A Transfusion for Democracy

Article excerpt

Every couple of years, the Kappan presents a special section devoted to educational practices abroad. We educators can learn much from studying the strategies of other nations for dealing with problems that are common to us all.

On a broader scale, our nation as a whole could learn a thing or two by attending to the ways in which other industrialized nations keep their citizens apprised of the status of their social health. To recognize, debate, and resolve social problems, the public requires a steady stream of good information.

Yet in the U.S., the spotlight - whether from the White House, from the statehouses, or from the mass media - has failed to focus on the fact that the average social health index for the 1970s was 70.2, while for the 1990s, to date, it is only 40.2. During that same interval, according to the May 1996 issue of The Social Report, a quarterly publication of the Fordham Institute for Innovation in Social Policy, located in Tarrytown, New York, "the Gross Domestic Product grew by 79% and the stock market has risen to record heights." Clearly, we can no longer rely on economic indicators alone - as we could back in the early 1970s - to gauge our social well-being.

Indeed, of the 16 indicators that the Fordham Institute uses in its annual Index of Social Health, 11 have declined precipitously since 1970. Among the indicators that have worsened are teen suicide, children in poverty, child abuse, average weekly wages, the gap between the rich and the poor, the percentage of individuals who lack health insurance, and out-of-pocket health-care expenses for those over age 65. Overall, the 16 indicators tell us about the quality of life in America - and about our ability to cope with our social problems. …

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