THE POWER OF THE MARGIN

“Take from the margin to rethink the whole.”
–Lani Guinier

Over a month ago I met with a group of educators for the purpose of planning English Language Development (ELD) professional learning sessions. As we discussed the importance of good instruction during designated ELD, I was reminded of a post I wrote a while back entitled Macro from the Micro. Here’s an excerpt:

In Tim Ferriss’s book Tools of Titans, he explains a principle used by chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin called “learning the macro from the micro.” This approach avoids the common way of learning by focusing on a single component (the micro) in order to learn and understand the whole (macro).

The ELD planning group discussed how refining one’s practice for designated ELD has the potential for producing a better teacher in all content areas. The eventual title of the ELD session would become Get Good at ELD to Get Good at Everything.

I was reminded of this planning session as I recently finished reading Martin N. Davidson’s excellent book The End of Diversity As We Know It in which he writes:

The marginal voice is the one that holds the seed of the next great idea, the next powerful invention. We can’t create and innovate without the voice and vision that challenge our familiar and comfortable way of thinking and operating.

Davidson then gives two examples that show how the “marginal voice is the one that holds the seed of the next great idea.” First, he describes how a company named MedTown installed touch screens at a new distribution center because the technology was more advantageous for individuals with developmental disabilities. Turned out the touch screens, once installed, helped workflow for all employees, so all the old keyboards were replaced with the touch screen technology.

Second, sidewalk ramps were built across the country as a result of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. These ramps allowed people in wheelchairs easy access to curbs. Today, almost all walkways have ramps, but you’ll notice not just people in wheelchairs use the ramps. Skaters, bikers, parents pushing strollers, and many other people use the ramps to access walkways.

As the quote at the top of this post states, the margin was used to rethink the whole in the examples Davidson provides. For those of us in the field of education, it’s important we ponder two things:

  1. How can building my own personal capacity in ELD instruction make me a better teacher overall?

  2. How can we take from the margin to rethink the whole so all students benefit?

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