Originally Posted by Bob Barnes
Good on ya', Bushwacker, for bringing this up. Certainly, as others have noted, there are politics in any organization that is not an absolute dictatorship. PSIA, of course, is no exception.
challenging the norm is the only way true progression is ever going to happen.
You're right, BWPA. Good is the enemy of great. Innovation and consistency represent a polarity of seemingly incompatible opposites, yet both are critical in any endeavor like PSIA. Maintaining, training, and certifying to standards must work hand in hand with leadership, experimentation, and innovation. The polarity must be embraced, but it is rarely a comfortable or easy relationship.
PSIA is an organization of some 30,000 members, if I'm not mistaken. That's 30,000 individual, unique personalities, representing every age group, education level and field of expertise, including ski instructors who have dedicated decades of their lives to the profession, others who are but the most casual, part-time dabblers, and everything in between. PSIA should somehow answer to "the membership," but when membership is so incredibly diverse, with so many different interests and needs, how is it possible? PSIA should somehow answer to the skiing public as well, of course (in my opinion), seeking to train and certify instructors to provide the best possible mountain experience, training, and coaching possible. On the other hand, since PSIA provides education and training opportunities only--and does not, in fact, exercise any control whatsoever over what is actually taught at individual ski schools across the country--individual instructors and ski schools, not PSIA, must be held accountable for what and how they teach.
There is a great deal of misinformation out there as to what, exactly, PSIA does and does not do. For the record (as a long-time PSIA-Rocky Mountain Examiner and author of many of the training and educational materials for our division), PSIA does NOT teach instructors how or what to teach. Instead, PSIA seeks to develop the background, skill, and understanding in both the technical cause-and-effect relationships of biomechanics, physics, equipment, and movement patterns, and the educational aspects of contemporary teaching and learning theory, to better enable instructors to develop their own lesson plans. We don't teach "a progression" or a particular type of turn. We don't advocate a particular technique. We train instructors to develop their own progressions, based on the needs and goals of their individual students, built on a strong foundation of understanding, knowledge, and skill. If any instructors--PSIA or otherwise--are restricted to teaching a certain way, a particular progression, or a certain technique, it is a directive from the particular program or program director for whom they work. PSIA seeks to provide a background that will enable instructors to be successful in any program, to adapt to any needs. Ideally, a PSIA instructor is versed not in "good vs
. bad," but in cause and effect.
That's not to say that individual instructors do not have their own opinions and preferences. As humans, it's impossible not to. And therein lies the problem--or at least, a large part of it. As an instructor seeking certification, you are going to face individuals who, no matter how diligently they try to be objective, can't help but have their own biases and prejudices. In my experience, at least in my division of PSIA, I can tell you that probably 95% of our Education Staff (Examiners) are professional, earnest, honest people who want nothing more than to evaluate you as fairly and objectively as they can. They want to train you well, and they want you to pass the exam if (but only if) you are prepared. They are confident enough to allow you to express differences of opinion--provided you can support your point of view effectively. I've often said that if you come up with the same solution as I do, you'll probably pass, but if you want to blow me away, come up with something different, something I haven't thought of, and support it. Yes, there are still a few Examiners who think that "guess what I'm thinking" is a legitimate way to conduct an exam, and who struggle with anything that is controversial, "out of the box," or innovative. Our Education Staff verification program that requires Examiners to reverify their skills and understanding of our exam tasks has helped eliminate much of the inconsistency. And we have continued to tweak our exam formats to make them increasingly objective and consistent, and to make it impossible for any one Examiner bias to skew the results. Nothing is perfect--and by many accounts, we still have a long ways to go--but I can assure you that we're trying.
Nevertheless, I think it's possible that even some of our best attempts to solve the problem are causing problems themselves. As I've said, we must embrace the "Weemsian Polarity" of both supporting creativity and innovation on one hand and testing consistent, objective, measurable criteria on the other. To make the exam experience more transparent and consistent for candidates (and Examiners as well), we have become increasingly "process-oriented." In the old days, an Examiner would just take a group of skiers out for a day and do just about whatever he or she wanted in order to evaluate the candidates against a sometimes vague standard. Today, the exam process is defined from start to finish, with locations, tasks, and even the questions Examiners ask, largely predetermined. The movement analysis section follows a rigorous, mostly inflexible format that has the advantage of being predictable and "trainable," but the disadvantage of largely forcing different individuals with diverse thought processes into the same mold. In short, while a cornerstone of PSIA's teaching philosophy has long been "outcome orientation," our exams have become increasingly process-oriented. The loose "old days format" encouraged creativity on both the parts of the Examiner and the candidates, but also encouraged the perception (if not the reality) of favoritism and inconsistency (and politics). The new format goes a long way to make the experience consistent and predictable, but also may stifle creativity. Eliminating the "human" part of the exam minimizes both human error and, arguably, humanism. In testing for what is ultimately a highly personal, creative, individualized "guest-centered" profession, we have gone to great lengths to make our exams impersonal and objective. Have we thrown out both the bathwater and the baby?
I don't wish to be an apologist for PSIA. I've supported the organization for a very long time, but I've certainly had my frustrations and disagreements as well. It's not perfect, but again, I contend that the imperfections are anything but intentional, and that good people are continuously working (mostly volunteering) to improve it.
