Leonard C. Burrello
Social Media Manager
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As is probably the case for many of you, it feels, during the holidays, like every day is Saturday, a time for both fun and reflection. This year--after our energetic grandchildren had departed--that reflection centered on the midterm elections and the wave of diversity set to impact the House of Representatives.
It was healthcare, of course, which was the number one issue to carry the day for most of these remarkable incoming officials. Fittingly, then, Senator Kamala Harris, an increasingly prominent figure of the Democratic Party, recently told the very personal story of her mother’s fight for her life against colon cancer. Her mother, who was a cancer researcher herself, knew the odds—and the inevitable. It’s a powerful story, one which has helped to inspire and inform Senator Harris’s forthcoming book, The Truths We Hold: An American Journey.
And interestingly, it seems we can draw a number of parallels—as well as several important contrasts—between healthcare and public education. In fact, it seems we might even use what we know about the healthcare system to illuminate and inform our discussions of the challenges educators are currently grappling with.
For example, we know that the healthcare system grants coverage and care based upon where you live and, perhaps most importantly, how much money you make. At the same time, healthcare as a business and as policy is largely managed and determined by state governments and their relationships with public and large private healthcare companies within their jurisdictions. Everyone is guaranteed access to healthcare through hospital emergency rooms, but ER treatment is often cripplingly expensive and is hardly the preferred—or even the most effective—form of treatment. Wealth and location often thus differentiate the quality of care and the probability of better outcomes for American citizens, many of whom cannot afford the preventative medications and treatments which could keep them out of the ER.
Similarly, education is largely a state responsibility. Only naturally, then, it is the wealthier states which are best able to fund their students, leading, oftentimes, to better, brighter, and more financially stable futures for those students.
Yet while both the healthcare system and the public education system service among the most vulnerable members of our population—sick people and children, respectively—medical practitioners are far more in control of their own financial destinies than are public educators. For in addition to the obvious inequities of an economic system which favors wealthier states and wealthier state governments, public school budgets are largely determined and can be further constrained by state assessments; in contrast, the privatized world of healthcare is able, albeit within certain boundaries, to self-police. In this sense, then, the obvious and oft-studied geographic and economic variables which can so negatively impact the healthcare system are actually only the tip of the iceberg for public educators, and it's an issue which needs to be discussed and further fleshed out in both contexts.
It’s not all bad news, however, as we can learn as much about public education’s potential for growth as we can about its struggles by comparing it with the business of healthcare. Most significantly, it is by studying healthcare that we can see the power of technology and the value of technological investment. Indeed, the healthcare industry has embraced technological innovation and used it to enhance both the patient experience and to reduce costly hospital stays for sicker clients. Technology has also allowed for dramatically improved preventative and palliative measures which reduce long-term costs and improve patient outcomes.
In terms of public education, meanwhile, the technology to further improve educational practices and outcomes already exists. Implementing practices which emphasize truly personalized learning means diagnosing students’ learning preferences through their relationships with their peers, their teachers, and their parents and guardians. Curriculum is then built locally within a given school community as teachers and principals talk with parents and community members about desired learning priorities and projects that should guide students in their educational advancement from kindergarten on. As students age and grow within the system, they become increasingly self-directed and independent, and technology becomes ever more important in continuing to track students’ progress, intellectual development, and evolving learning preferences. Investment in technology, then, could well transform and improve the educational sphere just as it has improved the world of healthcare—but only if the money is allocated and provided for investment.
Neil Postman’s famous quote at the beginning of this post thus bears repeating: “The purpose of public education is to create a public.” And as politicians like Senator Harris no doubt recognize, a “public” is made of a great many things beyond the world of public education—including things like healthcare. And in this time of globalization and as citizens of a nation which celebrates interaction, intersectionality, and cooperation, it makes sense to look to other industries in order to find sources of inspiration for our own work.
It’s something to think about—and to think about very carefully. How else might we learn about evolving educational practices from looking at the healthcare industry? What other industries might we learn from as we seek to better understand and improve public education?
More to come. Let us know what you think.