Saturday, November 6, 2010

An Expert Opinion

I have a secret wish.
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.


Jenny said...

My husband has a PhD (in history) and is a college professor. As a result, I know many PhDs now. There is nothing like knowing a lot of highly educated folks to make you realize how little that can mean.

Felicia Adams said...

I agree completely. There are so many ways we should recognize people as experts. Not only the PhDs or the Ivy Leagues of the world, but also the life lesson learners. How do you instill that in your students while also encouraging them to seek higher degrees?

Sarah Pierce said...


My name is Sarah Pierce and I am in Dr. Strange’s EDM310 class at the University of South Alabama, in Mobile, Alabama. I totally agree with what you are saying about outward appearance and creditability regarding where one might receive an education. You can receive just as good an education from a small, not well-known school as one with the name of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc. A person’s education becomes what they make of it. I also agree with what you had to say about people listening to you and your opinions whether or not your article is written up in a famous journal. The best way to become educated about a subject is to really research a topic and not just read one article. Practical experience is really great to have.

Unknown said...

When I read your post it made me think of Ravitch who initially was all for NCLB (standardized testing) and now is opposed. So, yes, experts or should I say "experts" do change their mind and perhaps don't always know what's best for students PhD or not. Also, I have worked with some PhD students who spend so much time working on their thesis or course work that they neglect the students who they are serving. Of course, I also know many who are a credit to their title. Good and bad in everything. Thanks for all your great posts, they are so interesting to read.

Unknown said...

Hi Andrea
I am a student in John Strange's EDM 310 class at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. I enjoyed reading your post about formal education and the importance that society places on it. I enjoyed the story about your friend who felt her talents were better served with students. That is very encouraging - especially in today's society.

Andrea said...

Thank you to all who commented. I am not sure that I got across what I was truly thinking, but, from the comments, it seems that maybe I did ok :)
I believe in formal education and I do value the advice of those who have spent time honing a particular skill, or following a path of learning.

I guess my point is that there are ways of acquiring knowledge and experience other than a path of formal study. If you feel strongly that something is right or wrong, trust your instincts.