Sometimes I dream of going to one of the "big name schools" to get a PhD in education. It's not because of a desire to advance in the field or teach at a higher level; it's to get the stamp of approval so that people will listen to me with respect.
Not to take anything away from people who follow a path of formal study and research, but I question our cultural obsession with the opinions of experts. I could tell you a thing I have witnessed through direct personal experience. However, if that exact same idea was published as part of an article in the Harvard Educational Review, it would now be received through a lens of credibility that my anecdotal experience could never achieve. I suppose that is as it should be, but only to a point.
The problem occurs when we become unable to trust anyone who isn't deemed expert by virtue of a degree or position, when we give no credence to our own senses, when we are blinded to the messages of our hearts and minds. Experts are people- flawed, human and capable of changing their minds. Knowledge is in a constant state of flux. Statistics gathered through research are open to subjective interpretation. I am formally well-educated enough (by society's standards) to know that this is true.
I have always kept my own counsel. My father loves to tell the story of when I was 12 years old, and he took me to the orthodontist. The doctor was reviewing the x-rays with my father, showing him which teeth would need to be extracted, when I said, "You're reading them backwards." The orthodontist was stunned but admitted that I was, indeed, correct.
A colleague of mine was accepted into a PhD program at an illustrious institution. She is a brilliant educator and writer; I had no doubt that her application would be accepted. However, after visiting the school and learning more about the program, she decided that her gifts were better used in schools with students and teachers. Is she less of an expert than she would be if she was pursuing a formal PhD? She spends every day doing action research in the classroom, reading, learning, sharing, writing. I value her expertise more than that of a researcher who devises a study and watches from an objective perch, with no knowledge of the bigger picture of the situation.
I am a big-picturist. I think that everyone has a piece to the puzzle. To give more weight to certain pieces and completely ignore others lacks coherence and common sense. I think we have the responsibility to work as best we can with the facts we possess while trying to learn from others and consult with experts as indicated. Ultimately though, the decisions we make are our own responsibility. Keep your own counsel.