The perdocent exploits the claim of not having been given the necessary resources or taught how to do something, as a means of ‘not understanding’, of taking control, or to avoid doing any actual work. They offer intimidating critique as to how it ‘really should be done’, but somehow just never seem to risk actually doing it themselves.
As a management professional, no matter their appeal to credential, never let a perdocent take control. Always seek to maintain familiarity with the perdocent’s gaslighting tactics of control, ego, laziness, and passive-aggressive dishonesty.
During my career as head of both a research lab and systems development and engineering firm, I have run into the circumstance several times wherein a fully educated and trained professional could not learn, nor apply their skills inside new challenges, unless inside the context of a formal course of instruction. For instance, I once asked a two-years out of school systems engineer to apply random sampling analysis in order to ascertain a critical figure from United States International Trade Association consumer good imports data. The team was then going to use the results of this to determine specific value chain node-loading required in our client’s requested project. Instead of seeking more information to help understand and formulate the scope of the question, he retorted, “I have not been trained how to do that”. I responded, “All I am asking of you is to conduct some textbook random sampling to detect failure rates in this class of goods. The data you need in order to accomplish this is already in our data mart. The rest of the team will develop the value chain inputs from there.”
Without telling me, he shirked his assignment, subsequently appealing to his mentor (my peer) in order to plead his case to be excused from the three-hour task. This was very basic sample analysis, second year in undergraduate school type stuff for his major degree.1 Moreover, the reality was that through his surprise appeal to my peer, the individual was pretending to tender expert commentary as to the viability and methodology of a value chain analysis – just not in so many words. A practice I and the team were well recognized for, through over a decade of hard client work up to that point. Despite his B-average, he did not learn in school how the skills were actually applied, nor did he want to do any work now, but he damn well thought that he should also be in charge of the work.
Without rubric, the perdocent is lost.
I ended up having to run the sampling analysis myself. Thereafter, the team went on to lead a very successful and industry-celebrated project. Needless to say, that individual’s tenure with the company was cut short subsequent to this incident. This was a case of the Peter Principle in action. The person had been exposed as to their inability to perform outside the context of an academic environment, or in a slightly more complex context than the one inside of which they had learned. He had developed a skill in memorizing a procedure for an exam, but did not really understand what he had ‘learned’ – in the end spinning this as my fault. Such are the familiar tactics of negative Peters, and as well the script-following perdocent.
What therefore is (a) perdocent?
/PER-dŭ-sĕnt; from Latin perdoceo – teach, educate, drill, train/ – the state of pretense, lack in diligence, or intellectual compromise wherein one bears an inability to learn and apply, outside the context of a course of instruction. One who follows a rubric or procedure well and can pass an exam, however lacks true erudition or ability to recall or apply their learning outside such context. The belief that legitimate learning can only occur in an academic structured environment. The opposite of an autodidact or antonym of autodidactic. Also a method of rhetorical grandstanding, in that one may claim that they have not been given access to or been taught something, so therefore it is invalid or does not exist.
The Warning Flags of Perdocense
The means of detecting a perdocent may involve one or more of the following warning flags.
- A professional whose greatest actual accomplishment over time was obtaining a degree.
- A ginormous and well-concealed ego.
- Rarely either an A or C student. Exploited the cheat or easier way to getting an acceptable grade.
- Hides behind complex-looking equations/functions (usually representing simple relationships), employed to intimidate or as substitute for competence.
- Has an oft-spoken-of hobby of an extremely lofty or time-engulfing nature (skydiving, tour surfing, motorcycle racing, band member, etc.) which often takes their attentions away from work. You could not fully understand their hobby.
- Never misses a social event for this same hobby.
- A pattern of avoidance of work tasks. Can’t do the work because you have not given him what he needs. It’s your fault really.
- Well-honed subtle tactics in backstabbing peers/outsiders.
- Attempts to recreate in the work environment their old high school or college fraternity/sorority atmosphere, or the last context in which they were in control.
- A habit of pointing fingers, rather than circumspection.
- Only applies ‘skepticism’ or doubt to that with which he disagrees.
- A skill in manipulating organizational superiors into conflict, especially as a means to divert accountability from self.
- Amazing skill in timing conflicts with required work tasks.
- Fixated on how to punctuate the sentence correctly; fails to understand the sentence itself.
- Abject fear of being seen as making a mistake. Joins the correct clique.
- Makes or implies the syllogism, “If __________ existed, I would know about it.”
- Is happy to review others’ work, but never to create their own.
- Appeals to science, or lofty institutions of which you are not part.
- Senses which beliefs the most powerful group is invested in, and adopts those same beliefs.
- Little sincere work or ability inside inquiry or critical questions.
- Perpetually in critique mode, as opposed to ‘how can I help?’
- Does not know what value is, not great at budgeting or purchasing decisions.
- Meticulously avoids circumstances which expose their lack of ability.
- Maintains an air of ‘I know how it really should be done’. But never seems to actually do it.
- Always and intentionally the outsider to a project team. Habitually diverted from task by something you are not privy to or do not understand.
- Sick or facing a personal disaster/injury all throughout the workday, miraculously healed for dinner/entertaining of clients.
