In Present Like A Pro, their book on professional public speaking, Cyndi Maxey and Kevin E. O'Connor suggest that teachers sometimes let their expertise stand in the way of good teaching:

  • Too often when we present we think of ourselves as experts. We are experts, of course, but we should not believe our own advertising. That wrongheaded approach often befalls other experts; it’s an attitude that says, “The audience should come to me.” We then rely on lecture as the only means of communicating.

  • In the scientific community, for example, this is widespread, accepted, and unfortunate. Often, we have heard scientists come out of a meeting lauding the expert for her knowledge, but shaking their heads out of boredom or frustration. Experts tend to rely on superior knowledge. Many experts are teachers with superior knowledge. They just aren’t master teachers. (227-228)

02/12/14; 10:30AM

In the evening, baby when the sun goes down

Ain't it lonely when you're not around

02/06/14; 17:35PM

I'm reading early drafts of short essays written for an English class. They are fine and will grow in revision, so I'm not worried. But they bring to mind the contrast between school essays and the great tradition of the essay as a literary form.

School essays show a teacher that a student was paying attention lately in class and often enough over the years to cough up a credible account of something. The credibility comes from obeying the formal school rules and proving you know the basics about the assigned topic. Nothing new is required. No fresh contact with the world of experience, no new ripples in the ocean of ideas. The product is fabricated in familiar ways out of pre-approved materials. If you succeed, you have gone a step further in earning your journeyman card in whatever trade you will someday pursue.

Essays in the literary tradition invent their own organization on a case-by-case basis. They count as evidence whatever the writer can persuade us counts as evidence. They generally take a closer look at an experience we tend to take for granted, and they see something new there that has implications in the ocean of ideas. They don't have the last word about anything, though, because they aren't pulling rank. They do persuade, however, because their sentences cut through common sense, cliché, and preconception to something fresh. It's almost impossible to write this kind of essay without giving a reader a sense of who you are and how you think and feel, and so these essays are full of personality when they are done, as a side effect of doing the real work of the essay.

The two kinds of essays are profoundly different from each other. Nobody expects a school essay to be read again after the teacher has graded it. A literary essay, however, can remain alive for centuries.

02/02/14; 10:30AM

In a key paragraph of a brief Guardian article, Dan Gillmor implies that academics and other kinds of experts should have not an option but a professional obligation to write regularly and clearly for a wider audience than their workplace peers:

  • Another is the value blogging brings to the creators when done right. Blogging has helped liberate academics from the publishing racket that does as much, in my view, to hide useful information as surface it. Its informal tone is readable, as opposed to way too much academic prose. Blogs can make sometime abstruse topics understandable for the rest of us who don't know the jargon; we just want to learn something. Lawyers and scientists are great examples of people whose blogging demystifies their worlds. If we could only read their writings in journals and the occasional op-ed column, we'd know much less.
02/01/14; 18:10PM

Last built: Sun, Feb 23, 2014 at 10:53 AM

By Ken Smith, Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 6:10 PM.