Empowerment and Expertise

I’ve been greatly looking forward to Stephen’s explanation of his previous statement that his lifelong goal has been to work toward “reducing and eventually eliminating the learned dependence on the expert and the elite – not as a celebration of anti-intellectualism, but as a result of widespread and equitable access to expertise.” I questioned what that meant in an earlier blog post, and Stephen has now responded. I think I finally understand. Here are the salient points from the response:

What I am addressing with remarks like “we should not depend on the expert” is the stance that ought to be taken by the learner with respect to the learning material extant on the web and elsewhere. And I mean this two two distinct but related ways:

– first, the learner should not accept the report of the expert uncritically…
– second, the learner should resist the characterization of certain sources, certain perspectives, and certain content types *as expert*…

What is significant, to my mind, is that by being able to adopt such a critical stance with respect to expertise, learners are not only much better able to vet for themselves the reliability and authenticity of a piece of expert advice, they also acquire the capacity to look beyond a smaller set of ‘trusted sources’.

So, a bit anticlimactically, our whole conversation seems to be a commentary on learners’ critical information facility and a warning about the dangers of blindly trusting experts. I agree, completely.

That said, this part of his response still bends my brain:

We should be like the educator whose primary interest is in teaching people to read, so they do not need to come to us at all, so there is not only no need for a hall and for fees to be paid, but no need for our particular expertise, because everyone can have it.

There’s a traveling-back-in-time-to-kill-your-own-grandfather quality to this thinking. It’s true that we can teach for the purpose of helping someone never need to depend on a teacher again. But can we say that we never needed teachers in the first place after a teacher helps them develop their expertise? And if it turns out that the person was benefited by their interactions with the teacher, wouldn’t the next generation of learners benefit similarly? I just don’t understand this desire to shut the doors on formal education as soon as we can. Is formal education evil somehow? I don’t think so.

Ok, I came really close to understanding…

2 thoughts on “Empowerment and Expertise”

  1. There is a major problem with Stephen’s cavalier attitude which is readily seen in the work of many consultants, particularly in the futures/forecasting arena or in what I call the half-time expertise exhibited by folks in sports bars. There is the sense that one can scan the literature and gain sufficient expertise which equals or transcends those who have spent years learning and practicing in a discipline or a profession. The paradigmatic example may be in health care. On whom would you bet your life? The problem is in areas such as education where everyone is an “expert”

  2. Loved the “traveling-back-in-time-to-kill-your-own-grandfather” line. Thanks, David.

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