Who's the expert?

This article originally appeared in February 2017.

An expert, by Terry Freedman

An expert, by Terry Freedman

What’s the point in having experts if you don’t consult them? Let’s take the field of health as an example. It’s all too easy to self-diagnose. Think of the person in Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome. He made the mistake of consulting a medical dictionary, and came to the conclusion that he had every malady apart from housemaid’s knee.

The web has made that even worse, but guesswork and supposition are worse still. A few years ago someone told me that he had a protein deficiency. I asked him how he knew, to which he replied that he just thought he must have.

But sometimes one does know. I have been going to my doctor for several months, telling her I’m sure I have a chest infection. Each time we go through the same scenario:

“Deep breath in, deep breath out”, so fast that I thought I was going to hyperventilate. But then she said, “No, you don’t have an infection, but I’ll send you for a chest x-ray”.

Lo and behold, the x-ray showed that I did have an infection. She prescribed antibiotics, which are so powerful that I can only assume they were a by-product of a biological weapons programme. And now, a week later, I feel better than I have in months. So who was the real expert in this case?

I mention all this not because I want sympathy or flowers, though such things are always appreciated, but because in education teachers too often demur when it comes to asserting their own expertise.

“I’m just a teacher” they say, to which I say there is no such thing as ‘just’ a teacher.

Some years ago, when the ICT Programme of Study was being revised, I was chatting to the person in charge of it all, in a bar.

“I hope your new Programme of Study is as good as my curriculum” I said. “Because if it isn’t, I’m going to continue to use my own.”

He looked shocked.

“Sorry”, I said, “But I’m a subject expert and the curriculum I’m following covers everything, including ethical issues, programming, hardware etc etc. Why would I swap that for something less good?”

Now, anyone who has met me will know that I am not given to singing my own praises. But I do know what I know.

I experience the same feeling when I attend conferences. When some new-to-the-field person, or someone who has never taught in their lives, announces some new way of teaching, or what methods should or shouldn’t be used, it brings out my inner self-assuredness.

So, my view is, always seek expert advice, but do not denigrate your own expertise and experience in the process.

For the full list of articles featured in our 2017 Retrospective, please visit:

2017 Retrospective: Index of featured articles