March 13, 2014

Does the United States of America Still Make Sense?

I was listening to a show on NPR about education in Finland. Finland is about the size of Minnesota. Like Lake Wobegon, the Finnish children are all above average, even though they don't start school until the age of 7. Finland consistently outranks the United States in math, reading and science.

Krista Kiuru, Finland's minister of education, talks about the "Finnish way," which includes day care and  preschool for every child under 7. This isn't a goal; it is a right, guaranteed under Finnish law. And the preschool teachers are college graduates who teach a curriculum which meshes exactly with Finland's National Curriculum Guidelines. We are talking horizontal and vertical integration to a degree unknown in this country, where textbooks are still determined by what the Texas State Board of Ed deems to be suitable. Really?

Okay, so the Finnish people pony up a bundle in taxes to pay for this. That would turn off a lot of Americans. But I'll bet there are some folks out there, especially parents just starting their families, who think this looks pretty darned good.

Could it happen here in America? Not a chance. No way, no how is Congress ever going to pass such a national system. Free day care? Free preschool? Seriously? And you got this idea while listening to NPR? Okay, next!

This got me thinking. What if we weren't a United States of America? What if were were a union of several totally autonomous regions, countries, area, ... call it what you want? Don't you think that the folks up in New England might be interested in the Finnish way? Ar maybe the Left Coast?

Suppose were weren't one big tent of a country? Suppose we were a territory consisting of geopolitical divisions that reflected a much higher degree of consistency than we have today? To some degree we have this with our system of states. But we also have the supremacy clause, which says that the Federal government prevails in any clash between Federal and state policy.

Then there is the matter of scale. Some states are as big as countries, granted, but there are smaller states who would benefit from confederation with like-minded bigger states. Somewhere between E pluribus and unum, there has to be a sweet spot: just big enough to be able to support the wishes of the populace, but just small enough to ensure a high degree of homogeneity in terms of political philosophies.

I'm not saying we would eliminate entirely the concept of a Federal level of government. I think of it as more of a tweak to the system, which after all was created in vastly different times and circumstances. Remember, that the country envisioned by the founding Fathers was the thirteen colonies along the Eastern seaboard, not an empire that spread from sea to shining sea. So yeah, I could still see a role for the Federal government, but one perhaps more strictly limited to the original intent, defense and certain common issues that require cooperation across internal boundaries.

This begins a series of pieces exploring this thought to its logical or illogical conclusion. For now, just ask yourself this question: When you first got what I was driving at, was your reaction "Hell, no" or "Hmm." I'm betting that there are some aspects of this idea that have an appeal, be it education or the environment, or the  business of business.

Or maybe this is just another way of exploring the dysfunctional nation we have become, bacause that is exactly what we are. The good old U.S. of A., the country that got things done, has become gridlock central. If we don't do something about it soon, we will end up on the ash heap of history, just like other failed empires. Think it couldn't happen? Think again.

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