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Should We Call Jill Biden “Doctor”?

It’s very important to Jill Biden that people call her “doctor.”  But is she really a doctor?  Her supporters will concede, no, she’s not a medical doctor. Yet she was a professor. Yes, a professor…of education.  

On the White House website, in big font, she is Dr. Jill Biden, and then Jill Biden, Ed.D.  We can see this is a big deal to her: 

It is true that until recently, she  taught at Northern Virginia Community College and earned her Ed.D in educational leadership from the University of Delaware in 2007.  These are not the facts in contention though.

Naughty Megyn Kelly

Megyn Kelly had the audacity to call Mrs. Biden out for “insisting on this fake title.”  Kelly is famous for these the emperor-has-no-clothes moments:

People got pretty angry about this Tweet

The backlash against Kelly was fierce from elite media figures and defenders of the establishment. For them, calling Jill Biden “doctor” is non-negotiable. 

The left’s retort to Kelly is that Sebastian Gorka also has a dubious doctorate and is regularly referred to as “doctor”: 

Gorka indeed has a doctorate in anti-terrorism from a university in Hungary.  I don’t have any reason to cast aspersions on that degree as I do for Jill Biden’s. The field of education is beset by dogma, group-think, and a paucity of academic rigor.  Antiterrorism studies has no such reputation.  One assumes to study antiterrorism, there is a solid grounding in history and international relations; in other words, something substantive.  It also raises the question: Why is it ok to pick apart Gorka’s dissertation but not Biden’s? In the latter case, they will cry “sexism.”

Not All Doctorates Are Created Equally

National Review describes an Ed.D as “lesser” than a PhD and “something of a joke in the academic world.”  I knew some old-school English professors who had a similar opinion.  “There’s a lot of hand-holding in that department,” one professor told me, off the record.  “But don’t repeat that.”   In other words, there is a certain perception about this degree, but it cannot be spoken without a backlash from those whose self-esteem is riding on the question. 

Jill Biden’s Ed.D is indeed a doctorate in education.  Yet not all doctorates indicate the same level of ability and accomplishment.  Think back to the ‘50s when you needed to speak another language to earn a doctorate.  One may infer that any STEM related doctorate requires high intelligence and persistence.  Unfortunately, we cannot ascribe that level of prestige to all doctorates, especially in dubious fields of study.  Forget about foreign languages, we have people with doctorates nowadays that haven’t quite mastered the grammar of…English.  

My Experience

My experience earning two masters in education perhaps gives me some insight here.  Studying for my masters degree in teaching English (MEd), what was most important was conformity with the group, especially with the professor, rather than scholarship or intellectual rigor. If I expressed a contrary view to my professor, she almost became emotional with discomfit.  So besides being an intellectually dubious field of study, education is also intellectually dishonest, insofar as one is really not permitted to espouse views contrary to the premises of progressive education.

Furthermore, the professors didn’t particularly want us writing and researching.  Their attitude towards longer papers was, “You don’t want to write them, and we don’t want to read them.”  Little one page summaries and “reader responses” were the order of the day, along with a “project” for the final (like a powerpoint presentation, for example).  To be fair, it makes sense to have a future teacher present stuff. It just wasn’t especially difficult to do.

I also have a masters in educational leadership, the same field as Biden’s Ed.D.  Like my other masters, it was more or less hands on practical stuff, nothing that would make me think I was entitled to veneration for having earned the degree.  One may infer that the doctorate would be at least of the same flavor.  Of course, there would be a dissertation.  But Biden’s dissertation has earned more ridicule than praise. 

In some ways one would expect education to be thus.  A future middle school teacher doesn’t need to retreat monk-like and study obscure texts.  A future middle school teacher probably shouldn’t be an intellectual, because they would likely be temperamentally unsuited for the job.  Education professors are one step removed from teacher.  They went the extra mile and got the EdD, which can be accomplished online by the way.  

Some of my professors had Ed.D’s and some didn’t.  One professor scoffed at the idea, “Why would I get a doctorate?” he asked the class, in what I thought was a practical line of thinking.  Next thing I knew, he was in a doctorate program, presumably because it was something he needed for his career (I believe he was an adjunct professor).  Those professors who had doctorates, I referred to as “Dr” in the context of class, but I’m not sure it would have been appropriate for them to insist on this from people not involved in their profession.

Sexism against Jill Biden?

In some ways, the funny controversy about “Dr” Jill Biden’s credentials takes on aspects of a gender war.  Many suspect that Jill Biden is being disrespected because she’s a woman.  We go out of our way to include the honorifics of men, they suggest.  It was viewed by feminists as men slighting “women’s success.”  But that is only if we define “success” by a view that one is accomplished merely because an institution confers an honorific, which again, is in some cases questionable.  

This is no disrespect to the very hard job of teaching. Most teachers are female, and they work their tails off. That we can respect. I’m talking about the system itself and how it awards this credential to those seeking to climb up the education bureaucracy.

Why We Make Fun of Jill Biden  

When we make fun of Jill Biden, it’s because her degree is not rigorous enough to justify calling her “doctor,” though again, she does technically have the doctorate.  Those who are offended by this don’t respect real scholarship.  Rather, they merely like the idea of credentialism, that someone out there will give them a stamp of approval to say, “You’re smart!” 

Because they attended the classes and did the work they were supposed to do, those who hold such credentials are indignant should one scoff at the letters after their name.  This is because they don’t understand that the prestige of the doctorate has been degraded.  

As National Review put it, “People who are actually smart understand that being in possession of a credential is no proof of intelligence.”  That’s really the crux of it. People are insecure about their cognitive ability. They want a system to confer respect, but that system doesn’t function at present. Rather, the system is churning out these doctorates with regard to just about everything besides merit and substance.

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