What’s an Outlier?
In my article on education, I mentioned how some students, often the systemically disobedient, tend to be some of the most intelligent. These individuals, outliers from the normal distribution in more ways than one, can be some of the greatest thinkers we know.
But what exactly is an outlier? What sets people apart from the standard tendencies, responses and thoughts that most people have? In essence, what makes some of these outlandish thinkers different?
In this context, an outlier is someone who stands separate from the main body of individuals. This could be in any area: IQ, following rules, standardized test scores, most mangoes eaten per capita, you get the idea.
The point of this whole concept is to identify why some of the social heretics among us are dismissed as looney before their great genius is revealed. I think this goes back to how our schools and, society in general, are structured. We tend to reward uniformity in thought and action, a reverence for the status-quo.
However, it can be hard to cultivate progress and originality of thought when we reward those who support what is already widely agreed upon. The reform I’d like to see is one where students, throughout the whole of their educational experience have more autonomy.
I believe the best learning and the learning that begets the most passion for the work, is one where there is choice of content and freedom of expression. That may sound vague, but let me explain.
The Symbiosis of Learning
Throughout high school and even college, I found myself at odds so many times between what I wanted to study and what I was being told to study. I found that in my spare time I was still reading and watching videos about history, biology, even mathematics. Why? Because I was a writer and I needed to know about those things to write my stories.
Now, is everyone a writer? Obviously not, but that doesn’t mean that people’s passions won’t lead them to study in multiple areas. Learning should be a symbiotic experience, one where the student can see the full breadth of what they’re learning in a wider context.
How mathematics is related to physics and the laws that govern our world. How chemistry relates to biology and the compounds that react in our bodies. How English and pyschology are related to each other in the realm of human thought and how the language we speak affects how we think. When students are given freedom to seek out knowledge of their own accord in areas that they’re passionate about, these relationships become more evident to them.
The Invisible Hand of Education
The concept of the invisible hand comes from economics and how it relates to a market economy’s tendency to regulate itself given the autonomy to act alone. This is a beautiful concept Adam Smith came up with. He said, “Laissez-faire,” or, let the people operate as they see fit and things will work out.
I believe there’s an invisible hand in the realm of education. Humans are creative and innovative by nature, and by allowing people to focus on their drive toward different subjects, we can see a regulation in expertise and creative focus. Namely, allow people to create and study what lights a fire in their chest and all the desired areas of study and productivity will be met.
And for those areas that are less desirable to study and attract less people, I would argue that we are already seeing this problem being solved with the advancement of technology in certain sectors of the economy.
What About Those Outliers?
So, where do outliers fall into this picture? Outliers are those who are already following this path even in the current system. They can be proactive about the things they’re passionate about, seeking new ways to improve and learn about them.
Outliers are a microcosm of how a system like this would operate. Would an autonomous system like this work for everyone? Of course not, but the current system doesn’t work for everyone either, and I talk to more and more people everyday who are dissatisfied with the course of their education.
There would be fallouts in a system like this, just as there are failures of our current system, but I believe the overall social and economic good that would result outweighs those negative externalities unlike the current system. As always, thanks for reading, and let me know what you think.
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