Everyone says that the United States’s education system, starting all the way back to pre-middle school, is to blame. Wringing our hands because we’re losing ground in math and science vis-a-vis the other 71 developed countries in the world.
We stare at the raw data generated by two international, standardized tests administered by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD): first, the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) taken every 3 years by 15-year olds; second, the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Assessment (TIMSS), given to 4th and 8th graders every 4 years.
PISA is geared toward measuring real-world application of concepts taught in school; TIMSS, the understanding of math and science curricula. The Brookings Institute* points out that the two tests are highly correlated to each other in terms of subject matter, but not as much when comparing gains or losses on each test as a country over time. Even more disconcerting is that the raw numbers are not adjusted to statistical significance, yet are widely quoted by government policymakers and the media as the gospel truth.
So why is it then that statistically we are in a holding pattern in science? ..not exactly killing it worldwide, but not falling behind either? The USA is keeping its head above water. The outlook isn’t bleak. Yet, the United States is not able to attract more good people into classical science and, it follows, into medicine?
We point fingers at education, since middle school and high school. But looking just at the empirical data, statistically we are not that bad off.
Let’s take a different tack. What’s going on in college and medical school? In college, as a pre-med, you’re loaded with science courses and labs. In medical school, same thing but more of it. Then more ‘training’ with heavy application.
Burn-out happens quite a bit or students’ senses are dulled by the sheer rote of it all. This can happen anywhere, be it in business or professions like doctors and lawyers. It seems, though, I’m reading more and more articles about burned-out doctors who not only have to go through 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school but also 4 more years of internship and residency before ‘training’ is good enough to go into the working world. Seriously? Doctors have been ‘working’ all along while in ‘training’. That’s not going to change.
The crux of the matter is not really time and not necessarily the work per se. It lies in ‘training’ as a flow-through process beginning in high school and its competitive nature. First, you’re competing in college for a finite number of places in medical school. In medical school you have to get through and excel in the coursework, plus pass Part I and Part II of the USMLE standardized tests, and compete yet again for as-good-as-you-can-get residency program with the added pressure of a must-pass Part III during the first year out of medical school.
‘Training’ is out and out competition mano-a-mano, individual vs. individual. Not much small-groups, percentage-wise, compared to business. Physical health has become an issue. How can that possibly change when classical science is hinged on the theory that everything is separate from each other: a tree is a tree, a desk is a desk, a human is a human. Everything is separate; nothing is “together”. The system and the people in it aren’t integrated or cohesive.
There were some free-thinkers out there, however, who argued that classical science was wrong. Leonardo da Vinci showed us with his drawings that “everything is interrelated”. You can’t have a muscle without a tendon somewhere.
But classical science doesn’t see it that way. It individualizes and divides everything and everybody. It trains doctors to be individuals, separate from each other. Learning becomes tedious and that type of learning hasn’t transferred well to other disciplines.
It ignores John Donne, who as a metaphysicist in the 17th century, wrote: “No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less...and diminishes me because I am involved in mankind. And therefore…(don’t ask)...for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” And in the 1940s, a date not to far away in the past, it again ignores Ernest Hemmingway who wrote the Donne-inspired book, For Whom the Bell Tolls.
In fact, classical science is a failure because it hasn’t admitted its weakness; it hasn’t found a method to stop training doctors to be “islands”, separate from each other and separate “from the main”. Classical science as a discipline has been drilling that ‘separatist’ attitude into doctors for so long that it has become myopic, doesn’t see separatism as a fault or a problem.
So the prognosis rests with each and every doctor. Question everything. Don’t allow education and the educators to dictate who you are supposed to be. It is who you are becoming; you define it through relationships. You must integrate, not separate; classical science is incapable of an assist.
*Sources: https://www.brookings.edu, Louis Serino, April 7, 2017.