Dangerous Experts

Back in the mid-2000s, there was this cynical idea that many teachers, administrators and managers were “dangerously irrelevant”. Using unique positions of authority, backed by hundreds of years of modernist mass-educational policy and ‘research’ a relative few were the central body responsible for preventing “our kids” being creative and successful in the kind of cultures that scholars such as Jenkins had begun blogging about. This all occurred at an epoch where relatively few people had the skills to create ‘blogs’ and exploited this to remediate much of the scholarship locked inside academic journals toward mass-media consumption. Gone was the dense language of academia in favour of pithy phrases and jargon2.0.

Gee and Foulton are critical of the narrow definitions of ‘literacy’ emerging from new media. They argue that the focus on simple-text-based augmentation of existing reading and writing tools serves to create ‘dangerous experts’. I have to say I agree. Decades into this debate, billions of dollars have flowed to narrow channels (individuals and organisations) and little has emerged to suggest it has improved existing educational models, let alone created new ones. But as they once said “It’s been a good war for some”.

The Dangerous Expert Effect. Big Data and recent research have shown that credentialed  experts in a great many domains make very poor predictions (no better than chance) and that  their predictions get worse, not better, when they get more data. Such experts often under-value what they don’t know, over-value what they do know, and look at data through unwarranted generalizations to which they are professionally attached. Networked groups of people and tools, using diverse perspectives, make better predictions – Gee & Foulton, 2013.

Parents should be suspicious and critical of ongoing technological and economic determinism being applied by ‘dangerous experts’. These under-value many media-texts (not least games) failing to address their significance in culture as part of reading and writing (though play). Each expert tends to take a ‘slice’ of a socially negotiated “safe” area in which to establish their credentials and market. There are tacit rules about how to behave, what to say or not to say, which emerges in culture though various media representations such as blogs, videos and events.

They fail to address HOW to build a community of self-ware, patient, kind children. Their actions try to push children and teachers into the toxic, negative and vile pool of current ‘social media’ and ‘tabloid culture’, regardless of their readiness. They ignore the failure of successive filtering policies and cyber-safety programs to make the space “safe”.

Their willingness to endorse software brands and their friends takes precedence over their willingness to SHOW teachers, kids and parents EXACTLY how to access the mind’s hidden treasures of self-confidence, awareness and self worth (rhetoric rich, evidence poor). Most of all, dangerous experts are NOT interested in children anchoring their own power in their own culture.

This to me is a huge civil rights issue. Unless I am mistaken, teachers are still working in the same contractual arrangements now as ten years ago. No new time or money appears to flow to the vast majority of teachers under increasing media and political pressure to ‘change’. An important question is: a change to what? – evidence based scholarship or popular culture entertainment?

Anchoring power should allow children to know that ‘choosing to be me’ has no rival when it comes to their future. While it’s easy to use media representations of beauty to argue children are being mislead, similar representations are made about the ideal academic child growing up digital with their blogs, wikis and YouTube channels.

What parents and teachers need to ask is: how will THIS classroom technology improve my childs impulse-control; how will THIS method make them more accepting of other people and ideas; how much perspective has THIS expert got about the media that actually use in society; what makes THIS person accountable for what they are saying and doing?