Doogie Howser in the Classroom

OK…I am really going to date myself with this blog post by admitting to one of my favorite shows – Doogie Howser, M.D. Starring a very young Neil Patrick Harris, this show ran for four seasons from 1989 through 1993. The main character, Doogie, graduated from Princeton at the age of 10 and from medical school at 14. He is the youngest licensed doctor in the country. The series storyline begins with Doogie at age 16 as a resident at Eastman Medical Center. Of course, the plot of the show is somewhat stereotypical, but there are some truths revealed in the show that cause those of us who (a) work with or know gifted students or (b) are gifted ourselves to smile knowingly upon watching certain episodes.

On October 4, 2013, The Chronicle of Higher Education published blog post titled, The Doogie Howser Problem, by Eliana Osborn. Naturally, I was curious given my affinity for the aforementioned television show! So, I gave it a read. In her post, Ms. Osborn shares how she had a 14-year-old student, who was dually enrolled in high school and her community college English course. She describes the student with adjectives like “smart, charming, interesting, and dream student.” Ms. Osborn even goes so far as to write, “She wanted to be there and did everything assigned.” Apparently, there was no problem at all with the student’s writing. The problem, according to Ms. Osborn, was that the 14-year-old student did not have enough “life experience”, and Ms. Osborn equated that lack of experience to a deficiency in critical thinking ability.

At this point in reading Ms. Osborn’s blog, I found myself having to roll my chair back from my desk so that I could take a deep breath and not do irreparable damage to my computer. I for one, working with 74 13- to 17-year-old early entrance college students, do not equate “life experience” with critical thinking skills. I know plenty of adults (my age and older with lots of life experience) who lack critical thinking skills! So, the idea that there is a magic age when critical thinking will develop in the classroom bothers me. The converse is also true, I have met many young students in my career who have had a wealth of life experiences (both positive and negative) packed into their relatively short lives. This, as my PEG students would say, appears to be age-ism at its finest…something Doogie Howser experienced frequently.


If you would like to read Eliana Osborn’s blog post in The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled, “The Doogie Howser Problem”. Click here for the full text.

The first season of Doogie Howser, M.D. is available for your viewing pleasure on Enjoy! I know I did!

I am always eager to engage in new conversations. Feel free to leave a comment on any of my blog posts or pages or send me an e-mail at All the best! ~Stephanie

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6 thoughts on “Doogie Howser in the Classroom

  1. Yup. Just like on the math side (my kids’ specialty), where there is the “they cannot do Algebra until puberty” assumption. And it’s an equally false assumption. Algebra has NOTHING to do with puberty, it has to do with being able to move beyond concrete thinking, i.e. to handle unknown variables in math. Algebra itself is not only simple, but most kids are doing it, albeit in a simplified form, when they figure out _ – 6 = 12. And most kids, not just gifted kids, solve this kind of problem in first or second grade!!

    My child barely did Algebra early – she took pre-Algebra in 5th grade and Algebra I in 7th grade. The thing most folks don’t remember is, she was 8 years old in 5th grade (nearly all year) and 9 in 7th (she skipped 6th in our public school). And honestly, I now know lots of kids who are doing much higher math than she was, long before age 9, especially after I hung out with the parents’ program at Epsilon Camp for a few summers! Most of those kids were math-only or math-science kids, but for those who are well-rounded gifted like my daughter, they could easily handle college, and all the critical thinking it requires, by the age of the PEGS girls.

    This is one of my soapboxes, too. It’s something gifted parents hear early and often, in their efforts to advocate for an appropriate education for their children. But it is not true. It’s a shame the original blogger didn’t choose to learn more about gifted kids before she jumped to her assumption that age is a prerequisite for critical thinking skills. I hope educators of the gifted don’t fall for her logical fallacy!

    • Carolyn,
      Your ruminations remind me of a math teacher my youngest — a gifted mathematician and serious out-of the box thinker since preschool — had in 6th grade (pre-algebra). The teacher constantly insisted that problems had to be solved a certain way ONLY! Of course, when he would get the correct answer solving it a slightly different way, she would promptly tell him that he was wrong!!
      Consequently, when he was recommended for an accelerated, move-at-your-own-speed math course at the county level, she took her pique out on his “contrariness” and used it to nix his recommendation. (It had originated from his 5th grade math teacher and took a while to work through the system for approval.) How this teacher ended up teaching gifted and accelerated math students, I have no idea. My son for his part labeled her “evil”. When I later found out about her involvement in cancelling my son’s recommendation, I had to agree.

  2. Thanks, Dr. Ferguson, my daughter, Sara Hodges (MBC/PEG ’12), faces this constantly…she finds it demoralizing.

  3. I read the article, and it was annoying. So three additional years of HIGH SCHOOL gives a person profound life experience from which to draw? That is absurd!

  4. This reminds me of an experience with my oldest child. In Louisiana, a child must be reevaluated for gifted services every three years. When it came time for my son’s first reevaluation, we had moved to a new city and thus a new school system. I was told that my son was very bright but was not street smart, and they questioned whether he should admitted to their program. Apparently one can stop being gifted, and a wholesome environment meant that he didn’t have enough street savvy. This was 31 years ago. Sad, things don’t seem to have changed much.

  5. My daughter is also a PEG graduate and the fall when she left for the PEG program was a horrendous one for me thanks to all the local GT parents openly assaulting my judgment for sending my daughter away to college at such a young age. (She was still 13 when she started at Mary Baldwin.) If I had a dollar for every parent — mostly moms — who asked me that fall how I could do such a thing, in a tone that implied I was endangering my daughter’s psyche, I would have been a very rich woman.
    In my opinion, entering PEG was the best thing my daughter could have done as it opened her eyes to the world’s possibilities. And, while like Ms. Osborn’s 14 year old student, she probably struggled with some issues due to a lack of experience, I’m convinced that if she had stayed at her high school, she would have been much, much worse off.
    In my opinion, the issue here actually lies with Ms. Osborn and her unwillingness to step up to the plate on behalf of this student. I know about this because in addition to teaching business writing courses at community college for a few years, I also was a long term substitute for several middle school English classes. Within those classes, there were several students who clearly showed promise and weren’t performing up to snuff in one way or another. I refused to let them off the hook and sat down with each of them to discuss the possibilities inherent in their writing. A number of years later one of them saw me in the grocery store and told me that my comments had pushed her to stop playing ‘the dumb blonde’ and improve her grades so that she could get into a good college and pursue her dreams in the public relations field.
    And that’s what Ms. Osborn should be doing. Instead of bemoaning this “dream” student’s lack of depth, she should be sitting down with this student to figure out what she’s passionate about, etc. because it’s pretty obvious this student wants the more challenging work.
    Last, Ms. Osborn sounds like couple of English teachers one of my sons ended up with — one in high school and one in college. Neither could be bothered with out of the box thinkers in their classrooms and both did their best to discourage such thinking when it came time to approve their long-term research assignments. In addition, both left my son with the feeling that he was too much of an inconvenience or hassle as a student to grade or work with.
    I feel for the 14 year-old. She got a bum rush in Ms. Osborn.

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