Why do Americans accept public education as is but universal healthcare is deemed socialist?

I have been trying to understand why Americans, across the entire political spectrum, pretty much accept the k-12 public school system as is (vouchers aside) while decrying that universal healthcare is socialism. Aren’t both socialism? If not, why not? If so, why is one “ok” and the other not?

I’ve asked a handful of people on various political affiliations and have heard a variety of answers. Withholding that info for now


Maybe because the public education is not mandatory (homeschooling et al)? I’m quite sure compulsory school attendance (like in Germany) would be regarded as un-American and Soviet-style indoctrination.


Hospitals don’t have football teams?


Healthcare isn’t mandatory either, though. Even in the depths of the socialist European UK you can still buy private healthcare and elect not to mix with the hoi-polloi in their National Health Service. Or do homeopathy, or whatever. The only times it’s involuntary are when you’re in no condition to ask, in which case you get the same (free) emergency care that anyone gets.


besides which, there are parts of the republican party which are hostile to public education. they tend to call public schools “government schools” and propose laws which would tend to be harmful to the public education system like voucher programs to use education funds to subsidize private schools and charter schools which are exempted from some of the regulations required of public schools.


Maybe it’s because in part, the modern public system was really built during the Cold War and was touted as an anti-dote to communism. If there is modern push back from some republicans, as @navarro suggests (there is, I’m not arguing against that point), it largely emerges in the wake of the long process of intergration of the public school system in the south. You get real push back in the late 60s and into the 70s, with protests across the country over the various bussing programs aimed at diversifying schools. While elite whites could and did send their kids to private schools, poorer whites could not. Also, being openly racist meant was becoming frowned upon, hence, you start to get the “government schools” language, which was often a cover for racist motivations.

We never had a pubic health care system at the same level as schooling, but there was a much more robust one in the 50s and 60s than what we have to day. All you really need to do is to look at how public funding was consistently cut for public health care places, such as Grady hospital in Atlanta, to see how funding and public support for funding, starts to erode around the same time. It’s not a huge leap of the imagination to connect the integration of grady with it’s eventually decline - though lately, happily, it’s been bouncing back as a public hospital…


It’s the times we live in more than the concepts themselves. If we had no fire departments and a rash of fires, then any federal attempt to remedy the problem universally would be regarded by the same people as socialism. It has nothing to do with what and everything to do with who. It is irrational.


That’s what I am leaning towards.

My republican public school teacher brother-in-law said … A free education is part of what defines this country and is critical because it allows for people to become informed citizens, who can go forth is and succeed and get whatever healthcare they want. Everyone has a right to the an education k-12, but meals and healthcare are not rights. And he doesn’t want to be footing the bill for people sick because of bad life decisions – drug addicts and such.

None of this holds water in my book.


Fear. We’re afraid of government-run medical care, but government-run schools aren’t that scary.

When we think of government-run programs, we generally think of standing in long lines at the DMV (or TSA groping lines) dealing with surly and unprofessional government workers, senseless regulations, having to fill out redundant forms in triplicate, long waiting lists and inconvenient scheduling, bureaucratic ineptitude, etc. Generations raised during the Cold War were led to believe that everything was like that (only worse) in socialist countries. We don’t want that in our health care because health care is important to us, immediate, and a life-or-death matter.

Schools, on the other hand, are mostly just babysitting centers where we can send our kids while we work. They serve a useful function of keeping our kids occupied and hopefully fairly safe. They’re supposed to provide education as well, but that’s not immediate and it’s not a life-or-death matter. If they’re inefficient, unpleasant, or filled with bumbling bureaucrats, that might annoy us, but it’s not such a big deal. If our kids have to wait in line and fill out repetitive forms to be taught something, so what? The smart ones will have learned it on their own already anyway.

There’s a big difference between a school accidentally teaching a kid geometry instead of algebra, and a hospital accidentally doing a heart transplant instead of a lung transplant. People are afraid of dying while waiting in line for medical treatment, or being unable to get necessary treatment due to red tape.


