Rebecca Elliott answers the question: Is the American education system “healthy”?

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Rebecca Elliott, MPH

Lesson 8: Is American Education Healthy? Revisited

It is time to answer our original question…

Welcome back. Last week, we talked about the economics of education, and how it actually may be beneficial for the system at large to prioritize building ignorant, obedient workers, rather than curious, competent students. At the start of this blog, we sought to understand the “health” of American education, and throughout the past 8 weeks, we have unpacked a host of issues surrounding American education, from its physical structure, to its disciplinary tactics, to its curriculum. Now that we have this information, it is important to answer the question that started it all: Is American education healthy? And if not, why?


Is American Education “Healthy”?

For the sake of our argument, let’s use the WHO definition of health. According to the World Health Organization, “health” is defined as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” While this definition was designed to fit people, I think there is enough here to fit institutions as well. Let’s take the first criteria: physical health. In our second blog, we explored the physical structure of the typical American public school: colorless walls, cracked tiles, leaky roofs, and long, windowless, hallways. The classrooms are overcrowded, and the lunchroom and hallways are armed with cameras, and police, simply waiting to be introduced to the next generation of convicts. By their very design, schools do not provide an environment that is conducive to the physical health of students; remember, the architects of public schools also designed American prisons, a place notorious for both physically and psychologically damaging the health of human beings. Schools, like prisons, are designed to feel ridged, suffocating, and punitive. We don’t want students learning, we want them in line.

So why?


Kiernan Fallon, C., & Karlawish, J. (2019). It’s time to change the definition of ‘health’ – STAT. STAT. Retrieved 15 August 2021, from https://www.statnews.com/2019/07/17/change-definition-health/


Valencia, N. (2021). The Same People who Designed Prisons Also Designed Schools. ArchDaily. Retrieved 15 August 2021, from https://www.archdaily.com/905379/the-same-people-who-designed-prisons-also-designed-schools


TCF Study Finds U.S. Schools Underfunded by Nearly $150 Billion Annually. The Century Foundation. (2020). Retrieved 15 August 2021, from https://tcf.org/content/about-tcf/tcf-study-finds-u-s-schools-underfunded-nearly-150-billion-annually/


Gagnon, D. (2016). Most U.S. School Districts Have Low Access to School Counselors (pp. 1-6). Durham: University of New Hampshire. Retrieved from https://scholars.unh.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1285&context=carsey#:~:text=Nearly%2090%20percent%20of%20U.S.,school%20counselor%20(Table%201)


American Civil Liberties Union. (2016). COPS AND NO COUNSELORS- How the Lack of School Mental Health Staff is Harming Students (pp. 1-25). New York City: American Civil Liberties Unions. Retrieved from https://www.aclu.org/report/cops-and-no-counselors 


Garcia, E. (2020). Schools are still segregated, and black children are paying a price. Economic Policy Institute. Retrieved 15 August 2021, from https://www.epi.org/publication/schools-are-still-segregated-and-black-children-are-paying-a-price/


Jan, T. (2017). 1 in 7 white families are now millionaires. For black families, it’s 1 in 50.. The Washington Post. Retrieved 15 August 2021, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/10/03/white-families-are-twice-as-likely-to-be-millionaires-as-a-generation-ago/


Litvinov, A. (2021). Our Crumbling Public School Infrastructure | NEA. Nea.org. Retrieved 15 August 2021, from https://www.nea.org/advocating-for-change/new-from-nea/our-crumbling-public-school-infrastructure


Sedgwick, J. (2021). 25-Year-Old Textbooks and Holes in the Ceiling: Inside America’s Public Schools (Published 2018). Nytimes.com. Retrieved 15 August 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/16/reader-center/us-public-schools-conditions.html

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