Tuesday, June 14, 2022

On Expertise

We've grown to develop an anti-expertise view in society. I imagine it might have something to do with a do-it-yourself mentality born of individualism and capitalism. I can work harder to figure out how to do it myself and then I don't need anyone else's help. I get that. 

About eight years ago, I built a reading/writing/painting studio in my backyard all by myself despite not really knowing what I was doing (h/t YouTube videos), and I'm pretty pleased with how it turned out. But, I hired an electrician to wire it and a window guy to install that huge front window. I know my limitations. From the other side of things, though, as a teacher, it's pretty annoying when non-teachers are confident they could do the job better and offer helpful hints around time management because surely you can finish the day's work by the end of the school day.  "Prep your lessons on PD days," I was told recently. I can't even begin to explain everything wrong with that suggestion. Teachers have a skill set that many well-meaning parents don't have, and it would be amazing if people could believe that and trust us just a little. 

When I posted a little summary of what I understand so far of the Klondike Papers, many asked me for access to the 6,400 pages of documents that were discussed - the corroboration of many of the claims. As far as I know,  those pages were only provided for select journalists chosen by David Wallace. Someone claimed they're all open source, but I haven't seen signs of this elusive file online. But this is where I think we need to understand our limits and when to find an expert. I summarized what I know of this story from watching six hours of interviews and reading a handful of Reddit posts and another handful of news sources. Once I started down that rabbit hole, I spent a day watching and reading and the next day sorting and writing. Sifting through 6,400 pages would be like reading War and Peace FIVE TIMES, and with the chapters and paragraphs all out of order so it's an enormous effort to make sense of it all. I'm not sure how many people asking for a copy are really up for that kind of journey. 

However, the vital task at hand isn't just to read and make sense of the documents, but to investigate the events. That's well beyond my skill set. 

I teach about researching source material. We look at how to determine a good news source through basic media knowledge (trust reviewed and edited newspapers and peer reviewed journals more than a blog or weebly site), and getting to the most original source possible (no wikipedia or summaries of studies) within impartial news sources (check for accuracy, transparency, etc.) including searching alternative news sources, and using lateral reading skills (find several unaffiliated sources with similar information). And then we look at how to put research together from a variety of sources or analyze a news article and form an opinion. From time to time I still get grade 12s citing some grade six student's prezi project they stumbled on or jumping on an extreme claim without  backing outside a TikTok they found, so we have a very long way to go to really get people to understand how to do their own solid research. I blame this missing essential skill for some school board trustees who think encouraging kids to wear masks and "exposing" them to critical race theory are harmful to children. Some of their research is faulty, yet they're advising the school board. We can find the right answers to difficult questions with some careful digging. 

I also try to teach kids to argue well, staying clear of ad hominem abusive fallacies (you're an idiot) and ad hominem circumstantial fallacies (you hate Ford so obviously you'll agree with this), but that's also hard for them to remember once a debate starts to produce more heat than light. 

BUT... none of those lessons pan out enough for us when we're looking at breaking news, like with the Klondike Papers, because the type of researching we do in high school and university is dependent on journalists having already done their investigative work. That means following each claim back to the original sources, finding their contact information and actually calling them to look for any kind of possible alternative narrative that might conflict or oppose the claims. It means hearing the stories of all parties involved and seeking out others involved and bystanders that might have more information. I get a bit worked up if the website for my favourite Thai restaurant is down, and I have to actually talk to a person on the phone to order. This is the world of Jon Krakauer, Abby Martin, Amy Goodman, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, or Chris Hedges. Closer to home, maybe Kevin Donovan, Charlie Buckley, Erica Johnson, Robyn Doolittle, or Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis will get involved. [ETA Justin Ling recently added a story.] Press Progress has already started down this road, so keep watching for what they publish. I wouldn't be surprised to see The Narwhal or The Walrus or even Macleans publish an exposé on it all soon enough if there's any credence to any of it. The other thing that professional investigative journalists have that most of us don't have is access to a legal team that can tell them when they're getting too close to the sun. Be careful out there, kids!

At this point, we have to just wait and see. When complex events happens, I often tell students to read a variety of sources as close to the action as possible and in five years or so someone will write a book putting it all together. Then I caution them not to commit to a side until they see where all the pieces fall. We're just getting a preview of what might be coming down the line. Who knows the full extent of it all. 

It's not a matter of standing back to let the grown ups figure it out, but of knowing the limitations of our own skills and when to wait for someone else's expertise to shine through the darkness. We need interdependence to triumph over independence as we work together in solidarity to figure out what's true


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your diligence

Marie Snyder said...

Thanks for reading!!