The level of education tomorrow must be greater than it was yesterday.
William Beaumont was the father of stomach medicine, having operated on a Canadian fur-trapper whose musket-ball left a channel into the stomach. Beaumont was born in the 1700s. He never went to college but apprenticed under another doctor.
Move forward to the 1860s and Dr. Samuel Mudd, the doctor who set John Wilkes Booth’s leg after Booth assassinated President Lincoln. My biology students were amazed when I told them that after their sophomore year in college, they could become a medical doctor—150 years ago! Mudd only had two years of college.
Today, medical education requires much more than a bachelors degree. Depending on the specialty, a medical student can approach 30 before completing all of the training.
Therefore we know that as the complexity of medicine grows, it will take more education in the future to become a doctor. And citizens (who will all become patients) will likewise need to know more about their owner’s manual in order to be a knowledgeable patient and provide informed consent.
Worldwide, the rise of developing countries to first-world status involves this one factor above all others: an increase in education generation-over-generation in all fields.
Talk to grandparents and they will tell you that from the 1950s to the 1970s, schoolchildren were learning more and at an earlier grade. That post-War era was a time when American suburbs grew and life got better.
At that time, people knew tomorrow would be better than today, because today was better than yesterday. Door-to-door surveys found a robust faith in science improving folk’s lives. And everyone expected their children would be more highly educated and have a higher standard of living.
That forward movement has continued in many countries. It is not investment in infrastructure or banking or military that has propelled many developing countries into first-world status. It is education.
Germany offers free college education to all of its qualified students. But Germany begins channeling students into vocational and academic tracks by high school. Only those who demonstrate command of rigorous academics move to university study. Nevertheless, Germany also greatly values the modern vocational skills that are needed, and does not “put down” students who go through vocational school.
The United Kingdom and other Commonwealth countries from Australia to Canada to India also channel students into academic “A-level” and occupational “O-level” curricula before high school, with some latitude for students to switch. None of these countries would ever dream of cheerleading all of their students to go to college. They have a very realistic understanding that not all students are college-able. But they continue to advance the general education given to all students.
The U.K. is extending teaching specialties down into the lower elementary level. Instead of one-size-does-all elementary teachers, they are training science teacher specialists for early elementary. England understands that for many students, the window of interest in science and many other fields begins very young, often before age 10.
Public schools in developed countries worldwide generally spend three to four times more time on science coursework than is taught in schools in the United States. In Germany, young German citizens understand enough about their anatomy and physiology that they can self-refer themselves to medical specialists without going through a general practitioner. In all other developed countries, this greater science literacy results in per capita health care costs that are dramatically lower than in the U.S.
In Asia, elementary students begin algebra in the 4th or 5th grade. This allows them to begin studying chemistry and physics before high school.
Beaumont and Mudd would be amazed at the advances in medicine today. But today, nearly all of our modern medical advances were first developed overseas. They would ask why American science literacy has not moved ahead as well? We should be asking that question too.