Education Opinion

Experience Matters: How Expertise Can Be a Life-or-Death Issue

By Megan M. Allen — March 04, 2017 2 min read
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I’ve been thinking a lot about expertise lately. Not just with some happenings within federal government and political changes, but because of eyelash pit vipers. Let me explain.

I traveled to Costa Rica two years ago and was super eager to go hiking. I had planned a virtual hiking-palooza. And I felt like I was really prepared to do it. I have probably hundreds of hours of hiking experience. Growing up in Florida, I could tell you at least 10 pointers for hiking in alligator mating season. I had read every field guide and travel guide; I had scoured more articles than I could count. And my husband was an outdoor wilderness major, so we were all set for Costa Rica. Practically experts, right?

When we arrived to our first lodge, we were surprised when found out that we couldn’t hike without a guide.

What? Really?

It didn’t make sense. We had prepared extensively and were ready to tackle anything Costa Rica could throw our way.

But what we really had was a false sense of expertise. Here’s why.

Within 5 minutes of our first hike-led by an expert guide-we ran into this guy.

And we didn’t run into him, but our guide carefully pointed him out to us. He was hiding right on the side of trail, about arm level height. So if you were walking on the side of the trail and swinging your arms more widely, you were out of luck.

This guy is an eyelash pit viper. He is an ambush predator who has one of the fastest strikes for a snake, because he preys on birds and hummingbirds. His venom is also neurotoxic, affecting both your cardiovascular and nervous system. His venom can also cause loss of limbs and death for adults.

But we didn’t just meet this one guy. We also met him.

And then this venomous fellow.

Three eyelash pit vipers. One hike.

Not only did our expert guide prevent us from getting hurt or dying, but he was also able to identify these through deep camouflage and teach us how to do so as well. He knew exactly what he was doing, he was trained extensively, and he had many years of experience.

Expertise matters outside of education, and it does inside education as well.

I just read the Death of Expertise by Tom Nichols, in which he states:

Experts come in many flavors. Education enables it, but practitioners in a field acquire expertise with experience; usually the combination of the two is the true mark of expertise.

Today I’m taking a moment to be thankful for the flavor of expertise that saved my life and taught me a valuable lesson outside of education. Here’s to embracing that lesson inside education as well.

Expertise matters. Experience matters. Aren’t the futures of our students just as precious and valuable?

Photos courtesy of the author and Mike Flynn

The opinions expressed in An Edugeek’s Guide to K-12 Practice and Policy are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.