Saturday, February 16, 2013

Post Racial Banality

The following note was composed and sent last night in response to an email that I received yesterday from a friend that commended the wisdom of Dr. Benjamin Carson, the eminent pediatric surgeon who expressed opinions that were implicitly critical of some of the liberal/progressive policies espoused by President Obama. Here's a link to a Youtube video of Dr. Carson's remarks:

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/video/2013/02/07/dr_benjamin_carson_addresses_national_prayer_breakfast_criticizes_obamacare.html

Hi <name deleted>,

Dr. Carson's comments have received remarkably wide distribution, remarkable because when I watched the video and read and re-read the transcripts I could find nothing original. His comments have been made again and again by people who hold the same range of conservative perspectives, but far more cogently. So I suggest that the reason why his unoriginal comments received such remarkable notoriety is because he's black. 

Dr. Carson asserts that as a physician, he is among the most educated members of our society, and that's literally true -- but only if we measure education by length of study, rather than by scope of study. His education as a physician in today's society has mostly been in a very narrow range of medical technologies. When he asserts that a substantial number of the Founding Fathers were physicians, he overlooks the wonderful fact that those physicians were broadly educated in a manner that is almost unimaginable today. They read Greek and Latin classics for the fun of it; studied ancient and modern philosophers; and were well versed in the latest scientific discoveries at the dawn of modern science. The vast majority of today's physicians do not have comparably broad intellectual backgrounds. 

Dr. Carson is reputed to be a brilliant pediatric neurosurgeon ... who happens to be black. If my granddaughter had had need of his services when she was much younger, I would have been confident that she would have received excellent care, the best possible care in his hands. But his blackness would have been irrelevant to the excellence of his surgery.

As for his comments about education, I was perplexed by his lack of reference to the fact that education has now entered the most exciting period in human history. The "revolution" will not be won as easily as some journalists, like Thomas Friedman, would have the public believe. But the revolution is on. I wake up every morning excited and grateful that I have a job that puts me on the front lines of this powerful confluence of data-driven disruptive innovations that will eventually enable everyone in the world to learn whatever they want to learn from the best teachers on the planet in a manner that is tailored to their particular individual learning styles and prior knowledge. In other words, we educators are on the verge of learning how to really do what we have claimed we could do for almost three thousand years -- to educate our students ... :-)

As for Dr. Carson's simplistic notions of how to solve complex national policy problems, his personal opinions do not acquire data-driven validity just because he's a black man who spouted his beliefs while standing next to an African American president who favors different policies. Indeed, if Dr. Carson were were white and had made the same banal observations when President Obama was seated a few feet away from him, few people would have noted his remarks -- which occurred almost as casual asides, as tag lines at the end of a rambling, after-dinner, joke-studded schtick; even fewer people would have remembered what he said. So the real news was that an educated black man holds economically conservative opinions ... hmmmmm ... :-(

Unfortunately, Dr. Carson is no Milton Friedman. For that matter, he is no Thomas Sowell. When the ultra conservative Dr. Sowell wrote something with which I disagreed, his brilliance demanded that I bring my best game to counter his arguments. And I would come away refreshed by his challenges ... or with my mind making an unexpected shift in his direction. IMHO Dr. Carson is a brilliant pediatric surgeon ... who happens to be black. But outside of the OR, he is just another man in the street with conservative opinions ... who happens to be black. The brilliant surgeon deserved a place on the dais next to President Obama ... but what was that other guy doing up there???

Regards,
Roy

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