Friday, September 25, 2009

On Education in America

This is from April, 2007.

The State of Public Education

I was surveyed a while back, a month or two ago to be slightly less vague. The survey was about my education in NC public schools. Whether I'm successful after it, if the classes adequately prepared me for college, that kind of stuff.

The classes were, for the most part, adequately satisfactory. It's all the other crap required of students that didn't help one iota.

Academic courses are useful for college students. They enforce study habits, teach you stuff, and prepare you for the work load expected of you in college. However, not everyone needs to go to an institution of higher learning.

I got great grades in school, did well in college too. I couldn't find a job though, at least not one in my field. Having spent months looking in the classifieds for jobs, I came to this conclusion: vocational skills are in great demand. Schools are focusing on academia at the expense of blue-collar training. And there's more money to be had in blue-collar labor than in academia. Much more.

Schools realize they need to better prepare their charges for the real world. Officials just don't have a clue how to do it. They think that requiring students to do some public speaking, writing tests, and a vague "Project" will prepare them.

Well, those ideas won't prepare anyone for anything.

I had to do the speech to graduate High School. I barely passed. Later, at Appalachian State, I had to take a public speaking course, as required by my major. The professor, the Dean of Admissions, was one of the best teachers I had. He said he liked to teach at least one course a year, citing that it helped him stay connected to the needs of the students. (If more administrators shared his dedication...) He cared about our success, taught us how to write and then perform a speech instead of merely saying "Here's a topic. Give me a speech." Consequently, I now have no fear of public speaking, and can pontificate in public quite well.

The moral of that anecdote is that an ancillary assignment in addition to all other courses doesn't get the job done. Teachers have to take enough time from instruction as it is with disciplinary action based on dress code violations and the like. Making them proctor speeches, when most kids don't know the first thing about them is counter-productive. It took a semester long, three credit hour course to get me to give a good speech. School boards expect kids to do it without any lessons?

Instruction time is valuable. Teachers need all of it, and if they're not using it completely, it's detrimental to their pupils. Wasting time with ancillary, half-assed requirements is of aid to no one.

That being said, here's what to do about making American schools better. American school systems accept everyone. Foreign school systems have a school for the college bound, a school for the service industry bound, a school for mechanically inclined individuals, etc. When 87% of Japanese kids score in the 98th percentile, it's irrelevent data to Americans. The test is administered only to the elite. So: quit comparing American schools to foreign ones.

Second: Kids need to be better behaved. That's not an easy problem to solve, but the solution lies at home. Good parenting makes for well behaved children, which makes for more attentive students, which gives the teacher more useful learning time. Parents need to take responsibility for their children, and not pawn them off on the free babysitter that the state provides. That free babysitting service has an extremely high, extremely fast burnout rate, and said burnout rate is in direct proportion to the number of bratty young'uns a teacher has in his class.

Three: Prepare students for what they want to do, and don't waste their time with courses they won't ever need later in life. Vocational programs must have funding. Give the mechanically inclined their auto-shop, their carpentry classes, their metalsmithing. Give the college bound their courses, but don't force the Future Farmers of America to take AP European History. It's exactly like the foreign school model (surprise!) which, incidentally, will give American number crunchers some hard facts to analyze and compare.

Mostly though, parents: take note of your kids. Encourage them to pursue career paths in fields they enjoy. If they like tinkering with Legos, suggest engineering to them. If they've gotten 20 speeding tickets, maybe you ought to take them to the dragstrip sometime, or pick up a pamphlet for Nascar College in Tennessee. Make learning fun for them. Lord knows the schools aren't doing it.

New material given the pseudo recent changes in the economic climate:

Classifieds don't exist anymore. There aren't any jobs to be had. But those with a vocational background and experience will always be able to do something. The Sears Auto and Tire Department might not be hiring, but if you've got your own equipment, there's nothing to stop you from running a 'donations accepted' car clinic in your church parking lot every week.

Enterprising individuals with a good skill set can go as far as they want to. Everyone needs and will continue to need plumbers, mechanics, roofers, carpenters, machine operators...etc, etc. People won't always need Microsoft Office 2000 certified Fortran programmers. Or Ph.Ds specializing in Siberian folk art.

It's important for people to love what they do for a living. But it does them no good if what they love doesn't put food on the table.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Universal Health Care

My issue is that the game of life has well-written rules. Some jobs have better benefits than others-and health insurance is a good benefit to have. Employers that provide health insurance usually require education, hard work, and dedication.

The playing field is level. Person High graduates have been accepted to Ivy-league schools. Anyone can work hard, get the great job with the excellent health benefits, but fewer and fewer people put in the time.

Since I did work hard, why should I have to carry the freeloaders? Consider the story of Chris Gardner (Pursuit of Happyness). Asked about his rags to riches success on a morning news show, he had this to say:"I did it with a 10 month old. What's your excuse?"

