Monday, January 9, 2012

Education and expertise

It is no secret that education, or what is commonly thought of as it, changes us. Education has the capacity of changing our perspectives on human relationships, our interactions with the man-made parts of our world, as well as with the biophysical parts of our world. It changes, fundamentally, the way we think. In the hyper-specialised culture that has developed out of "competition" and industrialism, our education has become hyper-specialised, too. But there is one thing that I haven't really thought much about, and that's one reason why I love being around people that know so much about so many other things!

As Avik told me yesterday, there is a whole body of literature that has studied expertise. What has been particularly defining of the recent environmental movement, is that scientists have tried continually to raise awareness about the dire situations and scenarios we face with climate change and yet, we see very little mass acceptance of their findings in this country. There are several reasons for this. One, of course, is that people's lives, and what defines them, are fundamentally challenged because of what issues of the climate dictate we ought to do. Secondly, different people comprehend issues differently because of their cultural identities. Thirdly, and quite interestingly, those people that are aware of the issues actually view the world differently because of their "education." When I say education in the post, I mean the education that most of us think of--become a scientist, or a doctor, or engineer, or lawyer, or accountant, or whatever.

As we become more and more educated, while we are exposed to more and more things, we also bin ourselves more and more in our worldview. As I said previously, when you have a hammer in your hand, everything looks like a nail. Therefore, the more educated we become, the more we forget about what it was like to be uneducated, or what it is like to be educated differently. What this can result in then is a loss of capacity to communicate with those that are different than you. As a scientist, it may be entirely obvious to you that increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere leads to global warming, increasing hormones in water leads to hermaphroditic frogs, increasing the efficiency of something doesn't lead to decreased overall consumption of it. How do we explain to those that aren't experts? How much danger is there in being experts? Many have talked about the guardianship model of policy-making, in which 'experts' in a 'field' are given full responsibility to decide the course of actions that need to be taken about something--those that 'know' about health insurance decide national health insurance policy. This, of course, comes at the expense of so-called 'democracy'.

In the environmental movement, it would do us well if we are able to relate to those that do not accept what we say, to those that are not 'experts' in pollution or deforestation or fracking. We must be able to have the capacity to think like those that don't agree with us, so that maybe we can communicate with them in ways that are more approachable to them. More thoughts on the expertise literature to come.

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