In praise of the anomalies

“Hi, my name’s Tod, and I am an anomaly.”

I am not a Millennial, so I can’t really say that I am special, or that we are all special. I am from near the end of the Boomer generation and so I don’t think I ever got a trophy for just showing up. I did learn (in high school) that the easiest way to win awards, was to submit applications in categories no one else was interested in. That is the story of my multiple FFA awards.

Being an anomaly does not make me special. (My eyes do that.) I am an anomaly for a number of reasons. I want to focus on the aspect of being a failed physics/math double major, with an intervening education in military. I doubt that I am the only one with a background like this, but I suspect it is relatively rare. In any event, I think it provides a distinctive way in which to look at the world. You can get some idea of what other people are doing a studio art degree (at lease those on LinkedIn) here.

Part of the brilliance of American education is that it can create people like me for the possibility of useful, happy accidents. Yesterday, John Warner’s post at Just Visiting inspired an extensive Twitter conversation which I have Storified here. Some of the Tweets are missing, but as you will see, it was an extensive discussion about the intersection between institutional research and Big Data. It starts from Warner’s perspective of overuse of automated systems and Big Data to obscure the need to solve the tough problems of access, affordability, and human interaction to create learning (I’m seriously paraphrasing here) in the pursuit of efficiencies and education-widget results. Both John Hetts and Jeffery Alan Johnson make very thoughtful comments about what these can be, what they shouldn’t be, and how they reflect what has always been happening.

I tend to be torn on these issues. I live in a work life where I am surrounded by folks who want to spend less on education while making it better. Those folks surrounding me are themselves surrounded by folks arguing that we should spend more. I think data-based decision-making is hugely important and holds great promise for improving human outcomes. On the other hand, I think accidents and unforced pathways hold great promise for individuals and society. Certainly there is risk and cost associated with these accidents, but the rewards are potentially unlimited.

Educationally and career-wise, I am not sure I would have done anything different, save study more and take advantage of more opportunities. I hate the idea of a world where we can’t afford such accidental pathways to happen. I also hate the idea that so many students leave college with debt and no credential and no apparent lasting benefit.

So, how can we allow the one and improve the other?



Be nice. It won't hurt either of us.

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