Surprising truth #8 by Jeff Sandefer: No experts allowed.

I invited Jeff to write a post as we near the end of my list of  “surprising truths. ” Here are his words:

So here is one of the most surprising truths of all about Acton Academy – we don’t allow experts inside the classroom.  We’d prefer to keep teachers away too.

 “But wait,” you might say, “then how will my child learn?”

An understandable question, particularly given the way traditional education is delivered.  So here’s some more heresy.  We don’t think there’s much correlation between traditional classroom teaching and learning.  In fact, sadly, in many schools there may be an inverse correlation.

Now you really may think we’ve lost our minds.  But bear with me.

Put yourself in the shoes of a child.  Would you rather listen to an expert drone on and on or be challenged with a dilemma that matters to you?   Would you rather read about how some expert solved a problem two hundred years ago or wrestle with a difficult hand-on experiment that might lead to a new discovery?

You might protest: “But experts know a lot.”  Sure they do.  Sometimes what they know is even true.

Experts know a lot about a narrow subject, or at least pretend that they do.  In fact the definition of an expert is:  someone who has authoritative knowledge or skill in a particular area.  The difficulty is with the word authoritative.  Proper authority is to be respected.  But a synonym for authority is imperious meaning:  assuming authority without justification; arrogant; domineering

In other words, imperious, as in “the Emperor has no clothes.”  Sadly, this is what expert teaching too often deteriorates into – control without much value added.  Repeat after me.  Eyes up here. Sit up straight.  Pay attention.

Heroes don’t thrive in that kind of turgid environment.  Neither do our Eagles.

That’s why we want Guides in our Acton classrooms, adults and children who are willing to ask hard questions and dig deeply into research and practice to uncover practical answers.  We seek neither to nurture idealists who believe everything nor cynics who believe nothing, but rather curious, friendly skeptics who ask – “What’s your evidence?”

 We also welcome Masters.  Guides who’ve made the difficult journey through challenges, dips and plateaus to start as a beginner, dig deeply into the marrow of a problem, so they now can ask a beginner’s questions with even more insight and clarity. 

Masters know the art of being judgmental:  having the courage and clarity to take a black or white stand on an issue; while at the same time celebrating tolerance:  the open embrace of competing viewpoints in the battle of ideas.

Experts can stifle.  Experts can bully.  Experts can impose. Experts seek final answers.

Guides question.  Guides explore.  Master Guides persevere in looking for deeper and more important questions, for paths that lead to a more productive and meaningful lives.

Acton Academy: No experts allowed. 

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2 Responses to Surprising truth #8 by Jeff Sandefer: No experts allowed.

  1. katharineharris says:

    Here is a related article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Stop Telling Students to Study for Exams,” about the problem of instrumentalism in education. Several professors I know have posted and commented about it. One wrote that learning is particularly difficult to gauge in fields like history where students just don’t have enough time to let information sink in.

  2. Dominique says:

    I truly believe you are generalyzing the “experts”. I have met people who love what they do and are passionate about it but still very open to continue learning and humble enough to acknowledge that they don’t know all the answers and welcome new ideas.. That passion is inspiring to all who encounter them and they may even inspire those who listen to them to be interested in their field of work.
    I do agree that true learning never is possible when coming from a textbook and a teacher who is not an expert in a given field and has no interest in the subject. That is what is the norm and that is why education today in most places is so not education…..

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