07 August 2012

On being a charlatan

Old joke: two old hands discussing a newcomer with lots of ideas; "They say he's a 'guru'." "Why do they call him that?" "Because they can't spell 'charlatan'."

Yesterday I met a former colleague on the street. She has just retired and we chatted about the Factory (as my partner refers to the university). The conversation turned to qualifications for teaching, and the various routes to getting them; she asked about mine;

"I haven't got any." I said. She expressed astonishment... so I explained:

"My whole career has been based on false pretences. I taught social workers for over twenty years without ever having been a social worker, and then I taught teachers without having a teaching qualification."

(As the conversation went on, I was able to say that while I had drifted into social work education, I had been appointed to my later senior post by a panel who knew all my background--I have never conned anyone about it. And as for [post-compulsory] teacher education, I may not have a professional qualification, but I did have a quarter-century of experience and a Master's in it and a related Doctorate by the time I was appointed. And then there was the one-week course I was sent on by mistake in 1967 which ran out of ideas by Wednesday afternoon...)

I've since been thinking about what (if anything), this "means"*.

I am under no illusions: I ended up in the School of Education because of some horse-trading in an institutional merger in the mid-90s. Despite my record, the dominant institution could not accept having a social work department headed by someone without a professional qualification--that was fine by me, because the occupation as a whole was getting increasingly toxic. It remained amicable and effective for our team, but not so for our students and the practitioners in the field--so we can only speculate about what it was like for the poor clients (sorry! "Service users").

I've never been an "insider". That's had a couple of consequences;
  • I'm seen as the archetypal ivory-towered out-of-touch academic, with a string of degrees and without a clue about the "real world".  That has been a challenge; particularly in my social work education days, teaching courses to qualify social workers to perform statutory (ASW/AMHP) duties under the Mental Health Act, and taking them through possible practice scenarios; I couldn't claim I'd "been there, done that", as a couple of my colleagues could. Instead I had to become an empathic "sink" for the cumulative experience of the hundreds of practitioners we worked with, sharing their experiences rather than mine. It's been a brilliant discipline, but I don't know how to share it. No, "reflection" is not it.
  • But I have been able to maintain some distance from the hegemonic discourses (sorry! "taken-for-granted ways of talking about work stuff") of the discipline. I've added the theory (and encountered the ideology) after the practice. I had 12 years' teaching experience before I went for my M.Ed. (and most of the rest of the class had a similar background). The principal lesson I took away from those two (part-time) years was not to pay attention to academic educationalists, and to distrust much of what passes for research in education. That is because I only took the programme, in "Teacher and Higher Education" because there was none in "Social Work Education", but it was as close as I could get.
Swings and roundabouts.

*       Of course it doesn't mean any single thing... (I make this point to forestall commenters who write directly to me to make such fatuous points without being prepared to subject their inanities to public derision [I wish] on the blog comments.

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