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Dentist or Dental Assistant – K12 Education and Counseling

The other day my daughter, who is a sophomore in high school, reported a conversation she had with one of her teachers.  This is all hearsay, of course, and teens can misunderstand just as well as adults.

This is how I reconstructed the conversation:

Student:  “I think I want to be a dentist.”

Teacher: “That’s great.”

Student: “Is it very difficult to become a dentist?”

Teacher: “Well, you do have to work hard.  You have to go to dental school.”

Student: “Gee…”

Teacher (sensing that the student is balking at the hard work): “Well, if you find that too tough, you can become a dental assistant instead.”

I had heard enough.  It was at this point that I blew up.  My wife was outraged too.

Now, there’s nothing wrong in becoming a dental assistant.  But is that the extent of ambition that teachers are supposed to encourage in their students?

Why are some teachers dumbing down their students?  (I realize that not all teachers counsel their students like this.  In fact, I don’t even know if this teacher did so – it was probably a miscommunication.  But I want to make a point here.  The idea of a ‘dental assistant’ should not even arise in a conversation like this.)

We should never raise our kids to settle for anything less than a high ideal.  But what is a high ideal?  Dentistry?  Neuro-surgery?  Chess grandmaster?  Nobel laureate?

Regardless of the answer, this is the kind of inner dialog that parents and teachers need to have.  They should be thinking, “How can I expose new vistas to this child?  How can I convey a sense of grandeur and self-actualization?  How do I motivate my students to shoot for the top 1% in whatever profession they choose?”

This is where the educational culture in the US differs from that in the Eastern cultures.

In the US, becoming a fireman is ok.  In the East, their goal is to become an engineer.

In the US, becoming a medical assistant is ok.  In the East, their goal is to become a doctor.

In the US, becoming a garbage collector is ok (euphemistically called ‘sanitation officer’).  In the East, their goal is to become the owner of the garbage company.

Obviously, not all of our dreams and goals will be achieved.  For whatever reason (financial, family circumstances, scholastic ability, etc.), many of our kids will end up in lower levels of their chosen profession.  Mathematically, it is impossible for the majority to be in the top 1%.

We should respect our kids for having tried and be supportive of whatever profession they choose.  However, by aiming for the top we convey respect for education and high standards.

As opposed to using the words ‘nerd’ and ‘geek’ as derogatory terms.

It is this lack of respect for high achievement that is the leading indicator of the decline and fall of a society.

When I was a student in India, we had no derogatory term to denote a scholastically-inclined child.  ‘Bookworm’ is the closest that I remember.  The kids with high scores, members of the chess club, etc., were held in high regard.

Maybe that has now changed even in India?  I hope not.

(BTW, I did have a heart-to-heart conversation with the guidance counselor, who assured me that she and her colleagues shared my values and that she’d investigate and correct any miscommunication in this regard.)

There is nothing morally reprehensible in being in the bottom 99% – but deliberately aiming for it is inexcusable.

I call on all teachers – the most influential front-line mentors for our kids – to stop the rot.


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