Dentist or Dental Assistant – K12 Education and Counseling

by kirangarimella on June 1, 2012

The other day my daughter, who is a sophomore in high school, reported a conversation she had with one of her teachers.  This is all hearsay, of course, and teens can misunderstand just as well as adults.

This is how I reconstructed the conversation:

Student:  “I think I want to be a dentist.”

Teacher: “That’s great.”

Student: “Is it very difficult to become a dentist?”

Teacher: “Well, you do have to work hard.  You have to go to dental school.”

Student: “Gee…”

Teacher (sensing that the student is balking at the hard work): “Well, if you find that too tough, you can become a dental assistant instead.”

I had heard enough.  It was at this point that I blew up.  My wife was outraged too.

Now, there’s nothing wrong in becoming a dental assistant.  But is that the extent of ambition that teachers are supposed to encourage in their students?

Why are some teachers dumbing down their students?  (I realize that not all teachers counsel their students like this.  In fact, I don’t even know if this teacher did so – it was probably a miscommunication.  But I want to make a point here.  The idea of a ‘dental assistant’ should not even arise in a conversation like this.)

We should never raise our kids to settle for anything less than a high ideal.  But what is a high ideal?  Dentistry?  Neuro-surgery?  Chess grandmaster?  Nobel laureate?

Regardless of the answer, this is the kind of inner dialog that parents and teachers need to have.  They should be thinking, “How can I expose new vistas to this child?  How can I convey a sense of grandeur and self-actualization?  How do I motivate my students to shoot for the top 1% in whatever profession they choose?”

This is where the educational culture in the US differs from that in the Eastern cultures.

In the US, becoming a fireman is ok.  In the East, their goal is to become an engineer.

In the US, becoming a medical assistant is ok.  In the East, their goal is to become a doctor.

In the US, becoming a garbage collector is ok (euphemistically called ‘sanitation officer’).  In the East, their goal is to become the owner of the garbage company.

Obviously, not all of our dreams and goals will be achieved.  For whatever reason (financial, family circumstances, scholastic ability, etc.), many of our kids will end up in lower levels of their chosen profession.  Mathematically, it is impossible for the majority to be in the top 1%.

We should respect our kids for having tried and be supportive of whatever profession they choose.  However, by aiming for the top we convey respect for education and high standards.

As opposed to using the words ‘nerd’ and ‘geek’ as derogatory terms.

It is this lack of respect for high achievement that is the leading indicator of the decline and fall of a society.

When I was a student in India, we had no derogatory term to denote a scholastically-inclined child.  ‘Bookworm’ is the closest that I remember.  The kids with high scores, members of the chess club, etc., were held in high regard.

Maybe that has now changed even in India?  I hope not.

(BTW, I did have a heart-to-heart conversation with the guidance counselor, who assured me that she and her colleagues shared my values and that she’d investigate and correct any miscommunication in this regard.)

There is nothing morally reprehensible in being in the bottom 99% – but deliberately aiming for it is inexcusable.

I call on all teachers – the most influential front-line mentors for our kids – to stop the rot.


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

David Mungenast October 18, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Sadly this all rings too true. While it is lovely to promote the dignity of all work, somehow in the USA this seems to have gotten translated into a lack of commitment to education and any idea that we should be broadening our children’s horizons. It seems that we are not paying attention to what is going on with our global economic competitors. Instead of pounding the table about currency manipulation we might want to take note that Shanghai is getting some of the best educational outcomes in world. Of course, they don’t have proms and football games so that just leaves them all that extra time to study.


kirangarimella October 24, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Was it Gibbon in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire who credited the increasing preoccupation with sports to the detriment of scholarship as one of the factors that contributed to the fall of the Roman civilization?


link June 10, 2016 at 5:46 pm

Dental hygienists clean teeth, examine patients for signs of oral diseases such as gingivitis, and provide other preventive dental care. They also educate patients on ways to improve and maintain good oral health.


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