As we celebrate the 240th birthday of this nation today with barbecues, hours at the beach and fireworks, we also need to reflect on the many issues that we need to continue to work on. It may come as a surprise to some, but I do love this country. I might not cheer “USA, USA” during the Olympics and other international sporting events, particularly the World Cup – both men and women, but I do show my patriotism in other ways and will defend this nation, even when it has behaved badly to other nations. This is why I take the liberty to be critical of it, so it can always be better. Maybe it is the Asian in me – joke. While I would like to see a whole array of reforms and improves on various issues, these are the three that are most important to me, as they are to others. This is especially significant this year, as this is another presidential election year, as strange as this one is. I like to think of this as my birthday wishlist.
If you do not have your health, nothing else really matters. Our health care system is too convoluted and complicated with too many tiers of service and restrictions that make some people only eligible for this service and some people eligible for that service. As a result we have one of the most segregated systems that is not only separate and unequal, but inaccessible to many. It is also not a surprise that we pay more per capita than any other industrialized nation in the world, at least double for many other nations. There is too much paper work to justify a particular procedure. I understand that there is the potential for insurance fraud, especially when it involves public money, but when the cost of regulating these procedures wind up costing more than the actual procedures themselves, then we have a serious problem.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), aka ObamaCare, has done a great deal to increase accessibility of health coverage to more Americans, but it is now time to move beyond this policy, even though we still have a Congress that is hostile to ACA. This is also why Congressional races matter, too. Eventually, we do need to move towards a single payer system, which could start out as the “Public Option” measure that was often discussed when the Affordable Care Act was being drafted. By having a basic coverage for all, we are able to guarantee that people do not go seek medical help, when it is too late, which winds up driving up cost.
At the same time we need to do so much more to develop some of the best and brightest talent to become part of our future health care and human services work force. This involves tapping into a much more diverse population who is able to understand the complexities of the people of this nation in a way that others cannot. If we want to address health disparities, we need to not only remove barriers that prevent for healthier outcomes but engage communities so that they are part of the process. Piecemeal solutions that do very little to address the root cause of some of these health problems and do not eliminated barriers to better health are just a waste of time and money. All it does is create jobs for a few people.
Our current educations system is under attack in a similar way the health care system is. Rather than addressing real issues for why children are not learning, which also requires engaging parents, teachers and students, we have moved more towards a trend to privatize our public education system through the use of corporate charter schools and an over emphasis on standardized tests. Once again, rather than looking at investing in programs that may actually work, we continue to blame “bad teachers” for children not learning and the unions that enable these “bad teachers”.
While I am not against standardized exams as some parents may be, I do believe that we need to step back and look at what our priorities and philosophies are, when it comes to developing an education system. What do we want our children to acquire and achieve after 13 to 14 years of public education? How do w prepare them to be not only functional citizens who can hold down a job and manage their finances, but also civic-minded adults who understand that the greater good of contributing to society. They must be able to have the common knowledge and the critical thinking skills to make decisions for themselves, others whom they are responsible for, and the public when they go to the voting booth, which should be a civic duty, not an optional choice.
Rather than focusing too much on standardized exams, we need to provide learning experiences that relate to their every day lives, as well as opportunities that allow them to explore different career paths and how the subjects that they are learning are actually very relevant to preparing them for these careers and other aspects of every day life. At the same time curiosity should be encouraged, and students should be encouraged to question, not accept things for what they are but at the same time know how to do the research to answer these questions. An example would be trying to connect students with different careers in health care, as I had previously mentioned. These conversations should be starting early on in high school and junior high school, not when they are in college choosing their majors.
At the same time higher education needs to be much more affordable and accessible to those who have the potential to do well and excel. Once again, piecemeal solutions are not enough. Real reform, which may involved universities and other institutes redesigning themselves to adjust for a population that is changing faster than we realize, is required so that we do not prolong systems that no longer serve their purposes.
Law Enforcement and Its Relations with the Community:
The #BlackLiveMatter movement has brought the issue of police brutality to the national forefront, as the names of Ramarley Graham, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Akai Gurley and many others have continued to make headlines. This is the civil right issue of our era. While those of us understand the difficulty of being a law enforcement officer, more needs to be done to bring justice to victims of police brutality and shootings, and more needs to be done to reform the system so that incidents such as these do not continue. As the mothers of Ramarley Graham and Eric Garner stated in a #BlackLivesMatter, “We do not want any more members in this club”.
Increased dialogue between the community and the law enforcement agencies are critical in moving this forward. This involves serious self-reflection from everyone, as well as substantial reform within enforcement agencies, moving more towards a community policing model that engages all members of the community, especially those most vulnerable to being targeted by law enforcement officers. Furthermore, we cannot deny the role of race in all of this. This has to be discussed by all, no matter how uncomfortable the subject might be.
It is true that victims of police brutality and shootings are not just limited to African-Americans, but we cannot deny the gross disproportion and disparity that affects African-Americans for this issue and other issues for that matter. It involves a painful discussion on race relations that all Americans must be able to confront and discuss, and this is why the #BlackLivesMatter movement has grown so strongly these past few years. People are angry and are not just settling for the status quo any more. As another speaker at this same #BlackLivesMatter demonstration mentioned, “Black Lives Matter; All Lives Matter, but black lives are being snuffed every day”.
As a daughter of Taiwanese immigrants, I used to wonder as an adolescent whether my parents should have moved to this nation. As an adult, I could not be more thankful that my parents did because I know I would not be who I am had they not. The knowledge I have acquired, the people I have met, and the experiences I have encountered could not be replicated anywhere else but here, especially in the City of New York. This may have been a nation founded by white, wealthy landowners, many of whom owned slaves, but that does not mean that it did not work for others.
While there are still many problems we as a nation face, I am still grateful to be born and raised here because I never would have had these same experiences and opportunities living in Taiwan, which does by the way have a health care system we could learn from, or any other part of Asia, and while people talk about all of the wonderful social programs in Canada and European nations, such as universal health care and at least one year of paid family leave, I still would not trade it for what I have here. However, that does not mean we can do much more to improve our nation, and this is what real patriotism is about, being able to self-criticize for the betterment of your society. It will probably take generations to tackle the issues that I have cited above, but that is also why we need to stay focused on what really needs to be done.
Happy 4th of July, everyone!