Dr. Jill Biden deserves her title, and teachers deserve more respect

A woman with a high public profile who has earned a doctorate should have the right to use that title. The real question is why anyone would ask her to stop using it?

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Jill Biden speaks to the media as she joins Operation Gratitude to assemble care packages for U.S troops on Dec. 10, 2020, in Washington, DC.

Jill Biden speaks to the media as she joins Operation Gratitude to assemble care packages for U.S troops on Dec. 10, 2020, in Washington, DC.

Olivier Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Our phones buzzed last weekend with texts linking to an op-ed by Chicago native and essayist Joseph Epstein in the Wall Street Journal, imploring Dr. Jill Biden to drop the “Dr.” His main reasons: She is not a medical doctor and her doctorate, in education, is not worthy of the title.

There have already been plenty of Twitter comments and thought pieces deriding the op-ed, but we felt the need to weigh in again and stand up for Dr. Biden, a woman we hold in high regard, and her doctorate, the same one we both are pursuing.

We also want to stand up for the teaching profession, one that has historically been dominated by women and is still too often dismissed as “less than” other professions, like law and medicine.

Opinion bug

Opinion

So please, take a seat, Mr. Epstein, as you are about to be schooled.

Dr. Biden earned two master’s degrees as well as a doctorate. Epstein, who earned only a bachelor’s degree and received only an honorary doctorate, is not her equal in the academic world. Yet at the outset of his sexist argument, he calls Dr. Biden “kiddo.”

Dr. Biden plans to continue teaching when she becomes first lady. Taking on a dual role is nothing new to educators.

Cuts to public education over the years have forced many teachers to do more with less — purchasing their own school supplies, managing large classes without an aide, working in schools without social workers, librarians, or nurses. The pandemic has made matters worse, as we work extra hours to master remote learning.

Would we struggle without enough resources if our profession was dominated by men instead of women? Would schools be squeezed for every nickel and dime? Would the complex, interpersonal job of teaching be scrutinized solely by 16-point evaluation ‘rubrics’? Would a male teacher be criticized for publicly taking pride in a hard-earned accomplishment and title, as Dr. Biden has?

We as a country should applaud teachers who go back to earn their doctorate, so that those entrusted to educate the nation’s young people have the highest level of education themselves.

Dr. Biden will become our next first lady, a position in which a woman’s previous accomplishments and career are put aside as they take on a more traditional role while their husband shines as president.Hillary Rodham Clinton was an accomplished lawyer who could not pull off a role as healthcare czar while doubling as first lady.Michelle Obama was also an accomplished lawyer who put aside a career to conform to the traditional ‘first lady’ role.

In asking Dr. Biden to drop her honorific, Epstein is asking her to drop her identity as an accomplished scholar and instead accept “first lady” as her sole new title.

A teacher in the White House

As teachers, many of us are extremely excited that a woman with a doctorate in education, who champions public schools and community colleges, will be in the White House.

We are also at a point in history when women outnumber men not only in graduate programs in education, but also in total graduate school enrollment. More women are earning doctorates, but that in no way indicates that it’s easier to obtain one these days. It just means that fewer men are up to the challenge.

Clearly, a woman with a high public profile who has earned a doctorate should have the right to use that title. The real question is why anyone would ask her to stop using it?

Dr. Biden responded to the controversy on Twitter with hope for the future: “Together, we will build a world where the accomplishments of our daughters will be celebrated rather than diminished.”

We can claim to be making progress towards true gender equality with our first female vice president, Kamala Harris. But until we can stop validating ill-informed opinions, we will remain a nation in which women are inferior to men.

And one in which educators like us will have to continue to take on more work as we squeeze in writing an op-ed before getting back to the grind.

Gina Caneva and Melina Lesus are doctoral candidates at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Caneva is the library media specialist for East Leyden High School in Franklin Park and a former Chicago Public Schools teacher. Follow her on Twitter @GinaCaneva

Melina Lesus has been a Chicago Public Schools teacher for 12 years.

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