Drinking from the fire hydrant

Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.
Johann Wolfgang von Geothe

I have two great addictions in life, and I’ve come to realise that, as I approach 40, both are taking their toll.

The first is sugar. That’s an easy one to comprehend, a hard one to tackle but one I know how do deal with. I’ve just got to deal with it.

The second is knowledge. I love to know stuff. For example, I can tell you that the father of the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I was called Henry The Fowler because when German nobles came to offer Henry the kingship of Germany he was looking after his game birds; I can tell you that the standard gauge of British railways has its roots in the wheelbases of Roman carts; I can tell you that the most prolific goalscorer in men’s football is Artur Friedenreich; I can tell you that one of the impacts of the Gutenberg press was an increase in demand for spectacles because up until mass publishing took hold no-one realised how short- and long-sighted they actually were.

Now, where has this knowledge taken me? Well in terms of direct value – not very far (I did once audition for ‘The Chase’ – but didn’t get through). Indirectly it has given me a sense of the world and develop a philosophical point of view that’s helped shape my leadership style. But now I face a problem. I feel like I’ve run out of room for more knowledge. Let me explain.

I’ve immersed myself in the evidence-based and research-based side of education. I’ve signed up for the Chartered College of Teaching, I read an inordinate amount of books and even have contributed to educational discourse in some ways. I can hold court and conversation with most about the pressing education matters of the day, convincingly (if I don’t say so myself). I’ve always felt like there was more to know and more to say, and up to now, I’ve been eating it all up and churning it back out relentlessly. But, I now find myself at an impasse.

See, when educational discourse is blogs, papers and discussions, it’s easy to digest and form your own sense of where you want to go. Then the blogs, papers and discussions turn into books, magazines and conferences, and because you’ve invested in the early conversations then you feel obliged to invested in these too (I’ve got a reading pile the size of a small tower block that I’ve still to tackle). Now there are podcasts and videocasts and webinars and whilst again, I invested in these, what I’m noticing is this: there is very little new to say.

It sounds terrible to actually put that on paper but I truly believe it. I feel like there aren’t new ideas and approaches being posited that will tackle the issues of our educational systems but actually just new means of positing the same ideas. Twitter doesn’t help – an educational debate can come and go or get blown out of all proportion in the blink of an eye; sometimes without you knowing where the whole discourse started from.

The other problem is that this has a negative impact on one’s attentional capacity. You see, like sugar, a little learning is OK. Part of a healthy mental diet, shall we say. But when you’re gorging on every blog, book, podcast, webinar, magazine and feed that’s out there, it’s a) knackering b) the precursor to a mental hangover and c) going to result in a lack of focus. Concentration? Pah! Ironically there’s a ton of research out there to back this up – but in the spirit of this post you’ll just have to trust me.

So, I’m taking a personal stand. I’m cutting off the knowledge drip, and focusing on what’s in front of me. I’m aware of the irony of posting more information into the world whilst proclaiming my information diet, but that’s where I’m headed.

I’ve took time off from social media before. But here I go again. No Twitter, no Feedly.

I’m going to stop reading multiple books and read one at a time, slowly.

Time to concentrate on applying, not knowing; doing, not saying.

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