- Gossips, not for epicariacy, but rather as a weapon and for control.
- Is vengeance-minded, unless vengeance activity means extra work.
- Is intolerant and loud about the one thing they do understand.
- Fails to ‘understand’ any time they do not want to understand.
- Their past accomplishments are always greater than the now at hand.
- Uses humor as an artifice of attack, or at inappropriate times when seriousness and focus are called for.
- Rarely holds a job more than two years.
- Habitual employment of intimidating buzzwords as opposed to precision of language.
- Grammar and logic are often non-sequitur, replete with subject/object confusion.
- References are from far back in time, as opposed to recent.
- Always signing up for training courses, never applies one to actual work.
- Frequently appeals to authority and credential.
- Succeeds on how he wears a suit, or on his perceived potential alone.
- Regards those around him as culturally inferior – especially those who might ask him to do work or be held accountable.
The perdocent can be both the B-student who fails to replicate or apply such academic success into real life; or as well can be that person who exploits the unstructured nature of a challenge, as a means to avoid doing any hard work inside it. Both foibles fall under the guise of ‘not having been trained how to do this’.
A man of genius makes no mistakes; his errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.~ James Joyce, Author
I would rather work with someone who failed three or four times and then got it right, than either the person who knew the right answer from the beginning or regarded the task as beneath them.~ The Ethical Skeptic
Which serves to then introduce a character very familiar to those who undertake the risk of research and inference.
The High & Low Poseur
If you select A, then B was the right choice. If you select B, then A was the right choice. If you select for A and B, then you are over-complicating. They have a counter for every answer, in their memorized quiver. This style of poseur is afraid to risk being wrong and/or lacks the skill to create their own work. They always know ‘how it should really be done’, but never can seem to actually do it themself – and rather, only bear the ability to critique ideas they disdain or the work of others they dislike.
An ethical skeptic in contrast, makes many mistakes in the process of creative hard work and skills applied inside of novel asymmetric challenge. But she actually learns the subject as well through this process. She will be made fun-of or treated as an outsider by the perdocent. Her mistakes however, become occult trophies earned along a pathway to true success, one which the perdocent will never realize.
The Ethical Skeptic, “Perdocent – Opposite of the Autodidact”; The Ethical Skeptic, WordPress, 18 Dec 2021; Web, https://theethicalskeptic.com/?p=58790
- His mentor accused me of assigning him the task because ‘I knew he might struggle at it, and to make him look bad.’ I responded that I wanted to see how he performed when required to apply something he had learned in college. We were not babysitters. Conversely, can one continue to learn and improve as part of their professional development? If they don’t have the approach, can they devise one, and what is their quality of thought in this process? Missteps would have been fine because that is exactly how we learn our trade – but his ego was terrified of being seen as wrong. Missteps are corrected, and through that process one then ‘learns’. It was not that ‘he had not been taught how to do that’, but rather that he now refused to risk learning outside an academic cocoon. Such activity was also beneath him. THAT was the issue flagged. This had been a foible of my peer, he thought that unless you learned something in school, you had no business trying to study or apply it.
As usual, very interesting post. It made me think of Paulo Freire’s ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ and some of Prof Denis Rancourt’s teaching techniques (essentially Freire’s).
Another point. The problem with autodidactics is that there are gaps in the their knowledge, usually this is compensated for by their inherent humble nature. But it can be a problem if they don’t realise they may have these gaps.
Yes – ‘gaps in knowledge’ exposure is the domain of philosophy. Not to answer/fill those gaps, but to detect and manage them. Those well versed in philosophy know the gaps are there, those versed only in knowledge at the expense of philosophy fail to know they are there. Hence why we rarely have paradigm shifts among the autodidact – but frequently among the ‘experts’. The latter rarely perceives when they are wrong or the information set is vastly incomplete.
Some of this is actually caused by environments that condition people to believe they can’t do anything without some sort of official “training” of some sort. An extreme example I encountered once was at a large animal shelter where the volunteer coordinator didn’t want to let anyone volunteer to take adoption promotional photos of dogs unless they had “dog training”, even though they weren’t handing the dogs at all (someone else with “dog training” would be doing that). In this situation there seemed to be some job security concerns where some paid employees were worried about having their jobs replaced… Read more »
This is the key. Control of thought and embargoed information.
Oh my goodness! This is one of my graduate professors to the T. He was supposed to be the lead on curriculum development but instead stonewalled any improvements to the program. It was so frustrating as our curriculum was outdated. He also had astonishingly never produced his own research in 20 years–and got away with it, yet he would rip apart any doc students work without being constructive. He made excuses not to show up for my dissertation proposal and defense, which in a small department was pretty telling. By the way, we were the same age, but I had… Read more »
That sounds like a nightmare. I hope you have fared well since Gena!
The measure of an out of control ego, is not in how people tend to regard themselves – but rather is measured in these subtle hints and behaviors.
I like to see myself as an autodidact, but it embarrasses me to acknowledge that there is more than a little of “the dark side” in my character.
Im a retired doctor, and see very clearly how our education pre-disposes us to regurgitating the errors of others and calling that “education”.