Friday, March 13, 2009

Dysfunctional Nation?

Of the industrialized nations, the USA has some of the worst records when it comes to divorce, teen pregnancy, std infections, drug abuse, alcoholism, literacy, incarceration, violent crime, suicide, educational achievement, child mortality and life expectancy.

Our belief in free market capitalism led us to pour money into these problems, including prisons and the 'War on Drugs (TM)'. Per capita spending on education and healthcare is close to twice that of many other countries.

This investment has given us some of the highest paid teachers and doctors in the world, a bloated and inefficient managerial class, and legions of psychologists and lawyers to take care of the unhappiness and problems that result.

These problems are not new. Mark Twain wrote about the effects of over-nurturing parents in the 1870's, and Robert Heinlein discussed teen delinquency and bad mathematics education in the 1960's.

I used to visit my grandmother in Wiesbaden in the 1960's. She lived next to a lovely park. From four stories up and 1/2-mile away, we could tell which familes were US service personnel from the airbase. The German and African-American children stayed with their parents and behaved themselves. The other American children 'expressed themselves' by running into forbidden areas and making lots of noise.

That we have these problems in the poor urban areas is no surprise. That they occur as well in the suburbs is due, in my uneducated opinion, to an excess of wealth and free time, leading to a lack of competitive drive.


OldSouth said...

'It's only money...and a few other things....'

But in reality, is it those 'other things' that eventually show up in the macro-balance-sheet? This not being said from self-righteousness, as I at points have been an offender, attempting to not repeat old behaviors.

But in my trade, I work often with young people and parents, and I am weekly amazed at the raw indulgence and foolishness of the parents. So many will not do the simple things, like insist that children finish tasks.

Pat Buchanan once made the pithy comment 'An economy is not a culture'. The longer I live, the more I think the culture shapes the economy more profoundly than the economy shapes the culture.

While we're at the business of fixing the bank's balance sheets, I hope we take the opportunity to address the culture.

Paddington said...

Some of it will automatically happen as the wealth evaporates, much more becuase the schools and colleges will really become competitive.

Teachers like me might actually be encouraged to teach, instead of nurture, or my favourite: 'facilitate'

Anonymous said...

Teachers might be encouraged to teach - sorry, but I think that's laughable. I'm 35. My friends and I were latch-key kids. My lifelong friends have gone to great efforts to put their children in schools that actually teach; the vast majority of parents I know would never, ever demand genuine educational quality at the risk that their children might be judged "merely proficient" or even "inadequate." I wish you luck, if you get your dream, it will benefit us all, but I don't share your optimism.

Paddington said...

Anonymous - I see the same thing. But when the Governor of Ohio is talking about changing school evaluations to the ACT, I have a tniy amount of hope. Of course, once it is clear what the real scores are, this will also be abandoned.