In any case, some of the information and suggestions in this thread bear further examination, to say the least. PSIA, like any human training and (especially) testing organization, will always be vulnerable to cries of favoritism, subjectivity, and politics. But to suggest that it's "100%" political is pretty unsupportable. MasterMagician--while you are certainly entitled to your opinions, it's beyond absurd to say things like "PSIA is a club with a specific agenda ... [which is] to sell as many pair of new skis at the mountain's ski shop as possible.
" Come on--that's not an opinion--it's just plain ridiculous. PSIA does not, for one thing, sell skis--at all. You may well have worked for a ski school that operated on that questionable mission and "agenda," but PSIA certainly had nothing to do with it. There may be legitimate things to blame PSIA for, but your argument is weakened when you resort to far-fetched notions like this one. You're entitled to your preferences, too--like skiing on "straight" skis. For what it's worth, any good PSIA instructor would have no problem helping you get more out of even such dated equipment, and the fact (not opinion) is that, while the tools have improved by most accounts, the laws of physics they are meant to exploit have not changed at all. I won't "jump down your throat" (as you suggest)--and you are certainly welcome to your opinions--but "because the proper technique for them will never change" strikes me as one of the weaker arguments I've heard for wanting to ski on "old straight skis." Regardless, it's entirely up to you what you ski on, but I'm not sure how your personal gear preferences are relevant to a discussion of "politics" in PSIA.
I will point out one area that I think has become a weakness of PSIA--although I don't think that PSIA itself is really to blame. Largely due to changes in the ski industry as a whole, and possibly even to social changes in the world in general, the average career of a ski instructor has become exceedingly brief--a year or maybe two for many people. A resort near me claims to have hired 200 brand new instructors (half its staff) this season. In an old PSIA teaching manual, the author estimated that it takes, on average, a minimum of 7 years experience before an instructor starts to become truly and consistently effective. Wikipedia
suggests that "many accounts of the development of expertise emphasize that it comes about through long periods of deliberate practice. In many domains of expertise estimates of 10 years experience or 10,000 hours deliberate practice are common."
By these criteria, most instructors these days are hardly "experts." Instructor training programs--including PSIA's Level 1 Certification--largely focus on an accelerated practical approach meant to get an instructor somewhat up to speed in a very short time. Many instructors are teaching live students with no more than 30 hours of specific training themselves. While it's reasonably easy to impart a certain amount of "knowledge" in a short time, developing true understanding
and experience takes far longer. In a well-known learning model, Benjamin Bloom identified six stages in the development of understanding: Knowledge-Comprehension-Application-Analysis-Synthesis-Evaluation. I won't go into detail--easily found with a little searching on the Web--but it's worth noting that "knowledge" is but the very first rung on the ladder.
EpicSki's instruction forums themselves are a perfect example of the danger of "a little knowledge." Unfortunately, accumulation of "knowledge" is as far as many instructors (and even more non-instructors) get. More importantly, that limitation includes even some instructors who become trainers, Examiners, and Team members...vast quantities of unquestioned, unexamined, questionable "knowledge." And "knowledge," unlike the higher levels of understanding, is typically black and white--you either "know" it or you don't--or you "know" something different. There is no gray area, no "polarity," no room for alternative perspectives. Arguments at that level (witness again so many instructional threads here) don't usually amount to much, or reach much of a resolution.
I personally will never not challenge ideas and thoughts. "Just because I say so" is not a good enough answer for my students why should it be a good enough answer for me?
Well said again, Bushwacker--and admirable. It's the main reason why I always insist that you never believe anything I tell you. (That's not to say that you should categorically disbelieve it, either. Don't believe anything I tell you, or anything anyone else tells you, or even anything you believe yourself. Question and challenge everything!) But when you're dealing with (or being examined by) someone with only "knowledge," you can never win by challenging or questioning their dogma. All I can say is, grin and bear it, and try to find ways to remain true to your own ideals without unnecessarily raising any red flags for examiners who may lack deep understanding. There are known controversial "hot button" terms and concepts that you'd be best to avoid if possible. There are times when the less said, the better. Remember that, while even the most dogmatic types can sometimes be swayed by brilliant argument and explanation of your "alternate" point of view, it can take a lot more time than you have in an exam or a selection process. I hate to say this--wish it were not true--but there may be better times and places to express your unique perspectives than in an exam or selection.
Finally, on the other side of the coin, many examiners actually do have a wealth of experience and a very deep understanding. I can attest to the fact that many exam candidates actually lack the understanding to "get" why they did not pass an exam, or a component of an exam. I failed my first Full Cert exam, quite some time ago, and for years I thought--honestly believed--that I should have passed it, that it must have been just politics. It wasn't until years later that I had gained the perspective that allowed me to see why I had legitimately failed that segment of the exam. "Evaluation"--the job of an examiner--represents the highest level of Bloom's Taxonomy of understanding, and it should surprise few that most exam candidates who are just getting a grasp on some basic concepts would lack that level of understanding.
My advice (from someone who has learned some of this the hard way): Keep questioning. Keep challenging. Keep exploring. But heed MojoMan's warning (post #4 above) about being confrontational. Choose your battles--and your battlegrounds--with care. Challenge productively, politely, and with respect for the likelihood that the person you're challenging may also hold a valid perspective--and may well have a deeper understanding of some aspects, at least, than you. Be prepared to offer justification and explanation for your conflicting ideas. Seek deeper understanding, always. Where you know you hold a controversial viewpoint, practice your explanation and justification so you may more effectively persuade others to consider your ideas.