How will my kid become a doctor? [FAQ series: Evaluation]

You have a picture of your newborn in one of those stethoscope onesies, don’t you?

Don’t worry. It’s all good. Most of us envision our kids’ future success in some form or another. If yours is a fairly traditional vision, setting your child on an unconventional path might feel scary.

But you’re a parent. Scary is par for the course. The irony here is that traditional schooling is terrible for learning, which should terrify you.

We get where you’re coming from though, and while there may be comfort among the herd, you need the border collie nipping at its collective heel to guide it in the right direction. Now, if you’re happy as a sheep, that’s really okay. People try to make that sound like a bad thing, but not us. We actually own a border collie, and the world does not need all border collies. Sheep are wonderful, and they get along, and they don’t coo at you every 20 minutes for a snack or to be let out. But still. We love Tiki and if you’re starting to think you might be a border collie, get with us. We need to protect the sheep from the wolves. No. I don’t know who the wolves are in this analogy that I ran a little too far with. And now that we’re all starting to question its relevance, let’s go back to talking about doctors.

Just wondering out loud, why do kids always seem to want to be doctors and lawyers? I mean, you get the occasional “sprinkled red-frosted donut” (that kid, by the way, may very well be my personal hero), but there’s a solid chance he’ll tack on “… or a doctor”.

So if your glorious dessert-turned-breakfast is also considering a more traditional career path, you might be tempted to indulge that route with traditional schooling. It seems appropriate, a traditional education prepares a kid for a traditional career. But too simple. Traditional schooling is shockingly counterproductive at motivating humans. Motivation determines the quality of one’s preparation. Self-directed learners do well in traditional college and traditional careers. But even those won’t be traditional for long.

If we had Dr. Emmett Brown here, he would tell you with complete certainty that a traditional academic path is the last thing that will prepare the next generation of medical doctors. Since Doc Brown is neither a medical doctor nor a real person, we probably need to explain ourselves here.

Let me put it this way. My husband was once told by a doctor that his presenting symptoms were not diagnostic of kidney stones. I consulted the infamous Dr. Google, who indicated with relative certainty that this doctor was wrong. Ryan saw a urologist: Four kidney stones, two of them quite large. Doctors continue to hate Google, and Google continues to help patients with (sometimes life-saving) self-advocacy. Doctors need to adapt. To Google, and to things we’ve yet to conceive.

Speaking of things we’ve yet to conceive, the future is full of them. And here’s Doctor Tony Wagner (from Harvard), describing why traditional schooling methods like grading conflict with learning toward innovation.

‘F’ is the new ‘A’ would have been our favorite quote from that talk if Tony (are we on a first name basis?) hadn’t also quoted Albert Einstein’s “The formulation of the problem is often more essential than its solution.” Let’s be clear, Tony explicitly endorses self-directed learning at no point in his talk. He mentions problem-based learning, which involves an interdisciplinary and open-ended but still often adult-driven curriculum. After we talk with Tony (which is at this moment but a dream), we’ll let you know how he feels about our interpretation on Einstein, i.e. that the most fundamental skill to cultivate is the ability to identify relevant problems. We don’t see any way to accomplish that without ditching the curriculum concept.

You get it. Doctors are important for hugely obvious reasons. They solve life-threatening problems every day. But when education truly cultivates problem-solving abilities, most humans will be doing something as important as doctoring. We just don’t know how. Yet.

In any event, we’ll wrap this up with a play-by-play on how a self-directed learner becomes a doctor.

  1. A little Khan Academy for the basics, perhaps.
  2. Oh, I don’t know. Harvard Med School’s Open Courseware, maybe?
  3. An actual community college transcript wouldn’t hurt.
  4. Application jumps out of admissions officer’s pile and onto the associate dean’s lap, gets cozy. Associate dean smitten by self-directed learner’s self-discipline.
  5. Self-directed learner doctor does innovative things. Improves profession. Saves more lives that way.

And here’s a word from our fave knight to remind us that even in the present, it isn’t just doctors who save lives.

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