In President Obama’s weekly video message for this past Independence Day weekend he discussed our current problems in the context of those faced by earlier generations.
And part of that, of course, was drumming up support for his energy, health care, and education proposals.
These are some of the challenges that our generation has been called to meet. And yet, there are those who would have us try what has already failed; who would defend the status quo. They argue that our health care system is fine the way it is and that a clean energy economy can wait. They say we are trying to do too much, that we are moving too quickly, and that we all ought to just take a deep breath and scale back our goals.
Now is the time to lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity. Now is the time to revamp our education system, demand more from teachers, parents, and students alike, and build schools that prepare every child in America to outcompete any worker in the world.
He’s right. Our national policies in these three areas are not “fine” and big changes need to happen now.
However, the actual plans for fixing these three systems, at least the ones currently working their way through Congress, are far less encouraging than the president’s rhetoric.
For example, while the way we provide and pay for health care in this country could use a major overhaul, what is really needed is a whole new approach to the topic.
Instead of putting the vast majority of the resources into fixing problems after they happen, the system should be geared instead to prevention.
Practically any doctor not associated with big pharma knows that some basic national lifestyle changes would dramatically reduce the incidence of heart disease, diabetes and many cancers, the expensive part of the system.
Energy is a similar case. We desperately need new ways of producing energy, but we also need to make some major changes in how we use it.
A good example of that is roads. Around here (and I suspect in other big cities), the most common transportation solutions start and end with building more of them.
What we need instead is more public transport options, not to mention better planning to make putting more cars on those roads less necessary.
And then we come to education, the part of Obama’s big three with which I’m most familiar.
Unfortunately, as is the case in health care and energy, there is very little systemic change being proposed by the president and his secretary of education.
Merit pay for teachers (likely based on student test scores), promoting charter schools, and tweaking No Child Left Behind does nothing to address the basic structural problems of the American education system.
Instead of just tweaking what we already have, the change process needs to start with a serious national discussion on the purpose of school today (not what you remember from 10, 20, 30 years ago) as well as what it means to be well educated.