To [teach], or not to [teach], that is the question: Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them.
Hamlet abridged (William Shakespeare).
Although I am retired from medical practice, I still consider myself a doctor. And in fact, my license remains in force. A retired doctor friend once shared his concerns with me about surrendering his license and losing the identity he had worked so hard to achieve. I understood his concern, but I assured him he would still be a doctor without the piece of paper.
Credentials are important, but not the end all. Throughout my career I told medical residents how important it was to take their specialty exams and get board certification after residency rather than procrastinate. It just gets harder as time goes by. Imagine going back to high school and taking an algebra exam!
I’ve written that the word doctor comes from the Latin word docere which means to teach. I will always be both a doctor and a teacher whether my medical license is active or not. I “identify” as a doctor because I studied, passed the exams, have my plaques on the wall and 40+ years of practice to prove it. I don’t need to imagine myself or try to be something I’m not. Perhaps I’ve become a writer as well.
Throughout my career I taught medical students, nurses and colleagues, just as they taught me. I’m retired but I still identify as a pedagogue, but not one who is pedantic! My classroom is now this column where I share my observations and opinions, but not dogma. And you could say my readers are my students.
Recently, I’ve been thinking about identity, mine and others. Some years ago, I learned about the work of James W. Fowler, who was a professor of theology and human development at Emory University. Dr. Fowler is best known for his book The Stages of Faith “along the lines of Piaget’s cognitive and Kohlberg’s moral development.”
When was your first memory? Few of us remember anything prior to age three. However, my wife Becky remembers “everything” concerning relationships, whereas I am more, how shall we say, “selective.” Within a month of her third birthday Becky’s grandmother died and Becky remembers sitting on the curb and watching her grandmother ascend into the clouds of heaven. I sometimes wonder if my earliest memories were just remembrances from pictures I’ve seen.
We might term this earliest period as an “undifferentiated” stage of cognitive, spiritual or moral development. No one would argue that this period is not important. In fact, babies not held or nurtured never make proper neural connections in the brain and are at risk of serious developmental issues regarding safety, trust and the ability to love.
Fowler’s Stage 1 encompasses years 3-7, where imagination reigns supreme and produces an almost Magic Kingdom reality. Parents provide safety and sustenance and are considered godlike. Stage 2 covers grammar school ages 6-12, where reality increasingly replaces Mickey Mouse with, for example, the fantasy and wonder of Narnia and Harry Potter.
After age 12 and through the early teenage years of Stage 3, contradictions are increasingly seen. An example is the conflict between Biblical stories and evolution theory. The groupthink of peers and the influence of teachers become more important than parents.
In the late teenage and early adult years of Stage 4, one’s own truth emerges and ideals are realized. After age 30, Fowler’s Stage 5 is achieved where diverse truths are recognized and may come from a variety of viewpoints. As a result, paradoxes can be held and balanced.
Very few people attain Fowler’s Stage 6 where selflessness and agape are manifest. An example might be Mother Teresa or Gandhi. John Wesley called the lifelong pursuit of enlightened development sanctification.
You might ask why am I writing about human development and identity. I would respond by saying this topic has components of psychology, spirituality, science, ethics and politics. Politics?
I am a father and grandfather. And I have a duty to understand my kids and to nurture and educate them as well as protect them from the evil forces of indoctrination rampant in our country and schools. Yes, I said indoctrination in the schools, instead of education, because too often teaching what to think has become more important than how to think critically. As an educator I have witnessed this.
The most egregious example of such indoctrination is changing the school curriculum to teach children about sexuality. Perhaps the intent was to educate children who do not have engaged parents. But I believe there’s more to it than good intentions. The government cannot replace God nor should its agencies, like the educational system, attempt to replace engaged and loving parents. School is for ABCs and 123s rather than to explore gender identity and sexuality. And can you imagine giving medication to block puberty or performing irreversible “top” or “bottom” surgery on kids or teenagers with gender dysphoria? A young person’s brain does not become mature until the mid-20s. And a person’s spiritual and moral development does not mature until young adulthood.
Perhaps a case history will be illustrative. I grew up in a middle-class household with engaged parents. I can tell you from personal and professional experience, everyone has fantasies, but most should not be acted upon. I went to church, but became “enlightened” in college and wandered into the “far country” of the Prodigal. In medical school, at 23 years old, I realized I was lost and reconnected with my faith, which continues to this day. I can tell you that my fantasies as a child, a teenager and a young adult were not the perspectives of a mature and rational human being.
I worry for children today who are bombarded with the left’s class warfare of race, LGBTQ, confusing gender identity issues and transsexualism. These are issues for mature adults to consider, not children with immature brains. As parents, adults and as citizens we must be courageous and stand up to say “No!” to these perverse and pernicious issues being fostered upon our children.