Storage and Flow

Roads are still icy and treacherous today in the aftermath of the Big Winter Storm, so it’s another day without school for students, teachers, and Powers That Be in These Parts.  The announcement came fairly early, and it probably wasn’t a surprise to much of anyone.  If it’s as sunny and warmish today as the forecast claims, we might get temperatures above freezing this afternoon, and we might be able to have some form of a school day tomorrow.  Friends where it always snows are perplexed: they wonder why folks in These Parts don’t buy snow-removal equipment.  If you live in These Parts, though, it’s obvious: snow is rare, and plows are expensive, and the most common winter weather Around Here is an ice storm.  You can’t plow ice, and you usually can’t prevent it with salt or make it passable with sand.  All you can really do with an ice storm is wait for the ice to melt.  If you’ve read Douglas Rushkoff’s book Present Shock, as I’ve been doing for the past several days, you might recognize  an issue of storage and flow going on here.  You can store up a response to the storms that happens where it always snows; you can store salt, sand, snow plows, and drivers, bring them out when snowstorms start.  But ice storms are more about flow.

When The Dog and I took our morning walk, the temperature said 10 degrees and the wind said “colder than that!”  But a partly sunny day with low humidity, the kind of day that usually comes right after a winter storm in These Parts, had already evaporated much of the icy slush that filled streets and driveways yesterday.  Another dry, sunny day, and most roads will probably be passable.  No need to store and spend snow-removal resources when the flow itself will clear the roads.

Storage and flow.  I’m glad I read about them yesterday, and I especially appreciated Rushkoff’s point about how storage technologies (from interest-bearing central currencies to static information collections like encyclopedias) fail when the situation calls for flow.  Factory-school models, like the industrial factories they emulate, are all about storage, storage of everything from knowledge (in students’ heads, in textbooks, in standardized test scores) to future workers (in neat categories according to how much knowledge they’ve been able to store) to time itself.  At That Meeting on Monday, one topic of discussion was the possibility of extra tutoring (or “remediation”) sessions beyond the last-minute Saturday ones we’ve “always” had.  Might it make sense, the agenda asked, to have some Saturday sessions earlier in the semester, to “remediate” before the last minute?  Ms. X thought that was a great idea, and so did Mr. Y, who has “so much to cover” that he “goes over new stuff” at his Saturday sessions.

I’m not opposed to extra time for those who need it, but I’d like to see the regular time used thoughtfully.  For Ms. X and Mr. Y, of course, that regular time is all about storage.  “Go over” this and “present” that, hoping that the “bad, lazy kids” will remember it … and if they don’t remember, they should “come to tutoring.”  What do you do at the tutoring sessions? I asked.  “Go over” things, of course … but Ms. X has recently realized that you shouldn’t just “go over the homework for tomorrow” the way she once did.  She’s trying to “go over” more foundational stuff, things that her students “didn’t get” in previous courses.  I wondered if the data reports, which Ms. X had neatly stored and organized in a notebook, might be helpful in deciding what to “go over,” in deciding which students should be invited to which tutoring sessions.  That sounded hard to Ms. X, and “nobody ever showed us how to do that,” but she was intrigued by the possibilities.  So was Mr. Y … but change will be hard for both of them.

Change is always hard, of course, but it’s harder when you’re making a truly fundamental change.  Ms. X and Mr. Y probably wouldn’t verbalize it this way, but they both became teachers because they were good at storage of information.  They enjoy knowing stuff, and they enjoy knowing how to do stuff, and they enjoy sharing that knowledge and helping others store it for themselves.  Unfortunately for Ms. X and Mr. Y, though, their students live and work in a world of flow.  Why do you hate the textbook? I asked a group of particularly intelligent, articulate students a few years ago, and B told me: “It’s flat and dead.”  B, who’s graduated from college now and has a job whose title I don’t quite understand, knew quite well when she was 16 or 17 that stored knowledge rots and dies.  So did her classmates, who challenged and inspired and encouraged me to get rid of the textbook and focus on creating stories together.  In other words, they challenged and inspired me to move from storage to flow.

Storage isn’t all bad, of course, any more than flow is all good.  They’re different techniques, different tools, each one better for some things, less effective for others.  As Rushkoff points out, problems arise when you attempt to use a storage tool in a flow situation, or vice versa. On a snowy day, I was grateful for the storage of food in refrigerator, freezer, and cupboards, but if I’d left the soup ingredients there, it would have been a cold, hungry day.  I was grateful for the gas company’s storage of energy, but if I’d left it stored, turned off the heat, it would have been a cold, unpleasant day.  And I was grateful for the flow that started clearing the icy roads … but that wouldn’t have happened, I realize, if the dry air hadn’t been there to store the evaporated moisture.

I wonder what other new insights await as we store up some things, use up some stored resources, and flow as needed through the days to come.

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Published in: on January 30, 2014 at 1:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

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