This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by David
Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is
one component of the Information Age Education project. See http://iae-pedia.org/
and the end of this newsletter.
Education and Health Care Part 2:
Proactive and Reactive Approaches
am not a teacher; only a fellow traveler of whom you asked the way. I
pointed ahead–ahead of myself as well as of you. (George Bernard Shaw;
British dramatist, critic, writer; 1856-1950.)
In the previous issue of this newsletter, we began our exploration of
apples and oranges types of arguments and explorations of Education and
Health Care. What can procedural and policy strengths and weaknesses in
our health care system tell us about possible ways to improve our
Health Care seeks to cure illness and heal injury, and to limit the
occurrence of each. It also enhances the quality of life both during
curing and healing times, and when a complete cure or healing isn’t
Education seeks to eliminate the ignorance that exists because we’re
born with a very immature brain, one-third its adult size. The
goal of informal and formal education is to help students gain the
knowledge and skills they need to resolve current and future
challenges. Although curing/healing and learning aren’t the same
thing, functional relationships exist. For example, our immune
system is one of our body’s innate defenses against potential
infections, and we can think of learning as an acquired defense against
Proactive and Reactive
Both Education and Health Care can be analyzed in terms of their proactive and reactive activities.
Historically, much health care was reactive. A person was injured or
became ill, and then some treatment was attempted. Even 4,000 years
ago, however, people were beginning to understand the value of sewage
systems as a proactive aid to reducing disease. Water purification and
distribution systems are excellent examples of such proactive health
care. Vaccines that help prevent or decrease the severity of a variety
of diseases are another proactive health care success.
Much of our education system is proactive. We teach students many facts
and skills before they need to use them. In some cases this makes
sense. It takes a long time to learn to read and write. Students cannot
immediately master reading and writing when they have a great need to
use these skills. Similarly, if we want students to become bilingual,
we need to start when they are young and continue the effort over
However, our educational system also places emphasis on learning to
learn and on just-in-time learning. This approach to education is
particularly valuable in a rapidly changing world where the totality of
information and knowledge available to people is growing very rapidly.
Thus, one can view our educational system in terms of a struggle to
find an appropriate balance between proactive and reactive
Meeting the Needs of the Many and the Few
Perhaps you remember the memorable quote from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Spock: The needs of the many outweigh...
Kirk: ...the needs of the few.
Spock: Or the one.
Spock then dies in performing a heroic act that saves many people.
Both education and health care systems face the challenge of
trying to meet the needs of the many and the needs of individual
students and patients.
One of the great success stories in world health care has been the
eradication of small pox through a coordinated worldwide effort. This
is an excellent example of meeting the needs of the many—including the
needs of people yet to be born. We now see worldwide cooperation in
attempting to deal with a variety of other diseases and disease threats.
Starvation or lesser forms of malnutrition have a causal effect both on
general health and on ability to learn. Thus, one approach to improving
both education and health care is to provide free and/or reduced price
lunches (and sometimes breakfasts) to students living in poverty.
Other examples of widespread proactive health care success include:
banning lead in gasoline and paints; decreasing environmental
pollutants such as mercury, arsenic, and PCB; water purification and
sewage treatment systems; seatbelts and airbags in cars; and
considerable success in developing vaccines for a variety of diseases.
All of these health care successes also contribute to improving our
education system. Poisons such as lead, mercury, arsenic, and PCPs
damage neural systems (decrease intelligence) and make learning more
difficult. The environmental pollution we call “poor air quality” is
both a major health issue and a major education issue.
How about proactive activities specifically targeted at education? Head Start programs provide a good example. Quoting from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ohs/
Head Start is a national program that promotes school readiness by
enhancing the social and cognitive development of children through the
provision of educational, health, nutritional, social and other
services to enrolled children and families.
The development of reading and writing—and eventually the development
of high-speed printing presses and photocopiers—can be thought of as a
proactive approach to meeting the education needs of the many. Radio,
television, and audio and visual recording and playback devices have
helped overcome some of the limitations of print material. In recent
years, the Internet (especially the Web) has greatly expanded access to
print and multimedia materials.
