Unpopular Opinions

Teddy has an effective and inspiring English teacher this year. Dr. Wilson (emphasis on doctor) has already made him a better writer, and this marking period was all about crafting persuasive arguments. Teddy noticed how easily the words flow when you are writing about something you like, even better, something you know well. He passionately championed Michael Jordan as the GOAT over LeBron. A later assignment asked him to defend a controversial opinion that he did not personally believe. I didn’t read Teddy’s takedown of the #MeToo movement, but enjoyed watching him struggle to entertain and recommend another point of view. The last assignment of the marking period was to craft a speech on a topic that he truly endorsed, but it had to be provocative.

My boys don’t talk to me about their schoolwork very often. Having never taken Latin or Greek and failing to recall any useful Trigonometry or Physics, I’m relieved they don’t request help. But Teddy came to me to vet essay topics because he wasn’t sure which were the “right” ones. I kept insisting that it hardly mattered since these were just assignments for school. But my 16-year-old kid was sure that if he defended the “wrong” thing (e.g., abortion is immoral; masks mandates are unconstitutional), it could affect his grade.

I cannot imagine anything more antithetical to the spirit of debate, critical thinking, and education than to have students feel as though they need to steer clear of topics that are not sanctioned by the main stream. I’m saddened by the possibility that our children are not being enthusiastically encouraged to try on different opinions, to test the firmness of their beliefs, and to listen and debate without rancor. With this topic in the open tabs of my brain, enter not-doctor Joseph Epstein.

The knee jerk tweet reactions found my feeds before Mr. Epstein’s op-ed did. Women everywhere recognized this attitude and we were offended on Dr. Biden’s behalf. Dr. Linda Ivey, Chair of the History Department at Cal State East Bay expressed it well:

“I find your embarrassing, nonsensical, outdated and very public snippy rant comic.”

Indeed, that is how I reacted, too. I disagreed with his premise, balked at his reasoning… and giggled. His opinion is so old-fashioned and deliciously unapologetic that it was amusing.

I was also thrilled that he wrote it.

I’m going to go ahead and admit that I found his writing enviable. I asked Bernie to explain the origins of “bush league” and had to google at least two other similes. Our plucky BA boy is a wordsmith, for sure. Then, less than 24 hours after publication, “cancel culture” was calling for his head. This is a problem. I’m weary of a society than cannot stomach an alternate point of view. Mr. Epstein did not deny Dr. Biden the privilege of using her earned title, but disastrously wondered aloud if it was necessary. He used her as an example to consider the modern connotation of the honorific “doctor.” In his opinion, it should be reserved for the stethoscope-toting sort, or those that persevered through coursework he (arbitrarily and with zero personal authority) deems worthy. But what his essay actually evoked was a discussion. Would only-honorary-doctorate Epstein have written this article about a First Husband with similar credentials that used the same title? Do dentists fall into a gray zone? What does “Dr.” mean to you? These are the things we should be discussing and debating. This is the fun stuff.

Instead, we’re calling for a comeuppance.

Readers, the children are watching, and they’re concerned an unpopular opinion could lower their GPA. How do we get back to convivial conversation? Sadly, a pandemic precludes all of us from starting our own salons. But the intent of an op-ed is to lure us into the comment queue. Let’s discuss! I was instructed by my thesis advisor (an oncologist) to never, ever get an MD vanity plate for my car. (Total bush league move.) PhD-toting scientists with their own labs, a.k.a “principal investigators,” are called by their first names, but don’t pull that with the surgeon in the OR. I’d rather the teens in my home call me Britt than Mrs. Lee… but if we’re being formal, I’d rather they call me “doctor.” This title is variable and layered and weighty and, I guess, controversial. The WSJ op-ed put it out there for debate and I am here for it.

Was Dr. Jill Biden insulted or amused by Mr. Epstein’s piece? As someone who can claim the “doctor” title twice, my guess is that she giggled, too. In my personal opinion, she should never, ever drop the “Doctor,” and I assume she is unfazed by some opinion piece suggesting she should. Mr. Epstein’s essay is simply a poorly executed persuasive essay supporting an unpopular position. Dr. Wilson would likely give it a B minus. The argument was weak, but the writing was gorgeous… almost doctoral level.

If you didn’t snigger just a little at this, maybe we can’t hang.

One response

  1. Your son is so right. Taking an unpopular view in academia asks for an F. Our world is quickly moving to a place where individual opinion contrary to the politically correct view is very risky. The opinion establishment has figured out that vilification is the best answer to dissension. The subjects that used to be discussed openly are now off the table. I feel for our youth since their future opinions will be pressured to fit the norm. Super post.

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