Second opinions valuable in medicine & education:

Fortunately, a second medical opinion this week showed I did not need a painful “spinal tap.” Instead, the second doctor who examined me (after I expressed concerns about the first, dramatic diagnosis), prescribed ice on my back and anti-pain pills every four to six hours.

When I was 12, I took a wood shop and metal class. The teacher told me if he had not talked with other teachers, he would have referred me to be reviewed as a “special needs” student.  My morning’s very sore neck felt much better by the end of the day – and I was reminded once again, about the value of a second opinion, whether it’s in medicine or in education.

I was really bad at metal shop. Despite my best efforts, I produced a spatula that was nowhere near as nice as a number of other young men’s … some of whom did not do well in writing or math. Those were areas where I did pretty well.

In another column, I’ve mentioned terrific YouTube videos produced by students at High School for Recording Arts (found here: These are incredibly creative and helped win their school the national best “school small business” award from Junior Achievement last year. Some of the most creative kids producing these videos are students who in other schools had been classified as “behavior problems” and “anti-social.” At High School for Recording Arts, they excel.

My plea to parents is: Don’t be afraid to seek a second opinion, not just in medicine but also in education.

If your youngster is doing well in a traditional classroom, great.

Some youngsters don’t thrive in a traditional classroom but excel in a more project-based, applied program. I think of the students at High School for Recording Arts or the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts and youngsters who love a program called “Genesis Works.” Genesis Works students attend traditional schools part of the day and then spend another part of the day as interns in businesses. I’ll say more about this in a future column.

The conventional school works well for some youngsters. But some require a second opinion and a second option. True in medicine. True in schools.


Joe Nathan, formerly a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change.  Reactions welcome, please comment below.