Musings of a Dinosaur

A Family Doctor in solo private practice; I may be going the way of the dinosaur, but I'm not dead yet.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Tragedy of "Education"

"So senseless," said Darling Spouse, returning from this morning's walk with the Rolling Peke. Neighbors had provided details of a tragedy that occurred the other night just up the street. "Two educated people. What a waste!"

The storm that raged through our well-appointed, upper middle class neighborhood the other night knocked the heat out magnificently. Unfortunately, it also knocked out our electric power overnight, along with the many trees it knocked over. After the worst of it, I'd gone out walking with the Nestling and saw cameramen representing each of the three major networks producing meaningless footage of horizontal trees, including the one that landed on a rocket scientist who wanted to finish cutting his grass before the rain started. (He broke his leg; that was a bummer, not a tragedy.)

The next day, though (yesterday morning), a fourth-grade teacher didn't show up for the last day of school, which included the "Moving Up" ceremony for her class into the Middle School. At the house -- just up the street from me -- the police discovered that she and her husband had hooked up a gasoline-powered generator to run their refrigerator while the electric was out. They set it up INSIDE the house. The windows were closed.

He's dead. She's in critical condition.

For anyone who doesn't know, it's called carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced whenever hydrocarbon fuels are burned. It competes with oxygen for binding sites on hemoglobin, but it holds on far more tightly. That means that once the CO is attached to the hemoglobin, it ain't about to dissociate at usual physiologic temperatures and pressures. It also means that those hemoglobin molecules can't carry any oxygen. In other words, it kills you. (More info here and here.)

So why did DS's comment about their having been "educated people" send me for a loop? Because what passes for education in this country is obviously skewed. Reading and writing; literature and history; social studies and civics. Why does science get such short shrift?

No offense to CrankyProf and her ilk, but no one ever died of a comma splice. On the other hand, science illiteracy can kill you.

8 Comments:

At Thu Jun 12, 11:31:00 PM, Blogger ccinnkeeper said...

I will remember this story next time I lament a misused apostrophe.

Over the past 8 years I've had a veritable parade of well-educated people cross my threshold. I've had scientists, college professors, architects, attorneys, doctors, economists, novelists, poets, artists, successful business owners and even BBC broadcasters stay at my B&B. I have made two observations that are relevant to your story.

First, "common sense" is an oxymoron. Sense is anything but common.

Second, common sense and it's pal, mechanical aptitude, are frequently inversely proportional to the level of education a person has had. It's almost as if these two qualities atrophy in the presence of "book learning".

Mind you, this is hardly a scientific study. But I can back it up with plenty of anecdotes!

 
At Fri Jun 13, 05:33:00 AM, Blogger Evil Lunch Lady said...

As for the couple, you can't teach common sense.

 
At Fri Jun 13, 02:23:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Science gets short shrift because of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). There's no standards to meet for science or social studies and therefore no tests to teach to. grrr.
-lpnmon

 
At Fri Jun 13, 04:50:00 PM, Anonymous Pine Baroness said...

Anon 2:23...If the NCLB was around when the middle school teacher and her husband were still students in school, they must be child prodigies whose underage marriage had to be approved by their parents.

More likely it is simply a momentary lack of sense and thinking. Generators have instruction labels pasted all over them warning of the dangers of inside use.

No, I agree with ccinnkeeper. As the only non-PhD in my family, and having grown up in a college town full of PhDs of all different areas of study; I can say categorically, big brains sometimes make big mistakes.

 
At Fri Jun 13, 08:46:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Science isn't the only thing that gets short shrift, Dr. D. Sometimes even those educated in science -- even (gasp) doctors -- evince a lack of knowledge of other areas that do impact their advice. A case in point: When I was pregnant at 42, my OB recommended that I have the standard battery of invasive testing, for all the standard reasons. When I asked about the risks associated with amniocentesis, he told me that the risks of amnio were far less than the risk that there was something wrong with my baby.

Something seemed off about the logic of that advice. After consulting with my statistician-husband to clarify my thinking, I realized that it made no sense to COMPARE the risk of amnio and the risk of abnormalities, because the first risk was an avoidable one, and the second was unavoidable. The question should have been, was I willing to add on the avoidable risk of amnio in order to repeat the benefits of increased knowledge about whether or not there were abnormalities. (And for me, the answer was clearly no -- especially since at all costs I wanted to avoid what would have been, for me, a worst case scenario: finding out that the baby was fine, but having the amnio trigger a miscarriage.)

Actually, I'm not sure if this shows a lack of knowledge about statistics, or a lack of common sense.

I'm so sorry about your neighbors.

--Kensington MD

 
At Fri Jun 13, 09:21:00 PM, Blogger CrankyProf said...

No one ever died of a comma splice, but illiteracy -- i.e., not reading the darn warning labels or directions -- can certainly be deadly. Those generators do have warning stickers slapped all over 'em, and the warnings are reiterated all over the instruction manuals. (I know, because we have a generator.)

"Common sense, in many cases, is an oxymoron, and sadly lacking.

It's awful that the consequences were so severe.

 
At Sat Jun 14, 11:27:00 AM, Blogger Lynn Price said...

No offense to CrankyProf and her ilk, but no one ever died of a comma splice.
Eeeek! Bite your tongue, Dino. I've seen manuscript death up front and personal. It's bloody and tragic.

 
At Fri Jun 20, 03:17:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll bet that generator did have warnings all over it about use in a ventilated place.

I'm not sure I'd chuck that up to "science" education as much as following directions. That's something that even the educated can get sideways with.

If you want to blame education then ping the lack of "shop" for students. That's where you'd learn that it's idiot to run a motor in an enclosed space.

I quit keeping lots of food in a freezer years ago. I discovered that I was buying in bulk at Costco and then not using whatever I'd bought or buying highly processed foods. Too much waste. If my freezer un-thaws then I just live with it, although actually I've been know to just not open the door and hope it comes back on again soon.

 

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