These proactive “education for the masses” technologies require
varying amount of learning on the parts of their users. Children learn
to watch television without the aid of formal schooling. However, it
takes many years of instruction and practice for an average student to
become reasonably proficient in general reading and writing, and in
proficiently using these skills to learn.
Many students do not reach this goal. This affects both our education
and health care systems. Our health care system benefits from having
educated patients who can learn about health care, do appropriate
self-diagnosis and self-treatment, read and follow written sets of
directions, and make appropriate decisions about when to seek
professional health care help.
Consider two major aspects of our health care system:
- Self and/or layperson diagnosis and treatment.
- Professional diagnosis, and a combination of professional
treatment and treatment carried out by the patient and non-professional
Self health care (including self medication) is a routine component of
health care throughout the world. Many people self medicate through
their choices in areas such as diet, exercise, meditation, smoking, and
The use of folk remedies has been substantially augmented by the
development and widespread distribution of a wide variety of health
care products. Vitamins provide a good example. Aspirin and other over
the counter medicines for pain and fever are powerful (and, potentially
dangerous) drugs that are easily and cheaply available. You probably
brush your teeth regularly—perhaps with toothpaste containing fluoride,
and you may keep a tube of triple antibiotic ointment and some bandages
in your medicine cabinet.
Relatively simple technology provides us with health care assessment
tools such as a thermometer, and blood pressure meter. More advanced
technology has provided us with home pregnancy test and with glucose
tests and meters used by diabetics. Many lay people learn to do
artificial respiration and the Heimlich maneuver, use an EpiPen, and
even to make use of a defibrillator. In addition, many lay people
routinely make use of the Web and other resources to learn more about
their own medical problems.
Every person faces the educational challenge of learning about health
care-related self-diagnosis and self-treatment. For the most part, the
informal education components of this education are haphazard. Children
learn from their caregivers, peers, advertising, and health care
providers. Our schools include some required health care education, and
this helps fill in some of the gaps from informal education.
In parallel with the previous section, think of people’s
roles in their own education versus roles of professional educators in
this endeavor. Humans have a substantial capability to learn on their
own. Feedback—from oneself and others—is essential.
Long before children reach school age, they have learned a great deal.
For example, they have learned one or more natural languages and quite
a bit about the culture and environment in which they live. Feedback
comes from whatever is in their environment. A caring childhood
environment that is culturally, intellectually and socially “rich”
prepares a child for future schooling and a lifetime of other
After formal schooling begins, a child continues to learn a great deal
from informal learning opportunities outside of the school setting.
Outside of school, learning tends to be self-directed. There is a
strong parallel between this type of education and the health care
discussion of people learning to self-diagnose and self treat various
illnesses and injuries.
In terms of health care, people learn to seek professional health
care help when they have a problem that they cannot cope with by
themselves or with the aid of their caregivers in their support system.
However, children do not decide to start going to school because they
have a personal education problem that may well require help from
professional educators. Formal schooling or home schooling is forced
upon students for cultural reasons—our society can’t afford uneducated
citizens. It typically begins at age five, and continues through
our normal cognitive maturation years.
Contemporary schools have many goals. Key goals are to master
culturally-selected knowledge and skills, and to become a more
independent, efficient, and effective learner. Unfortunately, however,
the basic structure of our schooling system tends to teach students to
be dependent on teachers both for what they learn and how they learn it.
About Information Age
Your authors consider this to be a major flaw in our education system.
Purposeful lifelong education is highly dependent on learners deciding
what they want to learn and then seeking resources to aid in this
learning. Technological progress has provided us with reading, writing,
and books—and more recently, the Web and distance learning.
Students currently tend to gain relatively little knowledge, skill, and
practice in posing challenging learning tasks and problems that they
then attack on their own. Of course, some teachers make excellent use
of project-based learning. In such learning environments, students seek
help from the teacher and other professional educators only when they
have exhausted the resources of themselves, project team members, and
In summary, we feel that our educational system should place
substantially increased emphasis on helping students to become
intrinsically motivated, independent, self-directed learners.
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