Understanding the health care debate requires basic literacy and math skills. But Checker Finn writing at National Review Online, is struck by “the enormous amount of background knowledge” required to make sense of it. “It’s almost a litmus test of cultural literacy,” he writes. To illustrate his point, he looks at a few paragraphs of President Obama’s recent address to Congress last week in which the President took for granted that his audience was familiar with words and phrases like “comprehensive health care reform,” “Democrats and Republicans” “self-insurance,” “coverage,” and ”bankruptcy” among other terms.
What’s an “advanced democracy”? How many are there? What are some others? What’s the point of Obama’s comparison of the U.S. with other countries? What are Medicare and Medicaid? Where did they come from? How do they work? Who is covered by them? What’s the federal deficit, and why are some people concerned about its size? What is the congressional legislative process, and why is it unusually complex in this instance?
“Perhaps you don’t need to know these sorts of things to succeed in college or the workplace (which seems to be the litmus test for today’s standards-writers and education reformers). But you really do need to know them to be a constructive participant in modern American life,” Finn concludes. “Who is going to ensure that our schools teach them?”