Hey Bill Gates, Shut Up!
I want to punch Bill Gates in the face!
Well, not really. He's not a bad man, and I wouldn't be much of a role model if acted on every angry impulse. Not that I have to worry. The odds of a guy like Gates slipping into the punching range of a guy like me are virtually zero. Still, if I ever got the chance to talk to Gates, I'd tell him to stop being such an ultracrepidarian.
Ultracrepidarian: noting or pertaining to a person who criticizes, judges, or gives adviceoutside the area of his or her expertise.
Gates, obviously, is brilliant has done a ton of good for the world. I respect and admire him. But he's a classic example of what we do in this country way too much. When someone achieves great success in one area, we assume he or she is an expert at everything. We think that expertise and genius are transportable. Stephen Dubner and Steven Levitt point out the flaws of ultracrepidarianism in their latest book, THINK LIKE A FREAK.
Gates wants to improve American education. (Who doesn't?) His solution is to improve teaching. He consistently harps on the "We need better teachers" theme. In his May, 2013 TED talk, he suggest that teachers would be better if they got more feedback.
OK, I'll buy that. I mean, duh! Constructive feedback is critical in mastering anything. But because Gates doesn't teach or work in the American public school system, he doesn't get it. He doesn't get that the feedback many of us get is from administrators (and sometimes even other teachers) who can't, don't or haven't taught!
I have no problem with a master educator giving me feedback on my instructional methods. The chances of this happening, however, aren't much better than me meeting Gates. Some of worst educators I've ever known have been my "bosses." I don't want feedback from them.
The truth is, we teachers get stellar feedback every day – from our students. When what we're doing is working, we continue it. When it's not, we change. At least those of who truly want to help kids do.
This isn't about that, though. It's about our society's worship of Ultracrepidarianism. Because someone is good at one thing – art, athletics, business, computer science – it doesn't mean that person should be worshiped when they opine on anything. George Bernard Shaw, for example, was a legendary playwright and founded the London School of Economics (not a bad life), but he also told the world that vaccinations were a bad idea. Dennis Rodman was one of the best rebounders in NBA history, so he feels qualified to pontificate about U.S/North Korea relations. Yikes!
There are experts in everything. Let's seek them out and soak up what they have to say. But when they start pontificating outside their areas of proficiency, be careful. No pedestal is that big.