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  • Sandra Ericson

Cast Your Vote —Status, Wealth, or Health



A recent August 2022 study, Social capital II: determinants of economic connection, by Chetty et al. (https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-022-04997-3), focused on the fallout from low levels of social connection — basically, the foundations of tribalism. This possibility means that if some groups fail to see how they can move up the ladder and economically aspire, they risk becoming socially isolated and remain at a low level of socioeconomic herd thinking, leading to the social disruption that has far-reaching consequences. While there is a whole social movement now that does not strictly pin social discontent on economic status but includes other flourishing factors, nevertheless, this is America, and we are capitalistic and hierarchical — wealth or lack of it is chained to caste and status, one of the inherited holdovers from previous generations.


The task of Chetty's group was to determine the effects of two factors, exposure to high SES (socioeconomic status) people in schools, communities, and other groups and the ability to form friendships with them. 'Friending bias' is unwilling or unable to create friendships, even if exposed to high SES groups; it is more dependent on the structure of groups, like diversity and size. Friending bias is high when cliches and private clubs are formed, which means a low economic connection between them. Communities are ranked by both exposure to high SES people and friending bias; according to Chetty, nhgbhere is why this is important:


"Distinguishing between these two channels is critical for developing interventions to increase economic connection—if differences in exposure are central, then efforts to increase socioeconomic integration in neighborhoods and schools may be the key to increasing connection; by contrast, if friending bias is central, one must instead focus on how to increase social interaction across class lines within existing neighborhoods and schools."


If one accepts that these measures are currently necessary in American life, why not cover both bases and deploy one "intervention" to increase socioeconomic exposure and decrease friending bias at the same time, long term, in both schools and communities? It may seem like a bit of magic, but the proof it works is that it has been done here and in Europe for over a hundred years!


This magic intervention is instituting Human Ecology programs in all schools, K-14. This education can affect a universal generational shift to greater respect for the commons and all individuals, regardless of social, economic, or geographic divisions. It can reorient student thinking from defining personal success as primarily socioeconomic to describing it as whole human health. Remember, the word 'health' encompasses more than the body. Success would then mean high HH, Human Health, not high SES. That human health measure would be valued more broadly, placing socioeconomic health as a part but not the whole of a healthy person. The 'whole' would include high standards for all human health measures, mental and physical first, personal agency and self-determination, solvency, security, community, and resiliency. Human Ecology programs, K-14, orient and educate students to understand the whole of living in contemporary culture, including social systems, personal health, family and household management, local and global economies, and the social and professional interactions within their community — there are more to life than social status and proximity to wealth.


While those two aspirations have driven previous generations and industries, the baseline conditions have changed, and today we are living in a new very complex reality, physically, socially, and economically. To turn out 'successful' generations now requires a new textbook, a new mindset, more prolonged and profound development of preventive education and consumer protection, and new standards of true wellness for all species, including humans. It is a big task for a community school district to adopt a long-term Human Ecology program, but it is no more complicated than grasping the fundamental need for any other subject requiring sixteen-plus years of education — all are based on the tract of human growth and maturity. It takes time. But, just as we would not think of eliminating the STEM subjects, PE, or the practicality of age-related education, we should no longer believe that students can learn about themselves and their world at home or by osmosis. The growing endemic complexity of human life, both manufactured and natural, has deemed that idea wishful thinking. It is time to meet and adapt to new human realities and formally teach all people what it takes to understand and adapt to them.


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