Friday, October 19, 2012

How Would You Fix the World?

Ah, our candidates have been debating, and everyone has a fix for society's woes.  Romney has an easy plan: cut taxes, this will let businesses keep their money so they can hire more employees, create more jobs (he has the precise number, even) and help the economy grow and everything will fall into place.  If we cut funds to Medicaid, Medicare, undo ObamaCare, and fire Big Bird, then we'll be able to pay off the trillions of dollars of National Debt, all while growing the military, and all will be well.  I know, I'm exaggerating, and it really isn't clear that cutting government funds to public television would mean the demise of Ernie & Bert.  Obama -- I'm not sure what his plan is to save the nation, but whatever it is (? more of the same), it's probably not going to lower the national debt.  It seems we live in a place where our expenses exceed our income.

I don't want to use this as a soapbox to express my political views or to influence your vote, instead I want to tell you that sometimes I have fantasies about how I would fix the world.  Actually, I have a lot of them.  I thought I would tell you my main thought, and ask you to tell me yours.  I'm a doctor, I've never taken a single econ or poly sci course in my life, so please be gentle with me.  It's just a fantasy.  And I won't make fun of yours.

So here's my thought, and unfortunately, it would entail more spending by the government.  I would like to see public schools mandated to have class size limits, preferably to 10-12 students, for certain grades, in any area where poverty levels are high, crime and drug use is a problem, and graduation rates are low .  I'd like to see the class size brought down for either first or second grade so that each student could get intensive, individualized education so that as many children as possible would get a good start with being able to read, because once they fall behind here, they're lost forever.  I'd like to see school days be longer and include some time on the weekend. It doesn't need to be all grind and work: wouldn't it be great to include an hour a day of sports and exercise for children in poverty regions where obesity rates are highest?  And games (Scrabble, anyone?), music, and ideally a bit of immersion in a second language?  It would be very expensive: more teachers (oh, and more jobs for teachers...), more classrooms (oh, and more construction jobs to build the classrooms), more resources all around.  And longer days would give children a chance to do their homework in school, provide child care so that their parents could work and have more disposable income, and keep the children out of drug-ridden, dysfunctional environments.  (I'd be fine with having the extended day segment be optional).  Oh, and Head Start has tried such things and the children make gains, but they only last for 3 years.  Okay, so look at the school curriculum and figure which years are the most crucial in maintaining a student's success, and shrink the class size for a few other years.  Maybe we make sure everyone is able to read and do basic arithmetic by the end of 2nd grade, and make sure everyone can write book reports and simple research papers, manage money and measurements, know a little about science,  how to read a newspaper, keyboard, use technology,  and start to think critically in 5th grade.   Too expensive, you say?  And I would counter with Really?  It would entail putting much more money into education, and making sure it goes to direct child-centered resources, like teachers and books, and not towards more administrators, or more standardized tests.

  So how does this fix the world?  Well, perhaps if we can impact these children early, they will be in a better position to succeed later, they will have feel more self-confident and won't view selling drugs as the only way out of poverty.  They will be more employable, and more likely to contribute, rather than drain, resources.  And perhaps if just a few less children from every class end up in jail, that could pay for my plan.  We hear outcries about public spending, and certainly, in wealthier areas where children do fine in classes of 30, there would be an outcry that their children should have smaller classes, especially since they are paying more taxes, but those same people don't object to spending $25-50,000 a year of their taxpayer's money to house those same children in jail when they grow up to be criminals.  

Thanks for indulging my fantasy.  I would love to hear your plan for fixing some of our problems.