Unwarranted Distinction

There is something outside my house that makes me laugh every time I go anywhere. Below is a photo of a house that is just around the corner from where I live, I can see about one quarter of it from my front door. As you can see in the photo there is a road in front of the house, and that road is the boundary line between the neighborhood that I officially live in and the neighborhood of the people that live in that house. What you can not tell from the photo is that house is really the only one on that side of the road, to the right and behind is just all field.

In my section of my neighborhood, 3 roads run perpendicular to that road you can see in the photo. Located at the end of each road, on the far side of the street, are my neighborhood’s garbage drop-off and collection depots. Each depot services one road, which is about 20 houses each, but none of them apply to the house that is pictured…because they officially do not live in this neighborhood. You can see where two of these garbage areas are in the photo by the circles, pretty much located at the corners of their lot.

I have no idea which day is these people’s garbage day or anything like that, but whenever that day is, that morning between 6 and 8am, they have to take their trash out to the main road (not pictured), around the fields and walk for 10-15 minutes to wherever their designated garbage area is located. This is despite two garbage areas of my neighborhood being within garbage bag throwing distance from their property. This is what makes me laugh all the time, garbage day or not. I’m often so easily amused.

In older times, societies used to rely much more on geographical distinctions to marks such things like towns or countries or whatnot. Thanks to certain technologies, and maybe a result of population growth, we are not subject to the tyranny of mountain and river distinctions as much anymore. As technology and and other changes liberate us from some distinctions, it is not up to humans to arbitrarily create where new distinctions lie. The results, like with the garbage depots, can be hilarious or even purely awful, as when people create racial or gender distinctions that have no business being there. A lifting of distinction means that by listening to a situation, we are able to find and prescribe the existing distinction that best suits that situation.

I use the adjective existing with caution here, but keep it because I want to relate this story with education. This is not a matter that goes all the way back to defining the reality of the Universe, because once we step into an Educational Universe we are all positivists to some degree. Unlike the collection of stars and suns and everything out there, we know exactly what lies on the outside of Educational Big Bangs. The creator of any Educational System is intention, the intention of learning. Ultimately, this always leads back to the learner and their decision or human right to study, but what they want to learn is always the essence of why any Educational System is created.

The red garage door on the left side of the photo, directly across the road form the house, is my neighborhood’s fire department. The firefighters are all on call volunteers that live the neighborhood. One of my friends volunteers for this group, so one day I asked him if there was a fire would he and the other volunteers go to help. He answered that of course he would, and I have no doubt that there even exists any moral decision at that point. But, I explained to him that was not exactly what I was asking and rephrased my question. I asked him if there were any incident at that house, who would be alerted: this neighborhood’s fire department or the other neighborhood’s one. (I should say, that what you see in the photo is the entire fire “department”, not part of it. The garage contains a wagon that needs to be wheeled over to the pond so that water can be pumped through the hose. So, being across the street can increase response time significantly.) My friend didn’t know the answer.

Human made, dreamed up distinctions have potentially ethical consequences. Educational Technology and the filling in of Distributed Knowledge spectrums of place and moment are great things…however they do not eliminate what is out there, they open it up for us to make better suited selections.

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3 thoughts on “Unwarranted Distinction

  1. Hi, I like your story, it is some real Japanese Wishdom 😉
    it is not up to humans to arbitrarily create where new distinctions lie. The key word is of course ‘arbitrary’, because we humans always create distinctions and discuss distinctions.

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  2. Your post started me thinking about distinctions and how individuals within systems are able to navigate the distinctions. I live on a corner lot in a small town. My driveway is on a side street, but my address on a major thoroughfare. I am suppose to put my garbage at the front of my house–on Tuesdays–due to my address. But, the garbage is kept near the garage, and I put it out on Wednesdays, with my neighbors on the side street. It’s easier on me and there’s less of a chance I will lose my garbage cans to vehicles speeding by the front of my house. I received approval from the street department to change my pick-up day and location because of my special distinction.

    The school system in this small town is unable or unwilling to deal with “children of distinction”. Classes must be taken in certain order, and if the class or instructor can not meet the needs of the child, it is seen as a deficiency in the child, not the system, not the instructor nor class. I can only imagine how difficult it is for instructors in the system to deal with this insanity, because as an “outsider” (parent, and someone who is not “native” to the small town) it was totally frustrating and insane. Rather than allow my daughter to drop a college level math class that she had no interest in, no desire to take and couldn’t understand the teacher’s methods (who was teaching the class for the first time ever) she was required to remain in this high school class and work on whatever other classwork she felt like. She wasn’t allowed to switch to the only other math class offered to high school seniors after 3 weeks in the semester when I told the instructor and administration that it was not suited to her interests or skill level! More than 40 years ago, I had the same experience with an advanced language class in a totally different local school system.

    In true, systems thinking, the small town street department could not deal with a dead cat I picked up from the middle of the road. I was told to take it back and put it in the road for 3 days–until they returned to work–if I wanted the dead animal picked up and disposed. (I mistakenly thought it was my daughter’s cat and removed it from the street.) I decided, better a dead cat rotting in my garbage can than stinking up a major thoroughfare.

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    • Thanks for your stories, J.Lynn. The one about “children of distinction” really strikes a chord, probably with many parents. We deal with similar issues here, as school systems are very different than the multicultural friendly ones back in Canada.

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