American Ideologies: The Needed Balance

February 9, 2010
By Brittany Leitner BRONZE, San Antonio, Texas
Brittany Leitner BRONZE, San Antonio, Texas
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

American Ideologies: The Needed Balance

Currently, modernized America demands its citizens to be educated in order to reach levels of success, healthy in order to live a fulfilled and complete life, and assimilated to American culture in order to become an active and participating citizen. However, the extent to which America provides equal opportunity for citizens to fulfill such high demands is very limited. The American public education system is a vast landscape of mountains and valleys varying in quality amongst white, black, Hispanic, and Asian children, and poor and rich children. The healthcare system is picky and choosy amongst whom insurance companies decide is worthy and/or a safe bet for their coverage. Many Americans are left pushing aside their dreams and moving out of their homes in order to stay with a job that provides adequate coverage or to be able to afford their medication. And lastly, America has been advertising the concept of the American dream since the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and yet we aren’t willing to correct our blurry vision towards the sight of illegal immigrants, and deciding who and who is not worthy or establishing a better life for themselves in the U.S.A. The issues of health care, education, and immigration illustrate how American values and individualistic ideologies are preventing our country from advancing in the modern world. The current systems are far too outdated to meet the demands our country faces today, and the values they represent are inconsistent with those advertised along side the American dream.

American citizens are “generally apathetic and self-interested” (Ketcham, p.26). This means that they are more focused and concerned about their own problems than the problems of all Americans, especially minority groups. Foreign observers such as Alexander Tocqueville, have long been pointing to individualism as a distinctive characteristic of American ideology (Huntington, p. 46). It is due to Americans’ heavy set ideals about individualism that country-wide issues remain in debate rather than being solved.

The biggest problem with the public education system in the United States is the visible threat of the achievement gap. The achievement gap refers to the problem in the American education system where “African American, Hispanic, and poor children [are] scoring well below their white counterparts and those in the middle class on standardized tests” (Tough, p. 130). This issue most recently came into light when in 2001, president George W. Bush announced his plan for education reform through his act, “No Child Left Behind.” In this education reform, NCLB “requires schools to show achievement gains in mathematics” (Copple, p. 165).

With the impending presence of an achievement gap looming over the public education system, America’s core value of “all men are created equal” simply cannot exist. The achievement gap is a problem amongst minority American school children; therefore the majority of Americans simply ignore the problem because it is not directly affecting them. This practice of individualism is highlighting the failure of American democracy, and crossing out chances of equal opportunity. United we stand; apart our children fall out of the education system one by one. Education is key to a modernized and successful nation. If other countries are able to surpass us in terms of technological advances, inventions, etc. then we simply will fall behind in the dust.

The United States health care system also threatens America’s definition of democracy. The problem with the United States healthcare system that poses the largest threat to our core democratic values is its lack of accessibility, especially in comparison with other countries. In most countries, for example, Germany, France, and Canada, going bankrupt over medical bills is unheard of (Klein p. 400-3). However, in America, citizens are forced to rely on certain jobs and life factors (like reaching the age of 65 for Medicare) in order to receive health insurance (Sered and Fernandopulle, p.300). As seen in the documentary “Sick Around America,” on man who was not yet 65 and therefore didn’t qualify for Medicare, was forced to move out of his home and into his parent’s old house in order to have enough money to pay for his prescription bills. Another man, fresh out of college, was forced to put his career dreams on hold when he found out he was battling a life threatening illness. He was forced to take a job at a hardware store that had employer sponsored health care coverage to pay for his medical care. In other words, the freedom that America stands for proves to be weaker than the weight of unpaid medical bills.
Because health care is mainly provided through employers and insurance companies and not through the government, it is not a service that helps all citizens’ equally. This is a problem that conflicts with American democracy because having access to health care is a necessity for all human beings to live healthy, fulfilled lives. People who oppose health care coverage that is provided and regulated through the government, claim that health care is a “personal responsibility” and “the individual’s choices and actions with regard to diet and exercise […] determine his or her health status” (Minkler, p. 318). This may be true in cases of obesity, etc. but most people who find themselves with cancer or a disease have done nothing detrimental to their health at all. Cancer and disease strike citizens regardless of their accessibility to healthcare.
There are 45 million Americans under the age of 65 who are uninsured as of 2007 (Kaiser Foundation, p. 265). This is not the American majority. This again is where the concept of American individualism comes into play. Because most people have health insurance, their individualistic ideologies prohibit them from empathizing with those who don’t.
Perhaps most detrimental to the concept of the American dream is our current immigration policies. Currently, the immigration system makes no room for low skilled workers. It is much easier for educated immigrants who plan on becoming doctors or engineers to become United States citizens. Previous temporary worker programs like the ones implemented in the 1990 Immigration Reform Act, were focused on helping high skilled workers and completely ignored the demand for laborers (Portes and Rumbaut, p.26). In America, the “construction industry creates some 185,000 jobs annually” and there are about “12.5 million workers nationwide” in the food/restaurant industry (Jacoby, p. 445). We need immigrant labor in industries like the restaurant industry or construction industry or they will inevitably fail. Americans are not able to fulfill these jobs because “the key demographic for the restaurant trade [16-24 year olds] will not expand at all” but “demand for labor is expected to grow by 15 percent between 2005 and 2015” (Jacoby, 445).
Therefore, not only does the current immigration system limit and judge who is allowed to enter the country legally, it also is doing itself more harm by not legally allowing immigrants into the country who are clearly needed. By judging immigrants and not treating them equally, we are going against American ideals, no matter how much we pretend to believe in the American dream. Because most Americans don’t live in towns like Farmingville, NY, where overwhelming groups of illegal immigrants are present, they assume that the problem of immigration is under control (Farmingville, documentary). According to Samuel Huntington, “There is only the American dream created by an Anglo-Protestant society. Mexican-Americans will share in that dream and in that society only if they dream in English” (Huntington, p.256). Americans want others to change for us, but we are unwilling to change our ideals for others.

Before the issues of public education, healthcare, or immigration can be solved, Americans must learn to reshape their identities. The concept of equal opportunity must become more important to Americans than the idea of individualism, or our problems will never be solved. The current American ideology of individualism proves to be limiting to our advancement in the modern world and making our outlook on democracy hypocritical. Americans must take the time to reevaluate what this country stands for and remember the promise of equal opportunity, or our imbalance of democratic values will prohibit us from any kind of technological advancement in the modern world.

The author's comments:
I wrote this piece for my Critical Issues Facing America class. I was inspired by the changes of American culture that are surfacing all around us. This is a response to the American Creed.

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