A visit from Gus Andrews is always refreshing and invigorating as we explore some of the intellectual links in our mutual networks. So, last Wednesday, February 12, we talked, among other things, about the efforts of the organization where she works (she will have to provide the link…) to convince people around the world to use encryption to communicate in ways that, perhaps, governments and other cannot listen in. One of the problem is that it is hard to identify who are these people and, when members of plausible audiences are identified, convince them that this encryption is the solution to a problem many do not know they have. Some already use VPN (whatever that is, and however it works–it will advertise my ignorance here) and tell representatives of the institution that this works well enough for their purposes.
Now, this is a classic problem in adult education when potential teachees cannot be caught and wittingly or not, transformed into students whose knowledge can then be assessed. It is of course also a problem in the mandatory public education of children and young adults in schools and colleges. But there it is more a matter of sub-rosa resistance. Adults may listen to experts and accept being taught by them but expertise, as such, is rarely enough. One can coerce adults to take mandated courses in various forms of what used to be called “re-education” (safe driving, sexual harassment, etc.) but state coercion can only go so far. There actually is an academic field of “adult education” in schools of education where courses with titles like “How adults learn are” taught. I am not specifically in that field but, of course, most of what I, along with many my students of the past decade or more (including Gus Andrews, of course), have been concerned with.
Mostly, though, we have been concerned with collective self-education when adults seek new knowledge and devise new ways to gain it. This is what Jacotot’s students did when they taught themselves French by reading a French-Flemish version of Fenelon’s Telemaque. What Gus’s institution is trying to accomplish is more akin to what experts upon experts keep trying to accomplish when they tell whoever will listen that one should not smoke, eat more vegetables, devise stronger passwords, etc…
The questions that came to my mind later in the day of Gus’ visit concerned the experts’ ignorance about a whole range of issues:
- From the exact location of the people to teach: how are “we” to find them? Where should we look?
- to the extent to people prior knowledge and or experience with the experts’ expertise;
- to the exact nature of the ignorance the experts’ teaching might alleviate;
- And so on and so forth.
The big issue is that experts are not always (mostly?) not aware of their own ignorance about all these matters and are more likely to blame (or patronize) the people for the inability to listen to the expert and learn from them. In medicine, this produces a whole literature on “patient resistance. In field of adult education, it produces much discussion of the properties of adult and their learning.
We need to convince the world of experts, and particularly those who fund research, that they need to find out about their own ignorance and its consequences—particularly when what the experts have to offer is ostensibly valuable.