Lesson learned from our Fall meeting of the West Virginia School Board Association comes from a #1 New York Times Bestselling author’s presentation. David Epstein wrote RANGE: WHY GENERALISTS TRIUMPH IN A SPECIALIZED WORLD. He gave us a wonderful insight into why we who oversee the public education of our children and grandchildren need to guide our students to sample widely growing up as we are able to do in West Virginia. Yes, we are doing them a favor to have music, art, foreign language, 4-H, Scouts, and a wide variety of sports programs.
We are blessed, according to author Epstein, to live in a rural environment where hunting, fishing and animal husbandry are just a part of gaining a breadth of experiences for our students. This includes having the options provided by the Fred W. Eberle Technical School, where students gain practical trades like carpentry, auto body, mechanics, and electricity skill sets, among other options.
I chuckled when the author advocated for detours, for I know our country roads in Upshur County are not dead ends. Even when they get down to one-lane cow paths, they still open up again. Making house calls with my country doctor father sure showed me that. Our students will have vocational and life event detours. Statistically they will change careers up to five times in their 40 years of work.
RANGE forces me to rethink the nature of learning, thinking, and being. An optimal education and career path definitely needs to include plenty of out-of-doors play time so our students grow up as “generalists.” This makes a successful educated young person creative, agile and able to make connections.
“As experts silo themselves further while computers master more of the skills once reserved for highly focused humans, people who think broadly and embrace diverse experiences and perspectives will increasingly thrive,” Epstein writes. My Buckhannon-Upshur Junior High Principal Lemar Bond taught a class one day where the topic of getting an early skill set was advocated by some of us. We imagined truck driving as the way to go in life. Principal Bond acted alarmed that we would limit ourselves that way. He advised all of us to get as much education and life experiences as possible. His passion stayed with me. Now, I hear David Epstein making the same case with good science in his bestselling RANGE.
In the ballroom of the Charleston Marriott on September 13, star science writer Epstein convinced me that the future belongs to generalists. This is counter-intuitive to other teaching, as we are increasingly obsessed with specialization. My emphasis from his presentation is a margin note declaring the purpose of education is learning “How to be!”
My favorite story comes from the experience of Nintendo, a Japanese toy maker and now video game company. They chose to use what they called “lateral thinking with withered technology.” A tinkerer was hired to maintain their machines, but the company was so tiny there was not much to do. However, this man was an enthusiastic hobbyist: piano, ballroom dancing, choir, skin diving, model trains, working on cars and most of all “monozukuri” or “thing making.”
The rest is history, so the saying goes. Using technology of a cheap, handheld adding machine, Nintendo released a Donkey Kong game that sold 43.4 million units. Then came the hugely successful Nintendo Entertainment System and Nintendo Game Boy, followed by additional gaming systems still popular today. All this from a maintenance man who declared: “I have a sort of vague knowledge of everything.”