Apolitical Intellectuals Teaching Health Policy?

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Collection of health politics and policy teaching materials on my desk at work.

Is it desirable, indeed, is it even possible to teach health policy without also teaching politics? What would it mean to be an apolitical intellectual teaching health policy to future health care professional students?

As a lyrical definition of ‘apolitical intellectual,’ here are the first stanzas of  a poem by the Guatemalan poet and revolutionary Otto Renee Castillo, translated by Francisco X Alarcón. The full text of poem is available here and a powerful ‘spoken word’ version using a slightly different translation is available here .

APOLITICAL INTELLECTUALS
One day
the apolitical
intellectuals
of my country
will be interrogated
by the humblest
of our people.

They will be asked
what they did
when their country was slowly
dying out,
like a sweet campfire,
small and abandoned.

Basically, as I would interpret it, apolitical intellectuals have a lot of book knowledge and an escapist ‘life of the mind’ sort of attitude, but no practical, down-to-earth working knowledge of power and privilege. I do not aspire to be an apolitical intellectual teaching health policy to future health care professionals.

But I do aspire to be balanced and fair in my approach to teaching health policy. That is one of my prime duties as a teacher. Since I lean towards the Progressive side of politics, especially as politics relates to health and social justice issues, I bring that lens to the teaching of health policy. Many of my health policy current events articles come from the NYT or the (non-partisan but still left-leaning) Kaiser Family Foundation, and many of my videos (as in the photo above) are produced by PBS. I have tried, with limited success, to bring in more Conservative-leaning course readings, videos, and guest speakers. I find that it is difficult to find credible, intelligent, research/data-backed Conservative sources.

If I were teaching health policy at a university in close proximity to Washington, DC, I would probably have better luck finding good Conservative-leaning guest speakers. For instance, the DC-based Heritage Foundation has much different politics from my own, but they are credible, intelligent, and thought-provoking. They currently have an interesting section on their website: “Stop Obamacare Now.”

Since I am about to go on a year-long sabbatical in order to focus on my Skid Road and Soul Stories research and writing projects, I get to put away my health policy teaching materials. Both projects are public scholarship focusing on health policy for homeless and marginalized populations. As such, they are taking me even further away from being an apolitical intellectual. I consider that a good thing, but I do wonder how it will affect my teaching of health policy once I return to the university.

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