How Much Education Do You Need to Have a Valid Opinion?

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A.P. Scheiderer

Senior Contributor, Associate Editor
Feminism and Snack Eating Enthusiast

The other night I started the second class for the graduate program I impulsively decided to join in July. Though I am grateful and privileged to be in graduate school to begin with, Educational Leadership 602: “Facilitation Through Communication” is what my procrastination of choice will be for the next eight weeks (is procrastination a classless concept?). I knew it would be a small class (only six people) because that is the sort of thing you get to know in advance when you work at the university you also attend. I much prefer small classes and was excited to see that this would be similar in size to my last. The conversation is more intimate, you get to know everyone, and there always seems to be more flexibility. I knew this class was going to be quite a bit different than my last (“Multicultural Leadership and Teambuilding”), but not so different that about a quarter of the way through the session I felt like I needed to write about it.

Walking into the classroom, the first thing I realized was that I was the only woman. And not only was I the only woman, but it was also fairly obvious I was the youngest person in the room (the only “millennial”). The instructor, a white man probably in his late thirties to early forties, clad in the traditional professorial suit coat over a casual button up shirt, intentionally worn jeans, and maroon shoes that were much pointier than I would have expected, was in a conversation with two of the other men in the room, probably in their late forties. I opened my computer to get settled and just listened to the conversation at hand (a mindful practice that takes a lot of effort on my part). As we went around and introduced ourselves we were asked to identify one thing that we are good at. Answers varied like “connecting with students” and “problem solving.” My answer was “texting back.”

As the instructor got to talking about grad school and this specific class as one of the first in our program, he insinuated that we needed to keep in mind in our writing to “stick to the facts” from peer reviewed scholarly journals, as opposed to our opinions.

“You don’t really get to have an opinion unless you have a doctorate. I know, when I was first told that I didn’t like it either. It was hard for me to hear because I thought what I had to say was just as important. But after a while I was very humbled by it because there were people who knew a lot more about my field than me, and I needed to respect that and hear what they had to say. They were the ones who had done all of the research and were published, not me.”

I mean, there is something to be said for people who do the research that backs up a lot of really important and valuable information we use to alter the ways we live, medicines we ingest, expectations for students, realizations we’ve been fucking up a lot in certain practices, etc… But to say that people who don’t hold doctorate degrees don’t really ‘get to’ have opinions on the scholarly material we are reading, and potentially question it, seems wildly arrogant and reinforces the socioeconomic, gendered, and racial hierarchy that IS higher education as an institution.

To imply – or rather, outwardly state – that people with doctorates have more knowledge and understanding in their particular field, and that this knowledge and understanding is more valuable, than people who do not have doctorates invalidates the experiences of all individuals who have given time, energy, and passion into issues or disciplines, so much so that they could likely talk and argue anyone with a doctorate out of the water by applying much more relatable life-accurate observations and first-hand experience.

Less than 2% of people in the United States have doctorate degrees. That is about 2.5 million people. Are you trynna tell me that only 2.5 million people, most of them white and many of them menout of 324 million people (and counting) living in the United States are allowed to have ‘scientifically’ valid thoughts on best practices of, say, communication? What methods of team building are most effective for multiethnic groups of people living in large cities? Solutions to issues trans* folks face in healthcare? Mmmmmm…

Although millennials are the most educated population in the U.S. right now (p. 13), and [mostly white] women are closing the gap on [mostly white] men as far as graduation rates go, white men still make more money, giving them with more resources to go on to further advanced degrees. “In 2012, 11.2% of bachelor’s degrees in science and engineering, 8.2% of master’s degrees in science and engineering, and 4.1% of doctorate degrees in science and engineering were awarded to minority women.

I’m not sorry, but people of color who have dedicated their lives to civil rights, and have been doing so since the fifties, get to have thoughts and present experiential and historically accurate facts as valid data when creating social policies. I get to have thoughts and present experiential and qualitative observations on patterns I have seen in working with first-year college students as valid information that could be beneficial to the university I once attended.

We have to change this narrative that only people with doctorate degrees, even with graduate degrees, are the only ones who can bring “accurate” and “reliable” information to the table. When you say that those without doctorates don’t get to have an opinion (on any given topic in any given discipline), it invalidates the experiences of individuals who hold knowledge and wisdom that could benefit all (not to mention it’s also pretty racist, sexist, and classist).

One of my best friends is currently in a bachelor’s completion program after having been in and out of undergrad for a few years. She often talks about her frustration with the shame that many experience when they tell people they don’t have a bachelor’s. Out for drinks the other night, another friend who I lived with in college said it best:

“I know a lot of dipshits with bachelor’s degrees. Just because you have one, doesn’t make you smarter.”