The Unfinished Business of Democracy in the US

Outstanding advances have been made since feudal days. Everybody goes to school. Children no longer work in dangerous jobs for pennies. Today nobody bats an eye over the fact that every adult can vote, and has a whole series of rights, many of which didn’t exist not so long ago.

But it’s a delusion to imagine we are finished now—or ever. Any fool knows that there will never be a time when all has been accomplished, and we can rest. So. What’s next on the agenda?

Equality of opportunity and schools.

There are always those who would rail against “equality” because they think that means “socialism”. No, no. Calm down. Equality of opportunity means exactly that and nothing more. It means that no person should be prevented from achieving the life they want for themselves because of artificial limitations.

Inequality and schools
are what we should be
most concerned about now.

We’ve done pretty well in that regard. Restrictive laws based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, cultural background, and so on, all very common not long ago, are either voided or are in the process. That’s not to say that all will be right with the world, because you can make laws that forbid discrimination, for example, but you can’t legislate what people are required to think…and we should be very grateful for that, because it’s not true everywhere.

You could say that equality of opportunity starts with sex education, which should be taught to every child. How anyone could approve of keeping children indefinitely ignorant about reproduction, its joys, dangers, and responsibilities, defies reason. It’s been well proven that sex education brings less irresponsible sexual activity, less unwanted pregnancy, less STD, and fewer unmarried teen mothers. Some of the highest rates of those things occur in the most non-permissive settings. Kids do very well with sex education. They treat the subject very matter-of-factly, as kids do in European schools.

Sex education should be taught to every child.

But young women will sometimes get pregnant, and it’s of paramount importance that they learn their responsibilities long before they do. A fetus can be very easily harmed by all sorts of things. Bad diet of the mom is the easiest to deal with, but alcohol, cigarettes, and illegal drugs are disastrous. Unfortunately, young women in an unexpected pregnancy may not have learned these things. Worse, they may not be able to manage the health of their unborn child without help.

We should go to great lengths to assure that every girl learns how to keep herself and her baby healthy long before it becomes imperative. And why should we do that? Fetal injury and poor child nutrition are highly correlated with antisocial and criminal behavior as an adult. The opposite is true for healthy babies and properly nourished children. Providing the means for making all children healthy and well nourished would save the country billions of dollars every year, and generate generations of accomplished adults. Preventing even one child from becoming a serial killer can save several hundred million dollars, and assuring more widespread maturity in young adults would make the whole country stronger and smarter.

Failure as an adult
is highly correlated
with fetal injury,
poor child nutrition,
and abuse.

Closely related to child wellbeing is prevention of child abuse. What is needed here are programs to identify abusive parents, intensive programs to teach them how to be good parents, and ways for the child to escape the situation when needed. Such programs are by necessity expensive and long term. But they save far more than they cost.

Next comes school.

We cannot expect equality in our schools unless every public school student in the country receives equivalent funding. Equivalent funding is not possible as long as we rely on property tax for school funding. The reason is simple: there is more property to tax in richer districts, whereas there is very little property to tax in poor districts. It is incumbent, then, that school funding be rearranged to remove this automatic inequality.

Every public school student
must receive equivalent funding.

We should not be distracted by those who want to privatize schools. Free public schools are a keystone achievement of modern democracy, and any move to weaken them will weaken the whole country. That also means that the trend among some school boards to water down the teaching of science for religious reasons must be defeated. This is especially so because state boards in large states could potentially require anti-science such as creationism in textbooks that are used across the country.

Nor are charter schools a good idea. They have not demonstrated superiority to public schools, and meantime have the potential to weaken the public system. Private schools are another matter entirely, and whoever wants to send their children to a private school should be free to do so. However, there should be no financial reward for doing so.

Free college education
should be a national priority.

Next comes free college. I have given my opinion about free college here. The upshot is that the rich US universities can all easily afford to subsidize every student’s entire college cost, including living costs. Beyond that, there are many that could presently underwrite a significant part of college costs.

The remainder will require restructuring of taxes and increased priority for educational funding. This varies from rather low costs for community colleges, to more significant changes for institutions such as state universities. The single thing to remember is that many of the most advanced nations in the world, even some poor ones, underwrite the entire cost of all college education. Germany has a brand new program for free college. The economic reward, the national benefit for all of them, is a well educated and highly trained work force, putting the country at it’s most competitive and its population at its most democratically intelligent. This is not true for the US now.

Next: Equitable distribution of national wealth.


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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Quite right that education is the foundation for a healthy society and useful, fulfilling lives for everyone, but – why is education such poor quality in the West where we throw the most money at it? Several generations ago schools provided a higher quality of education for a fraction of the cost. It isn’t necessarily a money problem. More a political problem of tinkering with an effective system until it fails (but allowing the elite to buy out of the failure).
    Bullying in schools is another area which has been allowed to get out of hand.
    And most family abuse comes from siblings – and most children spend more time with their siblings than their parents. A large, unacknowledged problem.
    Perhaps home schooling is overlooked as an opportunity. Education can be free over the internet, and with high unemployment perhaps that is time a parent could employ to educate their young?


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