Health insurance is a great thing to have, but it's not an inalienable right. We have the "right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Personal liberty is spelled out in our Constitution. It places very specific limits on the power of the Federal government, limits that have largely been ignored, trampled on, and forgotten since the Philadelphia Convention signed the document.

It's well known that merely pursuing happiness does not guarantee that one will actually find it.

But Life, that sounds like it falls under the purview of Healthcare! If we are guaranteed life, that must mean we're guaranteed the best quality life that modern medicine can provide! Au contraire, mes amis. The right to life simply means that the government won't kill you outright. Thomas Jefferson mentioned nothing about Quality of Life when he wrote his Declaration. It is a fact that good health drastically improves one's quality of life. So does having lots of money. And these days, it seems that money and health are mutually exclusive goals.

Free health care for all persons in the United States, be they here legally or otherwise, sounds like a great idea. But it will fail. America has the greatest doctors in the world, and that's in large part due to the fact that doctors here get paid a lot more than they do in other countries. Doctors provide a service that everyone will need at least once in their lives. They can pretty much charge whatever they want, and someone will pay it. However, CMS (Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services--the existing government health care plan) only pays a certain amount for each procedure, visit, and consult. Given what equipment is necessary for a procedure, CMS might not cover the expenses. If a physician wants more money, he has to make it up with private insurers, or self-pay patients. most insurers pay only what Medicare pays, so if the doctor charges more, tough break, he's going to get reimbursed at the CMS level. Any overhead, then, is left to the self-pay patient, who either pays, or gets his credit rating slashed.

It's expensive to be a doctor, just with equipment, training, support staff, and overhead, but then there's the lawsuit-hungry culture we live in. If the weatherman calls for 6 inches of rain and there's bright sunshine instead, he's never called to task. A doctor can diagnose a patient complaining of hot flashes and headaches with symptoms of menoupause. But if the patient dies of complicatiosn related to pheochromocytoma, then the doctor will get sued. The doctor will do his best to isolate teh pheochromocytomas from the menopauses, but mistakes happen. When a doctor makes a mistake, people die. Consider if everytime you missed a turn when driving, someone died. Before too long, you'd drive very carefully, and you'd almost never miss turns. But you'd never be perfect, and once in a great while, you'd get cut off at the last minute, or the exit wouldn't be marked, or you'd be tired from the fourteen hour workday you were finishing, and you'd miss your turn. And everytime that happened, you'd have to shell out at least a couple hundred thousand dollars, and that's if it wasn't any fault of your own.

And people wonder why healthcare is expensive?

So how do we fix it?

Tort reform is a good start. John Edwards made millions suing the pants of physicians. You can bet he doesn't want tort reform. There's lots of good money to be had there.

Pay for performance is another option. Right now, doctors get paid based on the number of patients they see, and the number of procedures they complete. From a billing standpoint, MRSA is the best thing that ever happened to hospitals. I haven't seen any models for how pay-for-performance works, but the idea behind it is that physicians get reimbursed at a higher rate for patients that stay healthy after seeing the doctor. If a patient has to come back repeatedly, the doctor wont' get paid as much. That has it's own legion of dangers, though. Doctors will only take on simple cases, with healthy patients, and the sickest won't get the care they need.

Warranties is a good idea though. Geisinger Health offers a warranty on heart surgeries. There's a standard price that the doctor gets paid for the heart operation. Any complications with the surgery then come out of the doctor's pocket. If the patient gets sick as a direct result of the surgery or hospital stay, the patient does not have to pay extra.

Those are just a few ideas. The one that we know will never, ever work, is government control. Do you want your hospital run like the DMV? Or the Post Office? Or Amtrak?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

It bears repeating:

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. --Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his governors to pass laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of representation in the legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved representative houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the legislative powers, incapable of annihilation, have returned to the people at large for their exercise; the state remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.

He has obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

He has made judges dependent on his will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, standing armies without the consent of our legislature.

He has affected to render the military independent of and superior to civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his assent to their acts of pretended legislation:

For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by mock trial, from punishment for any murders which they should commit on the inhabitants of these states:

For cutting off our trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing taxes on us without our consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury:

For transporting us beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses:

For abolishing the free system of English laws in a neighboring province, establishing therein an arbitrary government, and enlarging its boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule in these colonies:

For taking away our charters, abolishing our most valuable laws, and altering fundamentally the forms of our governments:

For suspending our own legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated government here, by declaring us out of his protection and waging war against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burned our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large armies of foreign mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of cruelty and perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow citizens taken captive on the high seas to bear arms against their country, to become the executioners of their friends and brethren, or to fall themselves by their hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavored to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions we have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have we been wanting in attention to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states; that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as free and independent states, they have full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do. And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

New Hampshire: Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

Massachusetts: John Hancock, Samual Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island: Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery

Connecticut: Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott

New York: William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris

New Jersey: Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark

Pennsylvania: Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross

Delaware: Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean

Maryland: Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton

Virginia: George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton

North Carolina: William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn

South Carolina: Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton

Georgia: Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton