Believe it or not, that’s not an uncommon attitude. There are lots of people who are suspicious of teachers and educational institutions, as well as of anyone who has received a formal education in, well, just about anything (though, if you ask them about using an unqualified mechanic or doctor – other than themselves, of course – they would probably opt for the properly trained type instead).
The famous philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was frustrated by formal education, and it is what he wrote after leaving academia behind that has made him most famous. For him, “high culture” should be regarded as the better teacher. For others, it is “real experience” or “the school of hard knocks” that really counts. Still others like the sound of the status of being “self-taught”.
Of course, a little scepticism, even of educated and qualified professionals, is reasonable. Everyone is just another human being who is capable of error. But there should be little doubt that to the same extent that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” having lots of it can help reduce the risk of serious error significantly.
Often more important than mere knowledge, however, is the way in which it is gained. One can read a book or watch a video alone and gain some knowledge by it; but what most formal educational programs usually offer, that such self-study options cannot, is the refining experience of butting up against somebody else’s perspectives.
In our practice as lawyers to many condominium corporations, we frequently encounter both directors and other unit owners who presume their self-taught versions of condominium law are more accurate than whatever the experienced lawyers might tell them. Some do a decent job of it – affirming the fact that intelligence is not actually measured by formal educational achievement – but others are not so much on the mark; and it is often, ironically, those characters who display the most arrogance about their ideas, perspectives and self-acquired information.
The worst of these are the owners or directors whose pursuit of knowledge regarding condominium law has been narrowly focussed on simply justifying and supporting their private ideas or agendas. They aren’t really interested in knowing or applying the law as it is (which, unfortunately, is not always what anyone, including us, wants it to be); they just want to find an argument to use as a hammer or a shield in the effort to get their own way. It is in these cases that the dangers of a little knowledge are most pronounced.
Anyone whose objective in learning is simply to support, verify and justify what they think they already know, and who pursues it primarily through self-study, is most likely to come out of the experience not more educated but more entrenched, not with insight expanded but with tolerance for disagreement diminished. They will have heard what they want to hear and seen what they want to see and have done everything they can to avoid any information or opinion that might differ from their desired position.
News flash: That’s not a very good education.
Typically, the best education – the most valuable and enriching – is never done alone. Just as iron sharpens iron, that educational experience is best that gives you the opportunity to hear opinions you don’t like, to learn things you didn't know, and to correct ideas you might have wrong.
Our advice to every condominium director and unit owner who wants to learn more about the law that governs their communities is as follows: Don’t try to do it all alone, and don’t look only for those opinions that sound like your own. Instead, find others to study with, engage in discussions that challenge your perceptions, actively look for the opposite point of view, and try to sincerely understand why somebody else might think it is right.
Currently, in Canada (almost country-wide), the best opportunity for condominium owners and directors to obtain this kind of education is through the courses offered by the Canadian Condominium Institute (CCI). Other organizations try to compete, but few have access to the breadth of professional and non-professional experienced condominium stakeholders who are willing to share their knowledge and opinions about how condominiums work best, and none have the depth of experience and information that CCI has acquired for its courses over 35 years of serving the Canadian public.
We also note that under the recent changes to the Condominium Act, 1998 – yet to come into force – condominium directors in Ontario are going to have an obligation to be educated through one or more online government-supplied courses. However, as an online, individually accessed resource, these likely won’t provide the opportunities and benefits that engaging in a CCI class, seminar or conference will provide.