Saturday, December 3, 2011

Is There A Doctor In The House?

Warning:  If you say "yes" around me, you had better be prepared to produce a stethoscope!

Don't get me wrong, I've read up on the history of the awarding of academic degrees, and I have nothing but the highest respect for higher education (a term which had multiple meanings for those of us in college in the 70's); but I have just about had it with some of those whose so-called academic credentials make them insist that you call them Doctor these days.  

I wish that I had managed to stick it out and get a BA or BS (though the latter term is often used in descriptions of me regardless of the level of education that I've attained).  I have even greater respect for those like my daughter Laura Demaria, who managed to follow through and earn a Master's degree in education; and am grateful that she does not insist that family, friends, or students address her as 'Master' (though I'm equally sure that sometimes she would like to).  It's some of those who as Yoda once said "have completed their training", and insist on having this achievement recognized wherever they go that I have a bone to pick with. (Sorry, since we're talking about education, I suppose I should have said "with whom I have a bone to pick.)  

But let me not be hasty in making such judgment.  Let's instead analyze what it takes to achieve such a learned and lofty status:

*  Having already dedicated what is probably some 4-6 years to the rigors of academia, you must commit yourself to spending a couple of more at least. (I don't know about you, but most college campuses are far nicer, safer, and more congenial surroundings than your average factory or office floor full of cubicles; and one which I would freely choose instead.  Besides, the scenery is usually better no matter which team you're playing for.)

*  You have to be willing to slave away for a few years for a number of people for which you have no respect (and if you're lucky, a couple that you all but worship); bending your will to their every need, desire, and whim will become your sole mission in life; regardless of whether such labors are noticed, appreciated, or properly compensated.  (Which pretty much sounds like every apprenticeship program or entry level position that I have ever worked at, or even heard of.) 

*  You have to spend considerable hours reading.  (While this might sound like hell to some, I'm sure that I could name an equal or greater number that would consider this little short of the promised land.  Put my name on the top of that list.)     

*  At some point you are going to have to write a report (dissertation) which will be reviewed by this select group of people whose respectability you have previously called into question, knowing that only by their approval will you be allowed to continue down your chosen career path.  You must be prepared to be asked to rewrite sections of this work, no matter how brilliant, accurate, and lyrical that it is; so as to allow this group of mostly hackneyed academics to feel that they have contributed to your abilities in some way.   (As someone who has written a novel, hundreds of newspaper columns, hundreds of blog posts, and some 30 years of sales forecasts, some of which actually had to be done in Microsoft PowerPoint, I can tell you that this isn't as tough as it sounds.  The latter however, will require swallowing your pride, if not your tongue.  You will find it a far easier task if you accept grovelling and scraping, while attempting to cater to every pet theory on your subject held by those on the review board that you can without contradicting yourself too often.  A next to incomprehensible title filled with polysyllabic terms that fills up most of the title page would probably help as well.) 

Of course many of those out there running around with the designation more commonly held to stand for 'Piled Higher & Deeper' have been asked to complete none of these steps.  They instead are merely famous or rich enough to have been asked to come and speak to the assembled faculty and students, receiving an honorary degree instead of the honorarium that such a performance would normally command.  Having achieved both fame and fortune (something that those who got their degrees by the more conventional and difficult path are likely never to attain) they are invited to share their wit and wisdom with an appreciative audience in exchange for the ability to add an undeserved, unearned, and meaningless title to what is already probably a pointless existence.

You know ... one of the running gags of the original "Star Trek" series that's remembered even today was Dr. Leonard McCoy (played by Deforest Kelly) admonishing Captain James T Kirk (William Shatner) that he was only a humble medical practitioner, and incapable of performing any number of other impossible tasks handed to him by his intrepid superior.  It was used for example, in "The Devil in the Dark" episode; when 'Bones' (as McCoy was nicknamed) was presented with a alien patient that seemed little more than a living rock (and looked like a steaming cow patty).  In a well tested formula,  McCoy replied "Damn it Jim, I'm a doctor, not a bricklayer".

Of course he nevertheless managed to patch the creature's wounds with a McGuyver-like concoction of what appeared to be bathtub caulk and concrete; which allowed him to assume a smug and self-satisfied attitude (much like those with PhD's), and produce the happy ending that was required.  These days however, it's not the physician attempting to usurp the domain of the construction worker with which we are confronted.  Instead it's the academic whose knowledge of English Renaissance Literature or The History of Basket Weaving in the Western World that allows them to assume the preeminence of a healer with which we are challenged.

One of these days I'm afraid I'm liable to give one of these self-important little pip squeaks who insists on being called by his academic achievement a short dissertation of my own.  I suspect that it will be one that calls on the medical skills that the title they insist upon being called by purports to carry ....  


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