Wednesday, March 24, 2010

What the Healthcare Bill Missed

A historic moment indeed! If you are able to see through the thick cloud of misconceptions, propaganda, and hate speech that has hovered over the Healthcare bill, if you are able to look passed your own self interests and understand that millions of people financially struggle to care for themselves or their loved ones old and young, and if you are able to recognize the drastic differences in the social/cultural/economic make up of this country compared to 50 years ago, then and only then will you begin to see that the Affordable Health Care for America Act was needed and needed now!

But in no way was this bill perfect, far from it indeed. Its a shame that the politics behind this bill resorted to backscratching and secret deals. But again, which bill isn't. The politically dividing lines are more than etched into our social fabric today. They are carved. And the opinion of our population is diverse This bill is a perfect example of what happens when you try to accomodate everyone, even the people on the other side of the carved line of ideology.

So today I do applaud the democrats for their success with this imperfect bill. It has been a long time coming for this political victory and many people have waited, filed bankrupcy, and died waiting for this reform to happen. But there are some key elements that the lawmakers missed.

1. Tort Reform. It just seems so obvious. Doctor diagnoses patient. Patient doesn't like diagnosis. Patient find lawyer. Lawyer finds that doctor didn't provide some menial test. Patient sues doctor. Patient wins. Doctor pays. Patient dies anyway. Doctor has to raise costs of healthcare to pay damages to patients family and malpractice insurance costs. We need to protect doctors from this abuse. Democratic legislators would be wise to allow tort reform to be a part of any revisions which are sure to follow.

2. Health and Wellness. The United States is home to the largest portion of unhealthy human beings on the planet. We live stagnant lives and the western diet is not balanced. We eat food from boxes that are preserved in toxic chemicals like high fructose corn syrup. We have record breaking statistics of obesity, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. We should not be allowed to continue living unhealthy lifstyles. If you want to decrease Healthcare costs, start living healthy lives. Very easily could some parameters be defined regarding an individuals lifestyle that would determine the amount of coverage they deserve.

3. Business Incentives for Healthy Employees. Which costs more a gym membership for 200 employees or healthcare for 200 employees? Let me guess. Why not provide tax credits and benefits for businesses that provide opportunities for healthy lifestyles within their workforce. Being physically active makes people happier, healthier, and more positive. This in turn would create better work environments and lower healthcare costs.

So, I will leave you with this question as we continue dappling in the controversy surrounding Healthcare in America. Do insurance companies take advantage of us because the government allows it, or is it because we have come to rely on healthcare to provide the patchwork for our unhealthy lifestyles? Don't expect insurance companies to do the right thing and don't expect the government to pass a perfect bill. One is driven by profit, the other is driven by a complex collage of interests we call the people of the United States.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

When a Student Makes Your Day

The last few weeks have been very stressful. As the California budget looms over teachers, tensions get high, fear sets in and the rumors start flying. This describes the recent days within my school district in Danville.

True colors often shine in times of uncertainty. Why just two years ago, the San Ramon Valley Union School District was praised for employing excellent, highly trained teachers that provided rigorous curriculum that challenged students to think critically. Our state tests scores indicated this, our WASC (Western Association for Schools and Colleges) accreditation indicated this, and many Californians strived to send their students to this district. What changed? I don't know. But clearly it is a matter of perception in a time of stress among our community.

Keeping up with the local forums has been an eye opener. Its amazing what some will say behind a pseudonym. In just two years, teachers in our district are now labeled as obstructionists, unionists, freeloaders, and my favorite, babysitters for the rich white folk. I have also learned that public education is not highly regarded, teachers do not establish the learning environment of a classroom, and class size reduction is a union ploy to keep teachers hired, not to support students.

It was in this moment when an ex-student of mine approached me after school one day. He is a large, very lazy student who barely scrapes by in all of this classes. During his Sophomore and Junior year in which I taught him, he came across as ultra-conservative but never could argue his points and usually didn't know the issues well enough to discuss them in depth. A typical dialogue might have gone like this:
Mr. Gardner: "Hey, what do you think we should do to promote democracy in Iraq and help stabilize that country so our troops can come home?"
Student: "Why don't we just bomb them even more until they give in and surrender."
Mr. Gardner: "Hmmm, I don't know. How would that promote a peaceful existence between Iraq and the United States?"
Student: "Who cares. Can I go to the bathroom?"

When he approached me he had a very blank look on his face, almost sad. He held his hand out to shake mine and said, "Mr. Gardner. I'm a registered liberal."

I didn't know what to do or say in that second. My instinct was just to laugh. And I did. And I laughed some more, and then some more. He just stood there staring at me, almost looking a little offended. When I gained my composure, I asked, "How does one become a registered liberal?"

He told me about a couple of surveys he had taken that asked his opinions about political and social issues and how it all started making sense to him. I think he even mentioned that he had "seen the light." He seemed defeated as he was tellimg me how he fared on these surveys. It was the first time that I had a genuine smile on my face the whole week.

All good teachers realize this is a teachable moment. Of course I corrected him and said that liberals and conservatives aren't required to register but that you will need to register for a political party, if there is one, that suits your interests. I encouraged him to keep questioning his own biases and learning about the issues and of course offered him the opportunity to discuss this more at any other time. My door is always open.

I thought about this for a long time. Why would he pick me to tell this too? Does he consider me to be a flaming liberal? If so, am I biased teacher? In the end, I realized it wasn't about that at all. It was about a comfort level that he and I have established as a student and teacher. He was comfortable telling me and I was so happy that he chose me to express this to.

I ran into this student today on campus. I reached out and shook his hand and truly thanked him for opening up to me. I told him how stressed that week had been and that he had totally made my day! That he had really made me smile! And this student beamed at me like I have never seen before and I just smiled back.

As I slapped him on the shoulder I said, "Now get to class, the bell is gonna ring!"