Re: [xmca] the problem with expert vs novice

From: Jay Lemke <jaylemke who-is-at>
Date: Sun Jul 01 2007 - 17:14:56 PDT


I am not sure whether I prefer babies or bathwater, but we do agree
that there is such a thing as getting better at some kinds of
specialized, subtle skills ... or perhaps I should say at achieving
some kinds of difficult objectives. It is only the notion of experts
reproducing their kind that bothers me. Maybe, probably, there are
ways of achieving some of the goals in fly-fishing (an art unknown to
me) not known now to any expert, or improved variations on ones that
are. To achieve the objectives, I'd certainly want to observe, talk
to, and maybe get coached by someone who was better at some of them
than me now. And I'd also do other things, some of which the expert
might not approve of.

Really, my view here is not so different from Yrjo's "expansional
learning". It's not just development for me, of course, it's also
change in the system, change in the possibilities for everyone, if I
come up with a new means, or a new goal, or a new way of relating one
to the other, etc.

I was being a bit hyperbolic with "antithesis", but I was trying to
point out that it's so easy for an analytical relation to get reified
into two polar categories, where both the polarization (happens a lot
these days, eh?) and the reification are problematic. There are no
"experts" as natural kinds in the world; there are judgments made by
different criteria, in differently oriented (by goals, dispositions,
culture) systems as to who may be better at what, under what
circumstances. I would not want to think (and I don't think you do!)
in terms of a linear progression from novice to expert (development
is never so neat). Instead there are many options and branches, and
the kind of expertise we end up with should hopefully be a bit
different from that of any model expert we might encounter (as with
the general epigenetic model of individuation within recapitulation
of an evolutionary type). And then I would not worry about getting
linearized 'measures' of 'progress' towards fixed, pre-determined
expertise -- which is how our pseudo-accountability mess manages
itself in the name of curriculum-based education today.


At 06:57 PM 7/1/2007, you wrote:
>Your write: What bothers me about some ways of using the expert/novice
>is that they do seek to conceal, by naturalizing, the power dimension
>hidden here at several levels.
>I think we are all agreed here that we are not talking about antitheses,
>even if in some other
>discourse communities people do talk this way. And we can agree that there
>are power relations
>involved in this issue as you point out. And we need to worry about avoiding
>reification of an individual/society
>antinomy. And we need to worry about "mere reproduction."
>But (now speaking of an activity which is less obviously about knowledge) I,
>and perhaps others (?) recognize
>and experience differences along a dimension that is something like "mastery
>of an activity" in the domain of
>fly fishing. This domain is extraordinarily complex and any judgments about
>relative expertise depend upon a
>huge number of factors, not all of which it is easy to take into account,
>let alone assess with any notion of
>accuracy in any given instance. A few weeks ago I was fly fishing with a
>friend who is great at catching trout
>in small brooks that baffle me. But in a larger stream, in a lake where bull
>rushes had to be caste up to but not into,
>where only one cast could hit the water, I was more able. In other
>circumstances, such as when it is essential that
>the fly hit the water before the leader touches it, I am hopeless. In yet
>other circumstances, where I know the river
>well and know to use a sinking line, and know the local beasties like I know
>my own name, I routinely catch fish
>where others walk away empty handed. And by the same token, I can be on a
>river I do not know well, with or without
>the right flies, and a "local expert" will succeed where I fail miserably.
>Bottom line, so keep this brief? If we do not get seduced into creating
>false binaries and can engage in systems thinking
>and can communicate about it (hah, there's another big problem), we can
>understand the aquisition of expertise as a complex
>developmental, domain-specific process that can, in some cases, be
>systematically arranged for. And we can be certain that
>changes in environmental conditions, technology, and social arrangements
>will conspire to make certain that over time, the
>nature of the putative expertise will change, that no newly crowned expert
>will retain the thrown, but be overthrown because
>having embodied an ideal, s/he has created the circumstances to imagine a
>yet-more-dazzling ideal, which, in the fullness of
>time, may come into being.
>The bathwater is almost certainly tainted, but lets not forget that it got
>the baby clean-er, and we should not toss out both
>(where I live, we should re-cycle the bath water for sure!)
>On 6/30/07, Jay Lemke <> wrote:
>>With my time limited, and the subject headers for some of these
>>discussion getting rather unwieldy (maybe it's only my own system,
>>but I've got many of them in a loop of Possible Spam identifiers!)
>>... a quick note.
>>What bothers me about some ways of using the expert/novice antithesis
>>is that they do seek to conceal, by naturalizing, the power dimension
>>hidden here at several levels. That novices should defer to experts'
>>views of what is to be learned, how things are to be done, etc. That
>>experts are the ones to decide who is an expert and who is a novice,
>>and by how much they differ from one another, and how each should
>>relate to the other, esp. in power, decisions, etc.
>>Now if we re-frame this as teacher/student, I think we would all be
>>much more worried, and Paolo Freire's critique here is well known and
>>seems to me also well validated in practice. It seems to me that
>>calling the relation 'expert/novice' pushes the naturalization so far
>>as to inhibit necessary critique.
>>Moreover, expert/novice is part of a larger discourse which is
>>essentially a discourse of reproduction. Even in its more benign
>>versions (e.g. Lave, less so Wenger). Much less it's, to my view,
>>less benign ones (e.g. Herb Simon and the 70s-80s cognitivist views
>>on expertise and problem-solving), which were very much the product
>>of management models.
>>Let learners seek out the expertise they find of value, make use of
>>those they deem to be expert, and diverge from what they are taught
>>when and as they find productive. Let experts not seek to clone
>>themselves by misrepresenting reproduction as education.
>>Jay Lemke
>>University of Michigan
>>School of Education
>>610 East University
>>Ann Arbor, MI 48109
>>Tel. 734-763-9276
>>Website. <>
>>xmca mailing list
>xmca mailing list

Jay Lemke
University of Michigan
School of Education
610 East University
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Tel. 734-763-9276
Website. <>
xmca mailing list
Received on Sun Jul 1 17:18 PDT 2007

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