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Shaun Johnson

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Climate Scientists, Educators, and Why We Avoid Consulting the Experts

Posted: 02/ 2/2012 3:47 pm

The Wall Street Journal recently published the editorial "No Need to Panic About Global Warming" claiming that the scientific hysteria surrounding climate change is exaggerated and perhaps misguided. A few days later, a second editorial was published in reply, written by actual climate scientists, who argued that those denying evidence of androcentric climate change don't possess the expertise to comment. Sure, they're all "scientists" in the generic sense. I think reasonable folks would agree that you don't ask a chemist to tutor your teenager in physics, or you don't ask an archaeologist if this mushroom you found in the woods is edible. For that, you consult a mycologist. Look it up.

The climate scientists who wrote the second editorial begin with a great passage:

Do you consult your dentist about your heart condition? In science, as in any area, reputations are based on knowledge and expertise in a field and on published, peer-reviewed work. If you need surgery, you want a highly experienced expert in the field who has done a large number of the proposed operations.

Fantastic, makes perfect sense. So, why doesn't that apply to education policy and reform? Wouldn't it make sense to consult educators or education researchers about teaching methods and curriculum? Might it be prudent to actually rely on those who know about public schools and have a vested interest in them to advocate for public education?

Well, correct me if I'm wrong, but we seem to consult a lot of economists, statisticians, software engineers, CEO's, politicians, financiers, hip-hop artists, and talk show hosts about education in lieu of a "highly experienced expert in the field who has done a large number of the proposed operations." And now that I think of it, I can't think of many prominent "education reformers" who at the very least send their own children to public schools. Perhaps we should be concerned that we are leaving their children behind and consider closing those horrid private schools with their unlimited resources, small class sizes, and arts programs.

If you examine the boards of many prevailing education reform organizations -- Boards of Advisors, Directors, Regents, Chieftans, or whatever--you'll see a lot of insurance salesmen and consultants. There are a few educators and former teachers peppered in there. Yet, think of the names we all recognize and those who have the loudest voices in traditional media outlets. I can't think of a single educator among them, other than the occasional tourist who earned their street cred in an alternative certification program.

It seems a reliance on non-experts for consultation is not just a problem for education, as underscored in the editorial by climate scientists. I wonder: is it just coincidence that global warming and education are both socially and politically charged fields? There's a lot at stake for wealthy interests to ensure that global warming remains controversial and contested. Otherwise, we'll finally adjust our lifestyles and that could hurt a bottom line. A similar situation might be true for education. Certain well-heeled entities are very interested in the acquisition of valuable public per-pupil dollars. This might be why the real experts get shut out: they actually know what might be best for students and not someone's bottom line.

 

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