Mastership, Really?


Research has shown that when individuals are asked to self-assess their ability in relation to other people, many are prone to overestimate. It is referred to as the Dunning-Kruger effect, whereby people with lower ability tend to unduly overrate their talent or knowledge. The rationale researchers posit for this behavior/effect is that "when we are not good at a task, we do not know enough to accurately assess our ability. So, inexperience casts the illusion of expertise." Psychologists have several names to describe this acquired bias or blind spot. Illusory superiority and Lake Wobegon effect stand atop the pile. The quote from Adam McKay seems a perfect fit, "knowing a little, but thinking you know a lot." This illusion also applies to individuals who have watched something being done but have not actually done it on their own. Learning merely by seeing or hearing is often less effective than we believe. Guidance helps but experiential (hands-on) learning is essential. Additionally, researchers note that if you say or hear something often enough you will eventually convince yourself that it must be true. Inculcation and illusory truth effect. Individuals showing either effect usually exhibit an unwavering confidence. How could I possibly be wrong? Classic denial. Research has further concluded that familiarity can overpower rationality, but familiar and common do not necessarily mean true or best. In addition, life and experience have taught me that (1) people do not like to be told they are wrong (that there might be a better way) regardless, (2) many want to judge, but few are qualified to do so and (3) most people resist new and different, instead they seek the comfort of those who agree with their ideas -- often blindly defending them. This ignorance is called confirmation bias -- best offset by education, critical thinking and objectivity.


It is my experience that most drivers and many gardeners have an exaggerated sense of their ability. As regards gardening, one of the main reasons is the faux credential Master Gardener. Q: How can one be "master" of supremely challenging disciplines like gardening and botany merely having taken a short survey extension class and doing 50-hours of volunteer activity? The answer, you will not. Think more like 20,000 hours as the baseline for gardening mastership. Moreover, the test used to determine this title are ludicrous, both the testing format (taking the same test several times and being given the answers) and a passing score of 70%. I do not state this to be mean or insult (see Col. Jessup analogy in my Rantings Preface). I am making an objective assessment having audited the MG program to discover holes prior to writing my book -- FYI, the instructor was good. In addition, I have met and spoken to thousands of these so-called masters. Most have been kind, well-meaning and gardening hungry. I consider many of them friends. I like that they are interested in plants and gardening, but having "very great skill" (i.e., mastery) is another matter. Here is a 2017 online posting I discovered. "It [MGP] sounds good but it is a certification for amateur gardeners." Unfortunately, this statement confuses the meaning of amateur with novice or beginner rather than the literal translation "lover of."


If we really have so many "certified" masters -- there are many in my community -- one would think it should manifest as numerous fabulous private gardens, regardless of size. Why then are there so few? The answer: the participants (1) either do not practice -- how can they not if they truly love plants and gardening? OR (2) delude themselves into accepting the master myth because they want to believe. Wishful thinking. Furthermore, if a great university says it is true, it must be. Verification by association. A reality check will reveal otherwise. The program is a good idea, but the presumptive title and the low bar qualifying standard are troubling. Alas, the program often ends up being a social club, and a source of free labor for organizations, with the "masters" parading a bogus honorific -- essentially a scout badge. "I'm a master gardener" is a common utterance, but it is almost always false pride. If these deceived and too often pretentious masters were able to comprehend just how woefully short they are of actual mastery it might cause them to be less bumptious. Besides, the true master need not boast. -- I suggest that the benchmark for the title MG should be much higher, or the name changed (see pic) to reflect the true skill set, and that a dose of humility would help reduce the omnipresent hubris -- much like sulfur on an overly sweet (alkaline) soil.


I want people to be involved with plants, gardening and nature, that is the reason I published a reference textbook, offer classes, give presentations and have this website. I also want people to be more objective, rational and realistic -- gardening and life in general. I have more to say on the subject in my Rantings book -- see especially #6 in the Introduction.



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