Tuesday, July 30, 2013


So many things to write about!

I recently saw someone post something about a person who claimed credentials they had not earned. Actually, I've seen this a lot, in a variety of fields. In this particular case, one of the people in the discussion commented "isn't that unschooling?" It brought into question whether it is legitimate, for someone to be self-taught to the level of excellence, and at that point, whether it was acceptable for the person to refer to themselves with a professional title.

It is a legitimate question, that's for sure.
How can unschoolers talk about people not needing to be taught things, how they can learn anything on their own… but then balk at a self-taught person claiming expertise?

There are a few puzzle pieces in that question, that I'll address separately.

First, is it really possible to learn everything on your own, or are there some things that must be taught?

I have seen many unschoolers insist that children do not "need to be taught." Period. Ever. That EVERYTHING can be learned "through life."

This topic is near and dear to my heart because…  I teach.

My personal opinion is this:
In theory, yes, it's possible to learn anything you want without being specifically "taught."
There are some things that are better learned from someone who knows both how to do the thing, and how to teach that thing to another person. Physical skills are often better learned person-to-person than from a less hands-on or immediate way. Trial and error works for some things, but not everything, at least not in a timely manner.

In my specific profession, it takes a lifetime to really learn it WITH excellent instruction and immediate feedback. There are several paradigm shifts that must occur to reach a full understanding, and not everything about it is apparent from the outside, or to a beginner.
While it is theoretically possible, in the broadest sense of the word, for someone to teach themselves… it is highly unlikely.

At the same time, what I teach is not possible to force someone else to learn. They must be an active, willing participant. The "teaching" is absolutely a joint effort.

This brings me to the next part of the question.

Even if you COULD learn it yourself, through reading books, watching videos, personal study, and practice…
a person does not have the right to claim the professional title that only comes from having gone through a very specific set of experiences, demonstrations, and both physical and written examinations. No one can self-anoint themselves.

More examples:

I can learn to cook by asking someone- like my Mom- to teach me. I learned a lot about cooking from my Mom, starting at a very young age.
I can learn by experimentation, directly. I can make up recipes, combine foods, try new techniques.
I can learn by using cookbooks, or other knowledge from other people, but in an indirect way.
I can learn by sharing food, knowledge, and experiences with friends. 
I can learn from feedback from the people who eat what I prepare.
With all those ways of learning, I can learn a LOT, and get to be a pretty good cook.
However, no matter how good I get, I do not have the right to refer to myself as a professional chef.

I can study law however I want…but cannot be an attorney without taking the Bar Exam.
I can learn a lot about medicine, in many ways, but can't be a doctor without med school.

I have no problem with someone being "self taught." How could I? I have learned many, many things that way, and some of my most active interests are entirely self taught.

I have a big problem with people who claim experience, knowledge, and expertise they do not or cannot demonstrate, and professional titles they have not earned.

My profession is very close to no longer existing because of the high number of people who claim the professional title, without any actual credentials- and without the ability to reach an expert level of understanding without going through that credentialing process. They are out there, claiming to "teach" something they do not, themselves, understand. There is no oversight. People are paying them good money for what they assume is competent instruction, but is not. There is no way to fight against this. People don't know what they don't know, and true professionals are vastly outnumbered. It has reached the point where almost no one even realizes that there is a level beyond those who illegitimately claim the title, so the average person accepts what is most often offered as the "real deal."

So yes, this is a personal issue for me.

On the other hand, a skilled, talented, honest, amateur is worth a million pretend professionals.
It is critical that people are honest about what they know, and how they know it.
I'm more than willing to acknowledge excellence and expertise wherever it exists- as long as no one is claiming a specific, recognized credential that they have not earned.
Credentials, in and of themselves, aren't the important part- but they ARE a specific, legal thing.

Given a choice between someone who is an expert, and someone who has the credential, but is a poor practitioner, I'd choose the person who knows what they are talking about, or who can do what they say they can do, over the one with a piece of paper. Just don't claim that piece of paper if you don't have it. That's not part of unschooling, at all.

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