A Ph. D. Confesses to Education Gaps

indexI have a lot of catch-up work to do when it comes to my education.  This may sound surprising for someone to say with a Ph. D. from a good university, but it’s true.  Because of my specialization in English literature I know a lot about books and poetry and have a smattering of know-how when it comes to literary criticism.  When it comes to the social sciences like history, I do pretty well, probably because I keep up on current events and have always been a history buff.  I hold my own in the behavioral sciences when it comes to psychology and sociology.  I falter, however, in the natural and physical sciences, simply because I avoided subjects like biology, chemistry and physics, perhaps triggered by my apprehensions about the foundational math.

There isn’t a whole lot I can do about it now, given my age.  It’s just that if I could do my education over I would do better on filling the gaps.

You might say, “no big deal” and you’d probably be right.  I’ve had a successful career in my chosen vocation.  Still, I recognize we can get along even without our lower limbs, but how much better if we had them.

We need a core curriculum more than ever, not only to provide academic balance, but as means to social cohesion in a vast, growing population of diverse background.  While our national model may nobly be e pluribus unum (one out of many), we may be undermining assimilation by featuring cafeteria approaches to education that fragment cohesion.  Our nation’s unity is not only fostered by speaking English, but through the sharing of cultural experience.

Cultural informants change like language itself; still, there are essentials like grammar, syntax and spelling that keep it stable and facilitate communication.  Similarly, there are essentials that comprise the bedrock of our nation; for example, the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation; the Constitution;  political stalwarts like Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and FDR; citizen advocates like Dr. Martin Luther King. Such elements and emissaries have provided the brick and mortar building our nation and forming its consensus.

Meanwhile, I wonder if today’s students can identify the following:

The Korean War

Date of the American Civil War

Walt Whitman

Davy Crockett

The Vice President of the USA

The two presidents during WWII

 I’ve deliberately chosen the non-science area.  I suspect it gets worse with the sciences, and we’re paying for that with the failure to produce the expertise needed to sustain our technology that empowers our economic prosperity.  Despite our many and varied attempts at educational reform across the years, we’re still lacking, and things may be getting even worse.

It’s dismaying that the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) test (2011) that compared progress by fourth and eighth graders in twenty-one large cities showed little progress over a decade, despite billions invested.  Black and Hispanic students remain hugely behind White students who, in turn, are low science achievers in comparison to Asian students.  It doesn’t help when 22% of our students live in poverty.  Poverty means not only poor nutrition, but cultural segregation and thus lower achievement.

According to Sol Stern, New York Daily News (Dec. 9, 2011), the answer to improving scores is “more likely to be found in a group of 10 elementary schools participating in a pilot program testing the efficacy of the Core Knowledge reading program pioneered by the scholar and cognitive scientist E.D. Hirsch.

“Over a three-year period, the students in the schools using the Hirsch program outperformed their peers from a control group by a huge margin on K-2 reading tests. Amazingly, though the DOE conducted the Core Knowledge reading study, it has not moved to spread this success to other schools.”

As for me, I’ll just plod along with maybe just a bit more off-the-track reading so I can get-in on the conversation.  Maybe then I’ll at least know what thermodynamics is all about at long last; or understand better the changing chemistry of our oceans and its effects on all life; or the relationship of sugar maintenance to good health; or what makes my computer go and how to make it go better.  Just maybe I can then beat my wife at Trivial Pursuit.

Be well,


Author: RJ

Retired English prof (Ph. D., UNC), who likes to garden, blog, pursue languages (especially Spanish) and to share in serious discussion on vital issues such as global warming, the role of government, energy alternatives, etc. Am a vegan and, yes, a tree hugger enthusiastically. If you write me, I'll answer.

One thought on “A Ph. D. Confesses to Education Gaps”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: