standing Letters

In a country filled with so many intelligent people, isn’t it incredible that symptoms are the focus of high level problem-solving, not the root causes themselves?

One recent headline: “Our child care system is broken. Can we fix it?”

Most surely, the solutions will center on improving child-care centers, funding more free meals in schools, lengthening the school day, funding child-abuse services, etc. But isn’t the real problem the breakdown of the nuclear family? I’m not making light of the growing need for both parents to work. Only, there was a time when grandparents, aunts/uncles were on hand to help with child-rearing. Now that job — or burden — is moving to public systems.

I’m not asking whether this transition is inevitable or not. I simply point out that requiring government (schools, government-funded day care and after-school programs), to take on child-rearing puts limitations on the quality of that child-rearing. How many institutions can replace a good family environment? If we rely on institutional care, child-rearing will continue to be broken.

Then there’s education. Former New York City Mayor Bloomberg recently wrote an OpEd where he declared the public school system broken: he will focus his philanthropy on Charter Schools. This may or may not be prudent. Let’s, however, recognize that our schools lag many other countries’ because of a fundamental cultural lack of respect for education in this country.

Often “special needs” classes are populated by unruly, even violent kids, kids who don’t want to be in school, not children with genuine and specific needs. And while we see great competition for grades in some schools, this zeal often reflects the gathering of credentials for getting ahead in life, not a reverence for learning. Do we have Malalas in this country, fighting for their chance to learn?

Of course, I am overgeneralizing. Many auxiliary issues prevent students from reading at the level of their grade. It’s true, nonetheless, that high standards of scholarship are not set for most children. In America, fitting in, being popular and participating in sports are at least, or more, important.

Climate change is another dire problem we face. A friend with professional expertise pointed out that overpopulation may be the root problem, not carbon emissions. Too many people heating with fossil fuels, driving too many cars, drawing too much water from dwindling water resources, discharging too much garbage and other waste products, these are irreversibly degrading the planet. Only, overpopulation is an issue too unpalatable to be aired. No ambitious politician today would go near that potential bomb. Al Gore pointed out the problem overpopulation poses in 2006, though he was careful to point his finger at third-world countries.

Maybe the reason we focus on symptoms, not root causes, is that fundamental problem-solving is too difficult. Addressing the breakdowns in our society and reversing our current way of life are hard, and probably unfixable within a generation.

Phoebe Huang


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