Another answer. I don’t think I’ve gotten the same answer twice.


Oh, wow. Bang up job being done there! /s

Which speaks to the ridiculous misinformation surrounding universal healthcare in the US. That shit just doesn’t happen in the (affluent, western) countries that have it.


I could see in that situation America moving to a system adopted from the greatest of cities:

If you bought a contract from the Guild, your house would be protected against fire. Unfortunately, the general Ankh-Morpork ethos quickly came to the fore and firefighters would go to prospective clients’ houses in groups, making loud comments like ‘Very inflammable looking place, this,’ and ‘Probably go up like a firework with just one carelessly dropped match, know what I mean?’


I’ll rephrase my answer in the form of not a joke.

Schools, especially schools in the parts of the country where Gubmint Is Bad, schools are community centers where the whole town goes to football games or basketball games or whatever the local thing is. Schools are where the future happens. Children are the future! People don’t have a problem spending tax money on the future that is their children.

Healthcare is fear and pain and sickness and death. Even good hospitals are icky and scary. Healthcare is something people don’t want to think about at all, and certainly not with any kind of quantitative risk-benefit analysis. They reflexively redirect their minds toward “God” instead. People don’t want to spend tax money on the future that is their own death.

I am intrigued that this is the opposite of @Daaksyde’s answer.


Can you imagine having to rely on medical volunteers for basic health care, waiting in line for hours in some non-hospital setting because there aren’t many spaces big enough for all the desperate sick patients? Oh, wait…

(That’s what it looks like all over the southern U.S. Good thing the Remote Area Medical (RAM) Volunteer Corps exists.)


The oligarchs would retain the best for themselves. The second best would guild themselves and be available for a fee, to the upper middle and middle at steep loan rates. Just like in the 1950’s and previously. The complication would be insurance who would be trying to interject themselves in every transaction just like today.


If it’s not rational then It’s a rationalization. A post hoc fallacy where america = great, it has always been great without x therefore x is not great.
America spent years and millions of dollars convincing itself that it was the best place on earth and that socialism is the work of the devil, its not going to change its mind if it was so dedicated to convincing itself in the first place.
There’s also fear of change which is understandable, better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.
Its a lot more complicated than that of course, but that’s basically my understanding of it.

Edited to add a more complete answer.


Touches upon what a friend (Republican) guessed - that the schools is locally funded and supported and part of the community.

Universal healthcare is none of that.


Wow, I did not know that existed. Interesting quote from their site:

I witnessed the near devastation of whole tribes by what would have been simple or minor illnesses to more advanced cultures.

And now they are needed to tour the U.S. The U.S. is clearly not an advanced culture when it comes to health care. Something seems wrong about that. (not untrue - wrong that it should be so)

will pass out entry numbers at 3am on the first day of the clinic. The event is first-come, first-served. Patients will begin lining up as early as Thursday afternoon to ensure that they receive a place in line

Having to show up at least a day or two in advance and wait in line until 3am hoping to get one of the limited tickets rather than getting turned away…that’s unfortunate. That’s pretty much the epitome of how the U.S. envisions socialized medicine. And yet, it’s not; it’s how it is here for a lot of people. :frowning:


What I picture: uninsured father skips annual physicals, melanoma goes unnoticed, eventually gets ill … Bankruptcy, wife/kids collect social security after his death, possibly welfare …

With universal healthcare … Gets annual exam, doc says “That needs to come out”.

Some people though love to jump to the unappetizing idea of people in drug rehab living it up on “my dime”.


[quote=“lamaranagram, post:1, topic:67731”]
Why do Americans accept public education as is but universal healthcare is deemed socialist?[/quote]


This historic interview with a top insurance industry executive whistleblower completely spilled the beans:

This is exactly why so many Americans have negative connotations (communism, etc.) associated with a single payer system for health care.

Here’s a great FAQ on single payer that every American needs to read: