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Reframing Expertise in Education (The Habitual Line-Stepper)

Mr. Vilson 9 Comments

In my travels this summer, I’m often asked to ponder this idea of expertise, and specifically, how education researchers and those in higher education can help K-12 teachers.

Since I entered the teaching profession almost a decade ago, I’ve had this struggle with this idea. From articles where a writer with a PhD in education lays out a plan for how school systems should be run to speeches where a professor from a prestigious college tells us why the Common Core will and must work, I’ve grown weary of the disconnected dialogue between well-meaning K-12 teachers and the plethora of college professors who’ve come to rescue American education from the vice grip of mediocrity.

Instead, I proffer the following: who is the real expert?

For instance, there’s a study out there (that I won’t point to for a multitude of reasons) that shows the difference between what K-12 teachers are currently doing with Common Core State Standards and what the writers of the CCSS think teachers should do with the CCSS. First, the writer of the study assumes that the expertise of educators comes second to those studying education from the outside. Second, it presumes that students aren’t variables all their own. Third, and consequently, it assumes that the teaching conditions set forth in places like Japan, Singapore, and Finland are equivalent, or at least negligible, to those in the US, and currently they aren’t.

Then again, who are teachers but the practitioners of the CCSS the experts have proffers to our local and federal governments?

Despite some districts’ best efforts to counter this, teacher expertise is necessary if any progressive change moves. Whether a teacher agrees or disagrees with the CCSS as a best practice may be second to whether a teacher can actually teach. Teachers can’t grow as educators if the only way they’ve seen teaching is through the lens of their own teachers. Our country readily discounts pedagogy because standards and their assessments are a much more accessible, short-term way to move education than revamping the idea of school for everyone involved.

More importantly, we discredit the knowledge students, parents, and others bring in a way that doesn’t get buy-in from all involved. The idea of accountability sits too often on the laps of teachers, and not the plethora of experts brought in to supposedly train them.

It’s dangerous for us to suggest that we reframe this idea of expertise. It’s dangerous for us to ask that we create a new table rather than having a seat at it. It’s dangerous for us to push back when TV shows, magazines, and even our teacher-friendly institutions highlight a certain type of expert over another. It’s dangerous for us to even ask who created these lines and divides over expert and teacher.

This is why we must step on the line, and, for many of us, jump over it and walk on.

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Jose VilsonReframing Expertise in Education (The Habitual Line-Stepper)

Comments 9

  1. Peg Cagle

    I would advocate that we rub the line out because it serves no purpose in creating the necessary changes in policy, institutions of higher education, k-12 schools, or individual teachers’ practice that will ultimately advance student learning

  2. Howard Phillips

    The problem in part is who are “We”. Are there enough of “U s”? I am not directly involved, but have got into this via my views on the mathematical content of what is taught. I wrote this the other day as a comment on another blog, and it is relevant to your mission:
    “To see learning how to do “sums” as bad is a mistake. The idea that anyone can be converted to the “new ways” as on the Road to Damascus, is optimistic, to say the least. Imposition of the new ways is a really bad mistake. The one to one conversion step by step has the best chance. It may take 20 years, but that is not a lot considering how long this problem has been around. Besides, nobody gets converted to anything unless they begin to see, and feel, the benefits, both to the kids AND to themselves.”
    I am very enthusiastic about the Common Core approach and plan to try to convert one local school at a time to the “New ways”, with a realistic assessment of the chance of success.
    We should look at the Mormons and their determination, not sit back and wait.
    I support you absolutely!

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  3. Bill Ivey

    I’m thinking part of the key to this situation lies in the phrase “disconnected dialogue.” Because I struggle to answer your question, “Who is the real expert?” (echoing Howard’s question “Who are ‘We’?”).

    Here’s the deal. I’ve taught in a girls school for nearly 30 years, and I’ve taught middle school for 13. I’ve been invited to assist with two conferences for young teachers in the near future, and worked at both last year as well. But I haven’t been a middle schooler for 40 years and I’ve never been a girl. Without input from my students and their parents, or from colleagues both on-site and virtual, I would be drastically less effective. More: I would be incredibly drastically less effective without the pedagogical research done by countless people and compiled by the Association of Middle Level Education into “This We Believe;” without the mentoring and support offered by AMLE people like John Lounsbury, Mark Springer, Chris Toy, Rick Wormeli, Nancy Doda, and Jill Spencer; without the research, writing, and talks given by Rachel Simmons and JoAnn Deak on girls’ psychology; without the leadership and insights you yourself, and Melinda Anderson, and Sabrina Stevens, and others provide; without the inspiration and positive examples of Jazz Jennings, Janet Mock, and Jenny Boylan; without… without… without… you get the idea!

    But note – all of those people with whom I’ve interacted directly (which is, granted, not all of the above) have listened to me as well as talked to me. There’s genuine dialogue, mutual respect. With you and Jenny Boylan the only exceptions, none of the above are currently teaching (Jazz, of course, being only 13, is also still in the classroom!), and most of the people above who know me recognize and respect that I’ve chosen to stay in the classroom. In some ways, I think, my work is seen by at least some of them as a lab where a stew of many of their ideas plus my own instincts is brought to life.

    In other words, we need each other.

    I’m not really disagreeing with anything you’ve said, of course. I guess, looking back on all this, I’m trying to refine the idea of how best to blur the line and make education more truly a team proposition, and looking to my life for positive examples that might be followed. I realize I’ve perhaps been extraordinarily lucky in finding experts who genuinely respect and value teacher voice. One way or another, at any rate, I do hope all this helps somehow.

  4. Todd Finley

    Hi Jose,

    I am aware of how k-12 teachers feel marginalized and “done to” because I talk to a lot of them, including my wife–a 5th grade math teacher.

    As an ivory tower denizen (I only taught one 90 min. high school class last semester), I feel the squeeze that comes from Dan Coleman and Bill Gates-backed initiatives, and that have forced colleges of education to revamp their curriculum. But that is nothing compared to the infantilization of teachers that occurs by principles and professional development experts.

    Much of the research I read and that is presented at conferences involves teams of profs and practicing teachers–particularly action research. The zebras and the giraffes can share the savannah.

    In my regular interactions with practicing teachers and preservice teachers, the word “empowerment” comes up a lot–specifically in grant projects. When teachers give their opinions in contexts where university and k-12 faculty are together, college folks are delighted. But I notice that practicing teachers are reluctant to speak in these contexts, perhaps because they’ve been slammed before…? I apologize for anything I’ve done to contribute to that. On behalf of my teacher educator brethren, I apologize for anything we’ve done that has led to k-12 teachers feeling dismissed. We view you as experts and value your expertise.

    Thanks Jose, see you Wednesday. – Todd

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