by Lory Laughter, RDH, BS
I spent a day recently exploring a museum with Toni Adams, RDH, MA, and it was more than just time spent admiring old stuff. We had a chance to reflect on our history and plan for the future. We took a trip to the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento. My grandfathers worked for the railroad, so this museum held particular interest for me. Toni's ability to ask the right questions turned this experience into a thoughtful afternoon.
During the height of passenger train travel, the journey was as important as the destination. Beautifully arranged cabins provided comfort and gathering places for families and friends traveling together. Dinnerware and utensils were selected for each train and designed with a specific theme. Attention to detail was evident at every turn in the passenger train compartments. Even the “economy class” was adorned with bright fabrics and intricate ironwork.
It took a week to cross the United States by train, something accomplished today in a few hours by air. A train voyage was something to be enjoyed and experienced. Today's plane travel has become a time to stand in line, finish last-minute computer work, or complain about the inconvenience of a 30-minute delay. Everyone has somewhere to be right now. There is little or no time to reflect and relax when traveling by plane.
The change in travel habits is somewhat like education attitudes today. No longer is the process of higher learning valued as an experience to enjoy. Today's mantra appears to be speedy training and a fast track to a paying job. Internships are not required or sought by most students in college-level classes today. Certificates are replacing degrees as an accepted measure of educational achievement.
I have spoken to students who are willing to pay more tuition and fees for a certificate in dental hygiene than most university students spend for a bachelor's degree. The reason they give is a quicker route to a paying job, and most dentists don't ask about education when interviewing. If the latter is true, it's a sad day for our profession, one more sign that dental hygienists are no longer valued as educated health-care providers.
College has lost its appeal as a time of independence and personal growth. Rarely are stories told anymore about nights spent studying in the student union, or the excitement of planning a night out to the one movie showing on campus. The journey of acquiring an education has changed.
The change isn't all bad. Nontraditional students have almost become the norm and the term is becoming outdated. During my own days at Idaho State University, I remember seeking out the nontraditional student scholarships because so few of us qualified for them. Now the 30-something, single parents attending classes do not even get a second glance. That's a good change, because higher learning should be available to everyone. But the good news ends there.
If you don't think organized dentistry supports lowering education requirements for dental hygienists, you're mistaken. Issuing certificates instead of degrees goes a long way toward keeping hygienists in their place.
Who benefits when programs cost more, require the same prerequisite courses, and then dispense a lower-valued degree? If you want someone to have less of an impact on your life, make sure they feel less than you in some way. Take away the necessity of acquiring a recognized degree, and respect falls by the wayside as well.
I'm just as guilty as anyone else of wanting to reach my destination quickly and without much effort. Traveling will take on a new pleasure if we can take the time to cherish the journey and not just the arrival. Higher education could benefit from the same attitude.