Category Archives: Observations

Fallibility: Why It’s So Easy To Be Dumb

One of the important lessons professionals need to learn is how to reconcile the need for confidence in one’s expertise with the need to be mindful about human fallibility.  This is a life skill we cultivate throughout our careers.  In my view, learning to think “contextually” about professional life, calls upon learners to accept the inevitability of both human wisdom, and human fallibility, while avoiding the twin hazards of cynicism and hopelessness.

A decade or so ago, I talked by phone with a man who had served in many university leadership roles, including being the dean of three distinguished schools of education.  At the time, I was recovering from the stress and strain of a big structural  reorganization in my own College.  It was all over — all but the pain and loss that some of our faculty members felt, including me. We had helped to achieve the administrators’ goals while losing a lot of time that should have gone to promoting our own careers.  As a relatively new professor of education, I was troubled by what had happened, and bewildered by some of the questionable decisions administrators had made.

My distinguished colleague listened patiently, and then said something that proved to be something of a gift.

He said, “Well, I don’t know Jan. All I can say is that it’s just so easy to be dumb.”  He went on to give a couple of examples of decisions he had made in his role as a college dean that turned out badly because he just hadn’t seen the whole picture, or made faulty assumptions.

Here was someone whom I greatly admired, one of the brightest people I knew summing things up in a way that helped me accept my professional calamity and move on to higher ground.  It’s so easy to be dumb — an insight from someone who drew on his own wisdom to help a novice see things from a different point of view.  Useful insights are gifts, and anthropologically speaking, gifts circulate — they are passed along from one person to another, perhaps also from one field to another.   –Edprof


Welcome to the Ed Prof  – Educating Professionals Blog! I am not sure this is the ideal title, but must start somewhere.  It is the week before classes and faculty emails are flying. I am still “somewhere else” but will be back on campus soon. One of the things I hope to achieve is to alert visitors to resources of interest to people who are concerned about how we prepare professionals for work in complex organizations. Although there is always debate about which occupational groups are to be considered  professional, it seems to me that teachers, counselors, healthcare workers, social service providers all belong in this group.  Each group is a distinct cultural community with its own language, rules of conduct, standards, and fetishes. Yet, the task of “educating professionals” may well have common themes across fields.

A group of us met at the American Educational Studies Association Annual Meeting last fall to present papers on life in academe, focusing especially on how life in the academy affects intimate relationships. I was stunned by the depth of emotion, as well as the powerful insights shared at that session. Being a professor (or aspiring to become one)  is a good thing, but many of us have paid a price for the privilege.  Our families, partners and friends have paid a price as well.  Our group is exploring venues for publishing this work. More on this as things develop.

Enough said in this first entry.  Time for this professor to get back to “real” work.