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We judge others by the pieces of paper they've got. I think that is wrong - there is more to it, there must be.

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Continuing on with the Wizard of Oz theme (See my previous post - there’s so much to learn from this movie) - here is a little rage, screed, rant about credentials.

See this video excerpt I put together from a Malcolm Gladwell talk for some background - how there is NO, zero, zilch, zip evidence that getting a piece of paper through a school of education, makes you a better teacher. I’ve written about this previously and how it is such a horrible barrier to entry for the teaching profession - demanding credentials.


  1. belief in or reliance on academic or other formal qualifications as the best measure of a person's intelligence or ability to do a particular job. "Credentialism is to a large degree responsible for people assuming that they need a degree"

Now, I’m no Peter Thiel illusionary, romantic calling for the death of formal education as we know it. If you remember the story, Thiel the billionaire offered students $$$ to drop out of college and start a business. I’ve heard great things about that. However, it isn’t a solution for everyone. Formal education is here to stay.

I have diplomas, certificates up the gazoo. Yesterday I was reflecting on my years of formal education. See, today, kids are returning to school, the school year is starting here in Korea. So, I counted up my own years sitting in classrooms as a student. 21 years! 2+ decades. Incredible amount of time. But at least I got some pieces of paper as a result. Though for the life of me, don’t know where to find any of them.

I think, we far too strongly, value credentials over merit and Thiel has a point. Especially in some fields like education where there is no formal, explicit skill-base on which to train and educate for. Of course, experience will help you do the job but even experience isn’t as high an effect size as personal qualities, motivation, commitment when it comes to teaching. Even new teachers do just as well as veterans according to recent research. There is also evidence that teachers attending a pre-service teacher training certification program under-perform in the classroom, those that didn’t,

I thought society was moving away from credentials - given our DIY, internet knowledge based world. But I’m wrong, it’s roaring on. It’s getting ridiculous in some domains. There is a course and a “must pass go” for almost everything. Even dogwalkers now need a piece of paper in most cities. You can even get a certificate and become a knight.

What this “certification” mania has done is really weaken the value of the piece of paper itself. I know that sounds illogical but it’s what is happening. Education, the learning is now ALL about just getting the piece of paper. It’s no longer about the process, the journey but the outcome, that piece of mana from heaven, paper.

That’s had a terrible effect on classrooms and training for almost anything. Intrinsic motivation has been melted by the hot iron of doing well on the test that defines your exit and awarding of the certificate. Students don’t want to think, they just want to know what will be on the test, memorize it, pass and then forget it all. It’s sad. But I see this dynamic even in middle schools. Pavlovian pedagogy has evolved as a result too.

I think some of our over valuation of our certificates/diplomas/awards/medals is rooted in what is called the endowment effect. Once we get the piece of paper, we over-value it, solely because it is now “us”, “ours”, a part of who we are. And thus, this rebounds into society itself over-valuing these pieces of paper.

I urge education especially, to value more the experiences in school than the outcomes. Value a student’s enthusiasm for learning rather than their obedience to perform. Make assessment fuller, more formative, more evolving and co-creational. See schooling as about the content of one’s character not the color or quality of the diploma.

I’ll end my disorganized rant with a joke. Might make some sense. Also, see this one about ChatGPT - it has some relationship to this topic also. ChatGPT seems so good but under the hood, it is all about cosmetics - just like so much of our education.

A man walks into a pet store and asks to see the parrots.  The store owner shows him two beautiful parrots. One for $5,000 and one for $10,000. The man asks, why the difference in price.

The store owner answers, “The first one sings every aria Mozart wrote. But the second, sings all of Mozart and Wagner too.”  “However, there is one out back for $30,000.”

“Holy cow!” the man says. “What can that parrot do?”

The man answers, “We don’t know, he’s totally quiet.” “But, he does have a diploma and the other two call him Maestro.”

All about teaching, teaching English, ed-tech and learning language.
David Deubelbeiss