I have to acknowledge that at this point in our country’s history the business of America is still business, and the existing for-profit health care industry is a powerful political player, particularly as reflected in the U.S. Senate with its bias towards smaller population states with more conservative, rural constituencies.

So I could wave my “Power to the People” flag, hurl a few choice epithets at Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, pick up my cards and go home, but that would not be in the spirit of the admitted “sausage making” that goes into building a “consensus of the possible” which is at the root of any real democratic process.

I am concerned that building a workable compromise solution is being made way more difficult by the news media, particularly conservative and liberal pundits, who are framing this effort to craft healthcare reform (or maybe more accurately health insurance reform) as a contest between Obama and conservatives, where one side or the other will be victorious and the other vanquished. Since the media is commercially motivated, presumably most people out there buy into this spectator sport and are rooting for one side or the other rather than focusing their hopes (and the reflection of their hopes in town hall meetings and other communications with their legislators) on improving the health care system in our country by coming to some sort of “consensus of the possible”.

There is a lot at stake, including ending what I consider the unethical practice of denying people coverage because of preexisting conditions. Short of guaranteeing every one of us adequate healthcare coverage, we should at least offer every American affordable health insurance, even if it takes mandating that all of us purchase that coverage. The latter is admittedly a backhanded way of doing it, which will be a boon for the insurance and healthcare industry. But so be it, since most of us Americans seem to want to live in a society awash with consumer goods, and we buy the products that big business provides, giving them the profits to allow them to have so much political clout in the legislative process.

One way or another we need to take some sort of a step to a more humane and rational healthcare system that is a source strength rather than stress in our collective and individual lives. But I am concerned that we lack the political sophistication to do so, and are instead caught up in a very passive, unsophisticated rooting for one side to “triumph” over the other. And if one way or the other there is a compromise, rather than all of us breathing a sign of relief and acknowledging each other for working something out, every effort will probably be made to frame it as win for somebody and a crushing defeat for someone else.

So how has a country founded on perhaps the most advanced political thinking and sophistication at the time of its founding become so much the opposite? There is the list of the usual culprits, depending generally on what side of the political spectrum you inhabit. Conservatives might say it is big-brother big government usurping individual liberty and leading to alienation with the political process, while people on the liberal side might say it is big business control over politics leading to a similar alienation.

I have my own culprit to add to the list, the American education system. In a country that needs to rely on political sophistication to work through difficult challenges like healthcare reform, we have a population that has mostly grown up in schools, whether public or private, that do not give kids the opportunity to have a meaningful stake in the governance of this institution where they spend so much of their young lives. The average American adult has never had the experience of hashing out a difficult compromise using the pragmatic tools of democratic process, and therefore I think has no appreciation for the discipline and nuances of that process.

School instead is all about students respecting, mostly unchallenged, the authority of the teachers and administrators and watching from the sidelines while those same authorities make and enforce all the rules. The student’s role in the governance process is nada, just do what you’re told and hopefully be favorably evaluated by your teachers.

Generation after generation of Americans has grown up with no ownership stake in the primary institution they have participated in during their formative years. Educators often defend this pecking order by saying they are just preparing kids to participate in a work world where they will have to follow the orders of their future employers, and do whatever boring work (like the boring work at school) that is on their plate in the work world. Given all this, no wonder we have a politically unsophisticated population that views politics as a sport with winners and losers.

So I say its time that we face this fact and begin to profoundly change the governance structure of our schools to include all school stakeholders (particularly our youth) in its governance process. Education is not just about what you are learning, the curriculum, though most people (including most politicians, educrats and voters) seem to fixate on that. Education is also about methodology and governance.

Methodology, or in “ed-speak” pedagogy, is about how we learn. Most people (including most politicians, educrats and voters) seem not to understand that the pedagogical basis of most schools is instruction, which is only one of a number of different learning methodologies.

And finally, education like any other institution is about governance, and it seems that practically no one is thinking about that. Like anything else, practice makes perfect, and the bulk of us are failing to realize that generation after generation of American kids are getting no practice in governance during their youth. Instead they are getting intense training in being compliant worker-bees at the bottom of the pecking order, who can get only vicarious satisfaction when their “team” goes out and hopefully crushes their opponents on the gridiron.

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