We don't have any of the free medical clinics around here--at least none that I know of. Last fall they had a big free clinic down in Tennessee, I think. It was temporary and for a very limited time. People traveled in from neighboring states to get their ailments attended to. Mom tells of free clinics in every neighborhood of Chicago when she was growing up. All the kids got their vaccinations. All the mothers got their prenatal care. If any serious conditions showed up the patient was sent to one of the nearby hospitals. Now there are fewer hospitals and no neighborhood clinics.
The local news has been focused the major budgetary problems facing Illinois and several school districts. The reports have an almost formulaic pattern. The reporters note the almost unfathomable amount of the deficits facing whichever agency, city or the state and then focus on the people who will be most affected: teachers facing layoffs, students facing the cancellation of popular programs (including sophomore sports, OMG), poor children whose support programs face closure or personnel cut, etc. Often the dramatic focus is on the demonstrators protesting the cuts or on the administrators caught between a very large rock and a very hard place.
However, I noticed something that seems to pervade the various discussions on any of the major issues whether budgets or health care reform or financial regulations, or whatever. Several parents and teachers decried the cuts because without the sports programs the students would be on the streets unsupervised and getting into who knows what trouble. But at the bottom of their comments was the notion that the schools should be society's baby sitters. I have to ask 'what is the fundamental role of education in this society?' And, once that role is defined, the next question should be 'how does any given program further that goal?' If budgetary restraints compel program cuts then each program has to be rated on how directly it achieves the goals defined for education. Unfortunately, no one asks those questions.
The health care debates follow a similar pattern. Rain, at Rainy Day Thoughts, has some excellent comments on it. And I am afraid that her discussions reveal a deep hypocrisy in our attitudes. We say that an educated citizenry is necessary to our political and economic strength and yet we saddle the individual citizen with the sole responsibility for becoming educated. Worse we have no real definition of what 'educated' should mean. We often talk about the economic losses that accrue because of poor health but then we saddle the individual with the financial responsibility for health care. Neither of those costs are easily predictable and over the last couple of decades have been going up faster than either the inflation rate or the wages people receive for their work. Collectively we say one thing and then do something entirely different.