Monday, February 25, 2013

Expert risk takers

Decisions not to pursue a course of action unless we are reasonably certain of success. Taking the safe path.  Calculating the odds.  Weighing the alternatives and choosing with care.  One really can't argue with any of these.  On the other hand, there would be no air travel, vaccines, tall buildings, or world records if everyone calculated, weighed, and chose safely.

Why is there not room for both in my workplace, my class, my family...and my life?  And what is the role of education?  What about the role of learning?

I recently watched Erin McKean talk about lexicography (that seems a safe enough topic) and was struck by her assertion that "paper is the enemy of words"...that the book-shaped repository for words is self-limiting.  What makes these statements powerful is that Erin McKean is a lexicographer who loves books and words with a passion I admire. Able to embrace both the historical paper dictionary and the limitless online dictionary, McKean provides both reassurance and challenge:
There will still be paper dictionaries.  When cars became the dominant mode of transportation, we didn't round up all the horses and shoot them.
Exploring alternatives does not necessarily eliminate the historical voice.  What if embracing both the limits and the limitless allows more people into the conversation?  If encouraging risk is important, perhaps the challenge is being open to the who, what, when, why, and how questions that all curious and creative people ask.  They just ask them differently...or refuse the accept the old answers.

I am not advocating foolish or ill-advised risk in the classroom or in life.  Rather, I am wondering why we ceased to provide the solid foundation of knowledge that allows room for experimentation, risk (failure?), discovery, and innovation. It's the experts who seem to make the best risk-takers.

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