January 23, 2022

Arthur Camins: Stop Filling Potholes in Education and Healthcare

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Lifelong educator Arthur Camins points out that the solution to systemic problems can’t be cobbled together piece by piece.

I know that the best medicine for my old driveway is a complete replacement because the underlying structure lacks integrity. Instead, I fill the cracks and potholes and periodically reseal the surface. The driveway looks a bit better and then deteriorates each time. However, patching is what I can afford to avoid complete disintegration. It is my private driveway, so I put up with it.

That is not the case with our government’s obligation to support education and health for all. The Covid-19 pandemic and the persistence of achievement gaps across race and family wealth are the kinds of complex social problems that cannot be solved privately on an individual level. Repeated attempts to solve systemic issues through piecemeal surface treatment of symptoms always fail, promoting self-defeating reliance on individual rather than social solutions. The United States has chosen to do the equivalent of filling potholes. As a result, nothing ever gets solved. Putting up with that should not be the default option. That approach wastes money and breeds cynicism, divisiveness, and loss of confidence in democratic processes.

In both areas, the United States is the victim of a combination of forty years of skepticism of government solutions and acceptance of “let’s be realistic about what we can accomplish” thinking.

For example, for decades scattershot treatments of outcomes have characterized bi-partisan education improvement efforts with little to nothing to show for it except undermined public education and stress. The driving causes of inequitable outcomes, systemic inequity, its enabler, racism, and resultant precarious lives remain rampant and unaddressed.

Instead, the dominant education interventions have been to push or blame individuals. These include rewards and punishments for educators or students based on standardized test scores; rigid discipline regimes; and, more recently, a focus on developing grit to work through, put up with, or overcome rather than eliminate challenging social and economic conditions.

Equally, if not more, insidious is you-can’t-save-everyone solutions, such as escape hatches for some kids through charter schools and vouchers, most of which are no better than local public schools.  More broadly, the lack of universal health care and inequitable funding of schools through local real estate yield the same help-a-few result.

Read the full essay here.

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