Friday, March 16, 2012

Factory Life

My better half, son and some friends attended a screening last night at The Creative Alliance in East Baltimore's Highlandtown neighborhood. The screening sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future included two films about food and a discussion about sustainable agriculture and Baltimore. The films were thought provoking and provided a good background of the local food economy. Kudos to all who made the event possible.

During the question and answer session a local teacher asked a great question about how to become a farmer today and while doing so related industrial farming to the current state of our school system. He didn't elaborate too much, for reasons which are clear, but the comment stuck with me. His question was are we churning our kids through the school system with little regard for their overall health, wellbeing and growth with our only objective being to spit them out on the other end and send them off to work? If I were to write an SAT question...

ANIMALS : SLAUGHTER :: Students : Graduation

My son received a respectable education in the Howard County school system but the idea of his time there being analogous to an animal in a factory farm struck a chord. At one point in middle school he lamented, "School is sucking the creativity right out of me." At the time, I responded like many parents might and said something akin to, "It doesn't matter. Get good grades so you can get into a good college and get a good job." It is something I look back on now and regret. First of all, I wasn't listening to him and second of all, what if I was wrong? 

If you want to see a great piece about creativity and the school system, see this video created by RSA based on a TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson. Watching it makes me also regret not pulling my son out of school that very day and figuring out something else to save his creativity. Alas. Have we industrialized our schools with the primary objective being graduation rates and forgotten the idea of learning and creating life-long learners? 

I will take the analogy one step further and relate it to my life's work - the healthcare system. In yesterday's WSJ there was an article about how some physician practices are struggling to survive. The managed care era brought with it a huge administrative burden to many doctors' offices. The staff and infrastructure required to comply with each insurance plans' rules and regulations is significant. And while EMRs have promised to make it better, the WSJ article made me wonder... Are we also industrializing the practice of medicine? 

Most doctors I've talked to want their patients to feel great. That is why they became doctors. Instead many of the doctors are lost in a morass of paperwork, rules, pre-authorizations, referrals, formularies, practice management systems and now EMRs. Combined with the glut of television advertisements which "sell" the latest drug to unsuspecting patients, I'm beginning to wonder if our healthcare system is beginning to look like "Doctors : Tests and Drugs"

I, for one, long for a simpler way. Walking through my grandfather's pastures collecting the cows for the evening milking. Building lego towns with my son and watching him draw his fancy future sports car designs while learning in the process. And, taking care of my own health in partnership with my doctor serving as a trusted advisor and resource in tune with holistic well-being, not the computer.

What have we done? 

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