Saturday, August 23, 2008

Life Preservers May Be Hard to Find: Integrated Unit on Health Care Crisis (continued)

My job pays me a salary, but I value much higher the satisfying experience of watching light flood into minds and open up new ideas. 

The health-care unit bore good fruit yesterday.  We took a break from the unit on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning for regular classes, but even then you could see the ideas churning.  Health insurance, hospital expenses, and disease management scare even savvy adults away from delving into the complex issues driving the current health care crisis. The simulation seeped into the morning's discussions.

After lunch, the students met for a bit to finalize their thoughts about the issues and research new topics suggested by friends or teachers. At 1pm, we invited the 7th and 8th grades to listen to the different "families" explain their medical/financial situations and discuss whether the politicians' health care plans (or Canada's system) would actually help them. 

No surprise that the two presidential candidates offered little hard data on how they would actually change the health care situation in America.  McCain seems to promise more affordable insurance for the poor and uninsured, and a gap insurance for the underinsured, but some of our "middle-class" families were still left in a financial crisis. Obama promises government-sponsored health care for ALL uninsured and all children (mandatory), which he claims will cost $65 billion a year, drawn from the money we were spending on Iraq.  Wait... aren't weborrowing money to finance the Iraq War? *coughs*  And the Canadian system, though it did offer help for nearly all of the families in our scenario, already costs the Canadians $160 billion a year.  A year.  For only 25 million people (the USA has 300 million). 

Dr Steve Kaufmann at Covenant College taught us that students must first mourn before they will be moved to act.   All of us need to do much more thinking at this point.  

But the big question on the table is this:
Now what? 

We're all happy to say the Church ought to share in the burdens of the poor and sick.
But what does that mean for 20 kids and their teachers at a small private school in the Southeast?

... time to think for a while. 

Thursday, August 21, 2008

"Drowning in the issues": Integrated Unit on Health Care (day 1)

The "families" eye each other nervously across the lobby, wondering at the disruption of normal routine. A slip of paper had, at one stroke, thrown them together in unusual combinations across grades and genders and left them sitting, bored, in a makeshift waiting room where 70s easy-listening music only made the situation worse. 

Reads one sheet: "You are the single parent father in a home with 2 children. Your annual household income is $30,000 and you have only basic health insurance. Currently, you have $294 in checking and $1045 in savings." 

The unhelpful office assistant shoves a stack of forms at each family.  "Fill these out ... No, I don't know your insurance information. Figure it out yourself." 

Then the bad news starts to hit.   
A wife & mother has multiple sclerosis. A father has serious heart failure. Another is in full kidney failure. A young girl suffers from sickle cell anemia.  The son of an illegal immigrant has a cancerous tumor.  An elderly father is battling Alzheimer's and his grown son doesn't know how to take care of him.
There are others....

After a few engagements with Web MD, Google, local nurses and pharmacists, and some medical textbooks, the economic and social realities begin to sink into the minds of the "families." 
"We can't afford this." 
"I have insurance, but my kid isn't covered for this disease."
"Medicare will cover only half the cost of this hospitalization." 
"We're looking at an unpayable medical debt." 


Influenced by our educational philosophy and Covenant College degrees, we NCS faculty like kicking off the high school year with a problem-based, integrated unit that challenges us and our students with a real-world problem. 

So often education cuts life into little, neat,  flour-dusted pieces that never seem to connect.  Problem-based units bring everything back to the center, drawing on the integrated knowledge and skills across disciplines that all humans rely on. 

This year's integrated unit for the high school focuses on the national health care crisis and its effects on our own state and county.   Our student "families" experienced a shadow this morning of the crushing horror that strikes so many lower- and middle-class families in America who don't have enough money or health insurance to deal with a life-changing illness. 

Today:  Eye-opening realities.
Tomorrow:  Does either McCain or Obama offer any solution that could help these families? What about Canada -- isn't it supposed to be the model health care system?