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The danger of devaluing education and experience

NIAGARA, Wis. — My husband and I recently took a ride up to Marquette to get our Lake Superior fix and to visit Thill’s Fish House. On the drive up, we tuned in to WNMU on the radio and caught a very interesting NPR program. The program examined the topic of why our culture no longer values experts — particularly scientists — like it did in decades past. Several very educated people were interviewed in order to shed light on this topic, and most agreed that the phenomenon has been growing over the past few decades. The description of this phenomenon, as well as the contributing factors, were very interesting.

I should preface this by explaining that I hold experts in all walks of life in high regard. A person’s credentials have always meant something to me. It shows me that this person has invested a good portion of his or her life pursuing the knowledge and experience that gives them the expertise to do what they do. If I need legal advice, I seek the knowledge of an attorney. If I need taxes filed or an investment strategy, I seek the services of an accountant or a licensed financial expert. And I do not presume to tell my physician what is wrong with me or what medication I need; I did not spend years in medical school. There is no MD after my name, so who am I to second guess my physician?

I hold the same level of respect for an expert in any field. My husband and I know our limitations and learned early on that it pays to call a licensed plumber or electrician or an experienced carpenter to do work on our home. When I worked at Dickinson Homes, I was surrounded by a group of talented men who were more than happy to do “side jobs” to earn extra money. We have them to thank for the insulation in our attic, the wiring in our upstairs bathroom, the hot water heater in our basement, and our front porch. I learned years ago that carpentry is best left to those who do it for a living; it is an art form that produces beautifully finished results when done by experienced hands.

And there is something to be said for those jack-of-all trades who are just plain handy. They were never formally trained through an apprentice program of any kind but learned by watching or helping a family member. This region, especially, is full of folks who have skills that were learned that way. When I worked at the hospital, the manager of the Radiology Department and I had become good friends. He lived up on M-95 and said he was going to be working on his son’s house over the weekend. When I remarked that I was surprised he knew carpentry given his position at the hospital, he simply commented, “Well, I live in the U.P.”

So, yes, I have a lot of respect for the experts who have knowledge and skills I do not possess. No matter how they received their education — whether from a doctoral program at a college or university, an apprentice program, or through hours of “doing” — they know more than I do about their field of expertise. I do not presume to tell them how to do their jobs.

But not everyone feels the same way I do, as the NPR program so aptly explained. Over the past 30 years, there has been a growing mistrust of experts in any field. More people now second-guess experts and diminish the importance of their knowledge. This has become painfully evident within the past several months since the COVID-19 pandemic has hit. At a time when science should be revered and the advice of scientists should be followed, too many people want to ignore the scientific evidence of what will help our current situation. Consequently, the virus rages on and people are dying by the thousands.

Instead, society has elevated the possession of “common sense” above the earning of an advanced degree or the acquisition of a proficiency in a particular trade or skill. And “celebrity” has replaced ability and education as a goal to be attained. I shake my head in disbelief when the number of someone’s Twitter followers is touted as an accomplishment! What have these so-called celebrities done to earn our respect or to deserve the level of credibility far too many people are giving them? What has a Kardashian ever done to improve the world?

In an effort to understand this phenomenon and to explain how and why we have arrived at this juncture in our history, the NPR program took a look at how we learn in today’s culture. The advent of the internet has dramatically changed how we acquire knowledge. I remember a time before the internet existed — yes, I am that old! And yes, there actually was such a time!

Research for my college term papers took weeks of manually flipping through a card catalog in the library to locate the books that discussed the topic about which I was writing. And it involved hours of searching through a listing of articles in various newspapers and periodicals. Once all of the material was found, I spent hours reading the words of experts and taking well-documented notes onto page after page of yellow legal pads. From there I constructed an outline and then finally set about writing my paper. Each step of this process cemented that knowledge — those words from the experts — into my brain. And, I could rest assured that they were, indeed, experts because they had been published. Their works were not mere opinion, but peer reviewed, legitimate fact grounded in their knowledge and based upon their expertise.

Today, the internet has dramatically changed the manner in which we gather and sort information, how much of it we retain, and what we accept as fact in the first place. One can make the argument that internet research is much faster and more efficient. We can copy and paste information with a few computer key strokes, and — voila — it has become part of our paper. But how much does that efficiency contribute to our inability to retain this newly located information? The more time we spend working with information to incorporate it into our own paper, the more likely we are to retain it. And, how do we separate fact from fiction on the internet? What is legitimate information as opposed to someone’s opinion?

The legitimacy of information is of particular concern when we are looking for the honest reporting of news. Until recently, no efforts toward fact checking were made on what was shared on the internet. The NPR program made the point that no professional journalist worth his or her salt works without an editor — no matter how many years they have been reporting the news. Even seasoned athletes continue to receive coaching: Tiger Woods still employs a swing coach, and Tom Brady still receives help from a quarterback coach.

The 24/7 news cycle also was cited as a change that has actually impeded knowledge. One would think that the more exposure we have to the news, the more informed we would be. This, however, is not the case. It has actually been proven that back when we all had only 30 minutes of nightly news to view, we paid closer attention to it and, consequently, retained what we heard. I can personally attest to the truth of this. I cannot tell you how often I miss the weather report entirely despite the fact it is repeated three times in the course of the news — and we watch the news a lot at our house!

It is critical in today’s world that we approach our news and information sources with more discernment than ever before. A tweet is not journalism. Someone’s “hunch” will not defeat a virus. Credentials and the education that earned them still matter. Celebrity is not a replacement for expertise. And popular opinion does not trump scientific fact.

