I’ve just discovered something startling about the town we are moving to: the school system is administered through employers, so that you register your children for school through your HR department at work. It seems a bit odd to me — how on earth is my daughters’ education connected to my husband’s work in the building trade? — but that’s apparently how they’ve always done it in this town. I rang the Education Administrator at M’s work and it seems quite straightforward: they choose the appropriate school and organise everything for us. The disappointing thing is that the system imposes a 3-month delay before the girls can start school, during which they will have to stay home and have no education at all. And, if my husband changes jobs for some reason, they will have to be pulled out of school and then be re-admitted by the new employer — complete with another 3-month delay — even if the new company is admitting them to the exact same school as before! I’m told we can organise a private tutor for them during this time so they don’t fall behind, but I’m a bit worried about the cost. I’m also a little worried to hear that if either of the girls is found to have learning difficulties, the schools might choose not to take them at all, and also that if M ever decides to go self-employed — or, heaven forbid, loses his job — the girls would still be able go to school, but we would have to pay our own tuition fees which, I understand, can be quite pricey. Apparently, they’ve found that this system encourages a good work ethic and has produced some of the best schools in the area, although I’ve also been told that 15% of the children in the town are not in school at all and those 3-month delays have created a complicated system where even the children who are in school end up with varying degrees of educational competence.
You have, of course, realised this is all a completely untrue. The town we are moving to has normal public schools just like every town in America, and my children will enroll and be entitled to an education just like every other child. But, as you were reading that, did it sound odd to you? Did it seem a strange way of administering education? Did the idea of 3-month delays or children being excluded from education get under your skin at all?
This is how the US health care system looks to rest of the world. It looks that ludicrous. Let me ask you something: do you believe in the American public school system? I mean, do you support the idea, or would you like to see it abolished? If you do support the idea, does that make you a socialist? No wait… think about it. Does it make you a socialist? Because the American public school system is a socialist system. The money is taken out of general taxation and used to provide a free education to every child in America, regardless of his or her circumstances. There are millions of Americans who value and support the public school system, but who would never call themselves socialists — and, indeed, they are not. The United States is a capitalist country, but it allows and tolerates certain socialist systems — quite a lot of them, in fact — in vitally important areas for the sake of the greater good, and it is able to do this without experiencing any real threat to its underlying capitalistic nature. Public education is one such system and almost no one in the United States is calling to see it abolished.
I read somewhere that the United States is the only developed country in the world to rely on a private health care system — the rest of the developed world provides universal care in a variety of ways that range from mixed private-and-public systems to totally government-controlled systems. “Universal” health care doesn’t have to mean one rigid possibility: there are a range of possible models. It could even be done without taking health care out of the hands of private hospitals and insurance companies. The basic structure doesn’t need to change — all that needs to be done is to make sure that a reasonable safety net is available to everyone. And the US has a fantastic advantage: because it has waited so long, it has the opportunity to learn from others’ mistakes and design a system that takes the best of them and avoids the pitfalls. It’s a wonderful position to be in, a wonderful opportunity.
If my little story sounded crazy to you, then I ask you to think about that for a while. If you’ve never thought of the American public school system as a socialist system in our midst, then I ask you to think about that for a while as well. Be a capitalist (I am). Be an American. But consider — consider — the possibility of universal health care.