Monday, June 3, 2013

The Sick Care Plan and Black America

When reading the newspaper last week, I was reminded of yet another way that standard science curricula fail to meet the needs of Afrikan people. Although Black children take courses in health and biology, these courses do very little to help Afrikan people live healthier lives. Science curricula for Afrikan children should offer substantial instruction in health care and medical treatment.

In the News. Just last week the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a story about UPMC (the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center). Apparently the Mayor of Pittsburgh, Luke Ravenstahl, is leading the City of Pittsburgh in a lawsuit against the hospital.

Now before I go any further I should clarify one thing. To refer to UPMC as a "hospital" is a bit misleading. UPMC is a $10 billion enterprise. If a comparison would help, the City of Pittsburgh brought in just under 1/2 of $1 billion in 2011 ($489,317,000). UPMC is also the largest property owner in the county.

What frosts Mr. Ravenstahl is that after taking all this money from the residents of Pittsburgh, UPMC does not give the city an adequate cut. In fact as a tax-exempt nonprofit, UPMC gets a $20 million tax break from the city. Ravenstahl wants UPMC to let the city wet its beak. The city wants 6 years of back payroll taxes and removal of UPMC's tax-exempt status.

The Implications. What does this mean for you and me? Not much. It is a reminder that those who run the "healthcare" system care very little about health. Instead they are stewards of a multi-trillion dollar industry that maintains its revenues by maintaining us in sickness. The unfortunate reality is that as science educators we are largely complicit.

Standard science curricula do very little to teach Afrikan children strategies and techniques for ensuring good health. These curricula do very little to teach Afrikan children about the threats posed by the sick-care system. Given our current condition, Afrikan people should possess the skills necessary to ensure their own good health without reliance on the sick-care system run by whites.

What can we do? Let's start small! Help children to get comfortable making assessments of their own bodies. Teach them to take and record vital signs. The four primary vital signs are: body temperature, pulse, blood pressure, and respiration. These can be taken with minimal equipment and in a relatively short period of time. Additional useful measures to be taken are height and weight.

Teaching children to take these measures can be a fun exercise, but it should be much more. If we are serious about taking control of our health, we would maintain running logs of our vital signs. We would look for correlations between these measures and other life events (e.g. stress level, diet, amount of exercise, etc.). We could also explore with children what we can learn from these measures. What do they tell us about the functioning of our bodies? What is the biological basis for each?

This small step brings Afrikan people a little bit closer to self-determination and true health care. Why? ...because nobody is going to care about our health like we do!

And remember… Have Fun!

Jomo W. Mutegi, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Science Education at the Indiana University School of Education in Indianapolis. He is also a member of the (ES)2 Research Program, which works to advance STEM curricula that position people of African descent to improve their current social condition. To learn more about the (ES)2 Research Program visit: