Philosophy of Learning – Practice Wisdom

לַעֲשׂוֹת – (to do, to make) learn by doing, practice wisdom

The imprecise world of Social Work science places a heavy emphasis on continuous reflection upon past experience. In their terminology this constant review with a supervisor of the past week’s sessions is called “practice wisdom” and it is a necessary component in the Social Work field. Every discipline and almost every job has practice wisdom, learning to do what cannot be taught in the classroom. Even the janitor learns how to wield a broom and mop to reach the tightest corners – this is practice wisdom too.

The peculiar nature of practice wisdom is that it is untestable. In the U.S.A. system of Social Work licensing, a social worker cannot advance to supervisor or higher without a Master’s Degree and a licensing test for the LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker). For many states the LCSW is taken at a computer center and it is multiple choice. Professors warn their students to take the test as close to finishing the Master’s Degree as possible. The warning is because the test only covers what is taught in school and the candidate can be easily tripped up by practice wisdom that tends to deviate from classroom study. Imagine failing a test because you know too much rather than too little.

Practice Wisdom is often described as learning by doing. This is not the haphazard method of experimenting but the application of known knowledge to confirm its soundness and to continue forward. Practice wisdom is act, review, correct, and then act again.

Long time drivers use practice wisdom when they are focused on their driving. They anticipate probable behaviors of other vehicles and even identify potential problems ahead before they approach too close. A new driver is still far too aware of pedals on the floor, three mirrors, on-going and on-coming traffic, and turn signals to be able to see some of the involved traffic patterns. By definition bad drivers do not recognize traffic patterns or usual driver behaviors, learning nothing about their own defensive driving. A good driver is not about the number of hours behind the wheel but the number of hours in the driver’s seat focused on driving.

The difference between repetition and practice wisdom is the use of focus and formal review. In the famous or infamous text “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, one of the outstanding examples is of the wealthy businessman who stayed home on Saturday nights reviewing and identifying every mistake made during the last week as a painful but necessary ritual. Dale Carnegie was describing a man who used practice wisdom to attain success in his business.

No one likes to review their mistakes. None enjoy having another examine their work, looking for weaknesses and offering suggestions of different methods that lead to better outcomes. Criticism, even constructive criticism, is uncomfortable and yet practice wisdom is the commodity we use to gain promotion, attract better clients and write better. College degrees are a great foundation but practice wisdom is the method of advancement.

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