These are most unusual — and potentially dangerous — times. How we navigate our way through the next several months will be critical. It may mean life or death for our loved ones. It will most assuredly contribute to the quality of our American culture and to life as we know it. We will all need to pay close attention and remember that common sense is no replacement for years of education and experience.

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NURSING HOMES

The usual senior living activity calendars and senior center menus will not be published this week in an effort to avoid confusion. Due to the coronavirus and the vulnerability of the elderly population, daily life in the senior living facilities and senior centers has changed dramatically.

All living facilities have closed their doors to public visitation, and the activity calendars have been modified to allow for one-to-one room visits only and individualized activities to keep residents engaged and active as much as possible while remaining within the health and safety guidelines provided by state health experts.

Group games are being substituted with individualized activities residents can do in their respective rooms. Staff are providing supplies as well as “overhead announcement bingo and trivia” games and “hallway games” that can be played in individual rooms or by sitting within individual room doorways.

YouTube and DVDs are being utilized to provide religious services. A big dose of gratitude and appreciation goes out to all senior care staff for their creativity, caring and perseverance through a difficult situation.

All senior centers also have been closed to any center-based activity. Until they re-open, no information is being published that talks about activities typically available at these centers. While some have reopened with limited seating, meals do continue to be delivered.

Some centers also are preparing meals to be picked up. Menus are printed below for those centers who are either preparing takeout or providing home-delivered meals. Questions can be directed to the individual centers at the listed numbers.

SENIOR CENTERS

Alpha-Mastodon Center

906-875-3315

Amasa Center

906-822-7284

The Amasa Center is a curbside pickup-only kitchen for now. Call ahead for Tuesdays – Thursdays. Menu for the week –

Tuesday: Meatballs, mashed potatoes, California blend vegetables and salad.

Wednesday: Sausage, sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and corn.

Thursday: Chicken, mashed potatoes, carrots and salad.

Breen Center

906-774-5110

Now open with limited seating from noon to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday: Menu for the week:

Monday: Burritos.

Tuesday: Beef stroganoff, noodles and California blend vegetables.

Wednesday: Baked chicken, mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn and gravy.

Thursday: Baked fish, parsley potatoes and carrots.

Crystal Falls Center

Head cook: Lucy Korhonen

906-875-6709

Crystal Lake Center

Iron Mountain

906-239-0278

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week —

Monday: Stuffed peppers, cauliflower, dinner roll and pudding.

Tuesday: Turkey, mashed potatoes and green beans casserole.

Wednesday: Cheese omelet, spiced peaches and hash browns.

Thursday: Spaghetti with meatballs, corn and breadstick.

Friday: Turkey and cheese sandwich, coleslaw and chips.

For more information, call Christine McMahon at 906-774-2256

Felch Center

906-246-3559

Now open with limited seating from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. Takeout also available. Menu for the week —

Monday: Spanish rice, coleslaw and corn.

Tuesday: Beef stew, garlic bread and side salad.

Wednesday: Picnic – Hot dogs, brats, chips, watermelon, beans and coleslaw.

Aging and Disability Resource Center of Florence County, Wis.

715-528-4890

Director: Tiffany White

Home-delivered meals only. Menu for the week —

Monday: Crispy chicken, baked sweet potato, three-bean salad and fruit.

Tuesday: Taco salad, cornbread, salsa and lime Jell-O with pineapple.

Wednesday: Cheese ravioli with meat sauce, coleslaw, fruit and birthday cake.

Thursday: Scalloped potatoes with ham, broccoli, fruit and pudding.

Friday: Beef noodle casserole, squash, fruit cocktail and fruit juice.

Fence Center/Town Hall

715-336-2980

For meal reservations, call 855-528-2372

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Florence Community Center/Town Hall

For meal reservations, call 715-528-4261

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Tipler Town Hall

For meal reservations, call 715-674-2320

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Hillcrest Senior Dining Center, Aurora

For meal reservations, call 715-589-4491

Same as ADRC menu, home-delivered only.

Hermansville Center

Coordinator: Pam Haluska

906-498-7735

Iron River Center

906-265-6134

Now open with limited seating 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday. Home-delivered or takeout only on Thursdays. Menu for week —

Monday: Enchilada casserole, rice and Mexicorn.

Tuesday: Chicken dumpling soup and lunch meat sandwich.

Wednesday: Philly steak sandwich and spaghetti salad.

Thursday: Stuffed shells, broccoli and garlic bread.

Niagara Northwoods Senior Cafe and Center

Meal site manager: Corrie Maule, 715-251-1603

Senior center director: Jill Anderson, 715-251- 4154

Norway Center

Director: Susie Slining

906-563-8716

The center will remain closed; however, takeout meals will be prepared for pick up – must call ahead and wear a mask when picking up. Menu for the week —

Monday: Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, cream corn and dessert.

Tuesday: Baseball dinner – Beef hot dog, nachos, peas and watermelon.

Wednesday: Monterey chicken, rice, spinach and dessert

Thursday: Italian sausage roll-up, broccoli, garlic bread and dessert.

Sagola Center

906-542-3273

Now open with limited seating from noon to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. Menu for the week —

Tuesday: Baked ham, macaroni and cheese, carrots and applesauce.

Wednesday: Chicken parmesan, marinara sauce, noodles, peas, garlic bread and peaches.

Thursday: Barbecue pork sandwiches, potato wedges, coleslaw and tropical fruit.

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