Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Please comment on the "Impossible Journey"

I noticed this thoughtful piece on YouTube and I am eliciting your comments.

It was posted on YouTube by: Luis Lomeli, MD.

From the ghetto to medical school is an impossible journey.

For a long time, I have studied our failing inner city public schools. It is a social tragedy that half of Latinos and African Americans fail to finish high school. There are many elements that contribute to the academic failure of so many students. Of those that graduate, when tested by me, most cannot add ½ + ¼. The usual response is 2/6 when it should be ¾.

When students are asked to solve X to the third power, when X is equal to 2, the students too often seem lost. When educated that 2x2x2 can be written as 2 with the exponent 3 and therefore the solution is 8, they begin to readily see the need for exponents. If E = MC squared, I then explain that it means that energy contained in a very small amount mass gives a lot of energy since C is the speed of light (300,000 miles per second). When I add that this equation, E = MCxC, was first described by Einstein circa 1905 as a fundamental physical law, they become intrigued. If I ask why is it that we first see lighting and only later we hear the thunder, the curiosity heightens when I explain that sound travels very slowly, at .2 miles per second. Therefore we see lightning almost instantaneously due to the fast speed of light.

Too often history and government are taught in a manner that would make most of us say, "forget it." Last week I met a student that was doing well in the sciences but failing U.S. History. It didn't make sense. Apparently, she had been asked to memorize the names of all U.S. Presidents. What was the point? This student knew very little about how important Alexander Hamilton, a founding father, was in the development of the United States. The student knew nothing about Vietnam or the current Iraq war. When I asked this student to tell me about a few important constitutional amendments, she was clueless. When I discussed the importance of the First Amendment in regard to the freedom of speech, press and right to peaceably assembly, she was keenly interested. When I added that if she were arrested, the Fifth Amendment gives her the right not to self incriminate, she said, "Why don't they teach us those things at school?"

I ask students that are failing, "How does it feel to fail each test you take?" "It doesn't feel good" is the usual response. Therefore, if students aren't properly educated and engaged, how are they to thrive?

If we were to assume that a student's home environment is not suitable for learning, we would make big a leap in public education. Family dysfunction in the inner cities and ghettoes is problematic and leads students to under achieve. If a schools cannot properly teach the required subjects during the school time, when help is available, then they should reassess their function.

A socialized public education is not punished retroactively if students fail to learn or graduate. I was exposed to dismal public school systems in Compton, Lawndale and later in Highland Park California. So how did I educate myself?
There were two public school teachers that greatly influenced me. Mr. Stiff at Walton Junior High School made me stay after school so that he could teach me grammar. In high school, at Franklin Senior High School, the math teacher, Mrs. Gainder, once said to me, "Young man, educate yourself; the physical work you do in construction will wear your body down before you're 40."

While in the U.S. Army I decided to memorize a small dictionary. Since I had not read much in the United States, I figured that my vocabulary had to be limited compared to those kids raised in affluent homes. In addition, I taught myself algebra and grammar.

I remember how frightened I was when I learned that I had to learn to convert cubic inches to cubic centimeters. "There is nothing to fear more than fear itself." Soon I fell in love with the physical sciences, but I always had a disdain for some non-scientific courses.

So to get from the ghetto to a medical school, there is a lot you need to learn. For instance, what is XX÷ X? It is X. Let's give X the number 2, then 2x2 ÷ 2 = 2. What is X ÷ X? It is 1. How do we apply the latter question into a general scheme? Any number X divided by itself is one as long as X is not zero. Therefore, 7 is divided by 7 is 1; 9 divided by 9 is 1; we can say that 7/7 = 9/9 = 1. Let's use this information in science. If one inch is equal to 2.54 cm, how many centimeters (cm) are equal to 8 inches? 8 inch x 2.54 cm/1 inch = 20.32 cm. You must notice that the inch units cancel each other out and you end up with centimeters only. You can see me using this logic when I work out the amount of medicine I must give to a very sick patient.

In closing, most of what I do today is self-thought, including the Art of Medicine. Develop a passion for learning and you'll surprise yourself. Most ghetto schools are failing society.

Luis Lomeli MD/Beta