I have—rather demonstrably—a potty mouth. I even lay claim to it in my tagline up there.
Now, I’m actually too chicken-shit to wear anything so bold and brassy, but I continue to dream of myself as if I were braver. And there was a time, back at Penn, when I had a mildly foul-mouthed shirt that I loved.
I am, of course, musing on honorifics today on account of a truly execrable Op-Ed published in the Wall Street Journal some week-and-a-half ago. You probably know the one—I’m not linking it here—where Joseph Epstein, some retired lecturer I shall be calling “Joey” for the duration of this piece, lambasted Dr. Jill Biden for continuing to use the academic title (Dr.) relevant to her graduate degree (Ed.D.) and profession (community college professor). Since Dr. Jill Biden is not an MD-carrying medical doctor, Joey suggests, she shouldn’t put on airs by using any title beyond “First Lady.”
Honestly, I wasn’t planning to write about this. It was so obviously click-bait, something designed to provide outrage—which it quite deservedly and expectedly did, despite the follow-on article by the WSJ’s opinions editor saying how shocked (SHOCKED, I tell you!) he was about the liberal snowflakes over-reacting to the piece.
So why give these douche-canoes more of the attention they were so obviously craving? There’d be better things to write about…
But then someone on a distant external ring of my professional circle commented in an email about how, ideologically and symbolically speaking, he and Dr. Jill Biden were equally under attack by this op-ed’s voicing of current anti-intellectual and anti-education beliefs. Him and Dr. Jill and their “fake degrees.”
And I nearly took his fucking head off. Which belatedly made me aware that I’ve been having some feelings about this all.
So, time to come off hiatus and come back to the page.
First things first: I did not go off on this super-distant contact. I kept my reply focused on the actual work at hand rather than enacting email violence. Because he wasn’t 100% wrong. The original op-ed did express snobbery about the worth of a professional doctorate as opposed to one that Joey deems more deserving of respect.* And some of that snobbery is absolutely linked to the endemic lack of respect showed towards teachers across our culture: a disrespect that has been only heightened and magnified during these COVID times.
And yet: there is so much more going on here. A much more that goes well beyond the experiences of this white guy** who earned his Ed.D. at a “traditional” grad student age (early 30’s) and from an Ivy League University.
So no, this acquaintance of mine is not under threat to the same degree as Biden. Not symbolically, not ideologically, not any-way-ally.
This attack on Biden’s credentials is profoundly sexist, it’s profoundly ageist, and it’s profoundly classist. For more on all that, here’s a link round-up:
The classism is particularly stinky and multi-flavored: Joey sneers not only at the state school where Biden earned her degree, but also her “unpromising” dissertation title*** and her commitment to teaching in the community college setting. Don’t get me wrong, though—the sexism and ageism about someone earning her Ed.D. in her 50s are also tres stinky.
Which, dear reader, brings me back to the unexpected intensity of my feelings about this meaningless piece of click-bait drivel.
Because—what with my ongoing exploration about a return to grad school and all—these ugly criticisms hit really close to home.
If I go back to school, I will be getting a professional degree rather than an academic one. And I will be getting that degree in my 50s. And I will not be getting it at one of the Ivies. My need for a program that is mostly online and can be balanced with my day job puts me squarely in the realm of good state schools and less-exclusive private colleges and universities.
Now, let me be super-clear about this. I have absolutely zero concerns that the quality of my degree will be objectively diminished by the fact that I won’t be able to get it at an Ivy. Honestly, I’ve been working in this field long enough that I actually have a higher degree of respect for the “working class” IHEs than I do for the Ivies. So my internal sense of value is solid—while I am also and simultaneously aware of all the folx out in the world who are invested in maintaining the myths around and perpetuating the privileges associated with an Ivy League degree.
If anything, Joey’s ugly bit of cultural commentary probably leaves me more likely to go for the Ed.D. rather than dissuading me. But it’s sobering, nonetheless. Because it’s a vivid reminder that whatever small part of me imagines that a new round of school will make up for my past “failures” and earn me more respect? That little bit of Sherri better let go of that fantasy and fast.
Cos the truth is that the patriarchal, status-conscious douche-canoes who currently judge on me for not having a doctorate? Assuming I do go back to school and earn my doctoral degree,**** these guys will continue judging on me for having the wrong kind of doctorate, or getting it at the wrong kind of place, or getting it way too late in life.
I don’t need to let that deter me. But I might as well have my eyes open.
* I shall, for the moment, leave aside the inherent self-contradiction located within the inconvenient fact that the MD which Joey so lauds is itself a professional degree.
** I am sure y’all find that bit of demographics SHOCKING!
*** Student Retention at the Community College Level, which actually sounds like a useful and important topic.
**** Let’s ask the Magic 8-ball: