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RANT FROM APRIL 2001
"Credentialism"
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     Here's another ism, to go along with racism, sexism and
ageism.  Let's call it "credentialism."
     Credentialism was invented by schools and is enforced mostly
by bureaus.  The idea at the bottom of it is that it is
impossible to learn anything, except in a school.  Added to that
preposterously false notion is another -- that unless the school
process resulted in a degree of some kind, nothing was learned.
     Credentialism accounts for many of the ailments suffered by
"the education establishment."  Teachers are those who have
earned certain degrees in schools, not those who have learned
things by living and paying attention, and who, for some
unaccountable reason like children and can communicate with them. 
A large number of teachers do not like children very much, I have
observed, nor adult learners either for that matter.  Instead
they look upon them as some kind of obstacle course to be
negotiated on the path to some other credentialistically
determined goal, like "administration."
     Educational administrators manage their mini-empires through
credentialism.  "Jump through these hoops.  Do back-flips on
these bars.  You must display your brown nose badge.  You can't
do what you suggest because you haven't committed enough
coprophagia.  [From the Greek:  'copros' = 'dung,' 'phagein' =
"to eat."]  Meanwhile, please don't walk on the turf that has
been reserved for those who have kissed the proper posteriors the
proper number of times."
     I taught high school in two prestigious private schools in
our town for ten years, some decades ago, without credentials. 
Near the middle of that episode I went to the Education
Department of our local university, transcripts in hand, to find
out what it would take to obtain a teaching certificate.  The
professor, reeking and reeling of excess alcohol, "in the middle
of the day," glared at the records of my earlier school work and
finally said, "No education courses here.  So you need eighteen
hours of education classes, and six hours of student teaching."
     "I'm teaching now full time at Albuquerque Academy, and have
been for seven years," I said.
     "Well, you could take it in the summer session," he mumbled.
     I wasn't referring to my schedule but rather my experience
and expertise.  He didn't get it.  I gathered up my papers in
disgust and left and never looked back.
     Years later I offered a class on dreams and dream
interpretation to the Continuing Education Department at the same
university.  I had conducted dream groups for many years, but the
class was rejected, because I am not a psychiatrist.  Only
psychiatrists are allowed to discuss dreams with people, or to
know anything about them.
     Recently, I sent a book proposal to a major publisher who
specializes in "free-thought" material.  The rejection letter
stated that they did not publish such works, except by authors
"with university connections."  Ordinary persons who do not have
university connections are not expected to be able to think
freely, or to write about it.  The phrase "free thought" was invented
back when only church officials were allowed to think, supposedly.  
Evidently we haven't made much progress since the late Middle Ages,
by now the university has replaced the church.
     I found an instance of how credentialism infected art, two
centuries ago.  William Blake, now regarded as simply brilliant
in art as well as poetry, apprenticed himself to an engraver, to
keep from starving, and it became a hindrance to full artistic
recognition for him later.  His genius was never quite
acceptable, because his medium was held in such low regard.  And
one can easily imagine the credentialist response to his poetry: 
"Why is an engraver trying to write poetry?  What does he know
about it?  How could he possibly have anything to say about
anything?  Where did he get a degree in creative writing?"
     The on-going flap about who wrote THE COMPLEAT WORKS OF
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE is pure credentialism.  How could a working
actor possibly know all that?  Where did he learn it?  He never
went to Oxford, or Cambridge!  Those masterpieces must have been
written by Roger Bacon, or Ben Jonson.  And that poetry!  Where
did that come from?
     The way around credentialism, for an individual, is to make
a very great deal of money, somehow, anyhow.  "When you're rich,
they think you really know."  Then, feel free to buy a school and
establish your own system of credentials.  Buy a degree, or
several.  Buy an art museum and decide whose art goes into it and
what credentials the artists need.  Buy a publishing company -- a
big one, I mean -- and publish what you like, with or without
credentials.  Determine for yourself what the credentials will be.

                            *   *   *
Copyright © 2001 Harry Willson

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