Tyranny of the Experts

I am really excited about this post, for I have had it rolling around in my head for several days, and it is the product of one of my favorite things. I love to connect seemingly unconnected things and then investigate them together or apply the reasoning from the one to the other.

An erstwhile pastor, I had occasion to meet from time to time with a man who represented seminaries outside the U.S. He was a passionate man; I enjoyed him, and I have always enjoyed learning about other cultures. He was South American. I will never forget when he expressed how Mexican churches felt about the visiting mission teams from the U.S. He recalled a meeting with Mexican pastors who bemoaned the well-intentioned efforts of U.S. mission groups. The Mexican pastors claimed that their churches felt violated, dehumanized.

Flash Forward about ten years…

Dr. William Easterly of New York University has written a book, The Tyranny of Experts, about how foreign aid tramples on the rights of the poor. Wow! Is this not what my friend had talked about? I have not read the book yet, but I have read this review and an interview from Christianity Today.com. You can read these and more by following the links on his blog.

In one of the more interesting exchanges in the interview, Easterly claims “that the idea we can have a purely technical approach to resolving the problems of poverty without any moral implications is an illusion.”

So, I began to mull things over. Is there an admitted moral component in the effort to close the achievement gap in education?

Easterly claims that, in error, we treat the served as inert matter—people to be acted upon. This rang a bell, for it is the general, pedagogical, modus operandi for low socio-economic schools. Schools are driven to do whatever they can to get the content into the child’s head—whether the child wants it or not. This is a very undignifying practice for both the teacher and the student. What to do with a student who does not want to learn is for another post, but our desire to deliver and be accountable for delivering something that the recipient does not want seems to be a dehumanizing endeavor. It reminds me a bit of nation-building in a nation that does not want to be built.

In summary, our pedagogy might be successful in improving test results, but it is a pedagogy that has a deleterious effect on our students, their preparation for life-long learning, and their appreciation for the academic disciplines (these are part of the moral component). If we are dehumanizing the overseas poor in our efforts to help them, I bet we are doing the same thing to the poor here. I would love to take Easterly’s reasoning and apply it in the U.S. to the way we educate the poor. I wonder if I would find the same thing the Mexican pastors found, the same thing Easterly has found.

I keep a running list of “Things I Am Interested In.” This is on it.