Re: [xmca] the problem with expert vs novice

From: Paul Dillon <phd_crit_think who-is-at>
Date: Sun Jul 01 2007 - 17:31:22 PDT

  I find your response to Jay's post incredibly useful for two reasons. One is that you have introduced the term "master" into the "expert/novice continuum. In chess the categories for players of different levels is; C-B-A-EXPERT-MASTER-INTERNATIONAL MASTER MASTER, GRAND MASTER. And the term "mastery" implies much more than "expertise", Of course the continuum of relative mastery in chess is based on competition between players of different levels and as such quite different from other practices that involve interaction with the material or embodied world we find ourselves in.
  That is the second area that really struck me about your post: the discussion of the role of local knowledges in the relative success of ones knowledge of how to carry out a certain activity; e.g., fly fishing. Especially your reference to the knowledge of local environmental conditions. This has very important implicataions for the documentation of endangered languages for example insofar as these languages embody detailed knowledge of local ecological systemsm certainly in the terminological vocabularies and more complex forms of expression ranging from metaphorical sayings to mythogical cycles , but perhaps also even in the grammars. It's a useful argument for for documenting these languages since, perhaps, some day, when no one is left who speaks we might still recover the knowledge of their local environment, they contain to revive the endangered ecosystems that resulted from the loss of the people who understood how to live in them without destroying them. Of
 course that brings up the problem of the descriptive categories one uses in the data collection, but that's a different problem.

Mike Cole <> 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.
> Jay Lemke
> Professor
> University of Michigan
> School of Education
> 610 East University
> Ann Arbor, MI 48109
> Tel. 734-763-9276
> Email.
> Website.
> _______________________________________________
> xmca mailing list
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Received on Sun Jul 1 17:33 PDT 2007

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