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Zirpoli: With so many threatened by education, you can call me Al | COMMENTARY

Why are so many Americans at war with education and science? Why are so many of us against vaccines? Why do so many Americans still believe that COVID-19 is a hoax or not much more than the flu? And why is a Wall Street Journal columnist attacking Dr. Jill Biden for earning a doctorate degree in education?

Have we become a nation of dummies?

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Some suggested that the attack on Dr. Biden is more of a gender issue. They note that political male figures like Dr. Henry Kissinger (Doctorate in political science), and Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski (Doctorate in Russian Studies) never had to defend the frequent use of their educational titles.

I think it is deeper than that.

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I think that science and education are a threat to some people’s politics. The research does not support their policies and so they want to discredit educators who are correcting them. For example, research tells us that tax cuts for the rich do not trickle down to the poor or pay for themselves. And we know from extensive research that the availability of free birth control decreases unwanted pregnancies and abortions, that early childhood education funding is significantly more cost-effective than building more prisons, and that wearing masks decreases the spread of viruses. Yet, we don’t follow the science; we follow our political alliances, instead.

If you don’t have the facts on your side to defend your stated policies, then you need to attack the messengers. Scientists and educators become your enemy and they are easy targets, especially for politicians who are in positions to cut that line of funding.

Of course, education does not make a person intelligent or well informed. Many well-educated people don’t seem to have much common sense. For example, a well-educated local Trump supporter recently told me that Bill Gates was pushing the COVID-19 vaccine as a form of population control and that the vaccine included microchips to track people. You can see this kind of misinformation widely spread among Republican social media sites.

My mom and dad did not attend college. Their goal, however, was to make sure their child did. They understood that a formal education was important, not only for our long-term financial security, but for our growth and development. While some try to dismiss the importance of college, we only need to look at the recent 2008 Great Recession to see the benefits. When the general unemployment rate hit 10 percent, it was 5 percent among college graduates and 2.5 percent among people with master’s degrees. You can correctly state that college is not for everyone without dismissing the value of the degree.

At 32, I wanted to go back to school. But, I thought it would be irresponsible to leave my job, given my family responsibilities. My mom, always wise about these things, told me that going back to school for a doctorate degree was not irresponsible, but an investment in my family’s future. She assured me that the sacrifices we would make would pay off in the long-term. She was right, of course.

We moved and after three years of full-time schooling and research, I completed a Ph.D. in education from the University of Virginia. I majored in special education and minored in administration and research methodology. The first person to call me “Dr. Zirpoli” was Dr. Gerry Wallace, a member of my dissertation committee. As I walked into his office after defending my dissertation, he handed me the phone and said, “Call your parents.” He understood that, while I was 35 years old, my accomplishment was the culmination of my parents’ encouragement to continue our education.

Joseph Epstein wrote in The Wall Street Journal that, “Dr. Jill Biden sounds and feels fraudulent, not to say a touch comic.” When I think about how Dr. Biden worked for 15 years to complete her doctorate degree on a part-time basis, I don’t think it sounds or feels fraudulent or comical. I see a strong woman who persistently pursued her goal and didn’t give up. I found Epstein’s column ridiculous, but a reflection of the anti-science and anti-education movement that is destroying our nation once viewed around the world as the most advanced.

As the proud father of a daughter in medical school (Maryland) and a daughter-in-law who has a doctorate in physics and works at MIT, I admire strong and smart women who have not only done well for themselves, but who will keep our nation strong with their hard work. We should celebrate these women’s accomplishments, not question or try to diminish them.

Tom Zirpoli is the program coordinator of the Human Services Management graduate program at McDaniel College. His column appears Wednesdays and he writes from Westminster. Email him at tzirpoli@mcdaniel.edu.

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