In my recent post on the Sandy Hook shooting I wrote that “Real progress is not a movie-friendly month of intervention and epiphany, but a slow grinding of years and small moments whose efficacy is not seen for years, or decades.” Since it’s easier to throw stones than pick them up and build a wall I offer the following; a dozen ideas for how contemporary American culture could be made more healthy and sustainable. In no particular order. The thirteenth is up to you.
1: Lay manifest destiny to rest at last
The American dream as it was first written has run out for my generation. The idea, as expressed by Horace Greeley, was always that hard work combined with effectively unlimited natural resources would not only create material wealth for the individual, but moral and spiritual health. Now that the limits of our physical (and thus economic) resources are becoming ever more acute, it is time to decouple material success and moral virtue.
2: Eliminate middle school
I’ve not been able to uncover who first thought putting 6-8th grades together in one building was a good idea, but they owe the 12 year olds of the United States a great karmic debt. These are most difficult, most crucial, and most depraved years of anyone’s social development. Being in the presence of younger children encourages mentoring and good behavior. Being in the presence of age-peers only aggregated from many schools encourages bullying, isolation, and social problems which last through high school well into adulthood.
3: Smaller schools
No K-8 school should have more than 500 students. No high school should have more than 1000. Simple. Yes this and the above idea will cost more in staff and facilities, but in the long term such savings in other areas will more than make up for the difference.
4: Free the free market
It does not take more intelligence and ability to manage a bank or hedge fund than it does to teach second grade well, but our twisted economic system has ingrained the opposite for so long that the virtue of being in a profession which makes money is unquestioned. State funding of primary education and the necessarily short-sighted budgeting therein is probably the best place to start changing this. Pay experienced teachers low six figures and evaluate them on real metrics (not standardized tests) and within 50 years we’ll have schools to be proud of.
5: High school graduation as a requirement for a driver’s license
16 year olds do not have the emotional maturity to be driving cars. A high school diploma should not be compulsory, but it should be a prerequisite for one of the most important privileges in modern America.
6: 28 day waiting period for firearms purchase
Background checks are well and good, but they’re not going to catch those who are only contemplating their first crime. A lengthy waiting period would not be too onerous for the masses and remove firearms as a factor in many crimes of impulse and passion.
7: Longer Congressional terms
Given modern fund-raising requirements and the effects of 24 hour news, members of Congress are too tied to the immediate effects of policy. Good laws are voted down too often for this reason. Terms in the House should be 4 years, 8 in the Senate.
8: Real sex education
Creepy as it is, anything less than full safe-sex education beginning in 5th grade is no longer responsible for our government to support. The economic and moral costs of abstinence-only have been catastrophic. If no one in America had kids before 25 countless social ills would be eliminated or vastly diminished. This is the least-unpalatable way to facilitate this.
9: Non-profit health insurance
Common decency should have dictated long ago that some things are not appropriate venues for cultivating profit. Health insurance is one of them. Eliminating this as a legal practice in the US would internally fix many of the current issues with run-away health care costs.
10: Reform social security
A century ago the most impoverished demographic in America was the elderly. Thanks to social security this is no longer the case, it is now children. If I had to pick one or the other it would be an easy choice, but perhaps we could have some sort of future security to improve the odds of children becoming healthy members of society.
11: Welfare state oversight
While many of the protestations concerning people exploiting the welfare state are discriminatory, many are true. Unfortunately underfunded and/or inefficient state systems rarely have the staff to adequately monitor those receiving disability, TANF, WIC, and so forth. This is another area where short term budget savings costs more in the long run. Anyone on public assistance should be have a case manager to ensure the money is appropriately spent, review the validity of current diagnoses, etc.
12: Put the NCAA on probation
The status of college sports, especially football, has corrupted the culture and mission of universities. The ongoing rape scandals concerning the University of Montana football team is but one example. This system is beyond immediate repair. Anything beyond intermural football should be banned in American universities for the next forty years, when perhaps a new generation can make it work.