On Data and Stories

It’s been fascinating to hear stories of when people first discovered the term “TCK.”  For many people, it was liberating—to know that someone had put words to their story and that there were other people like them.

I can’t remember the first time I learned the term.  I don’t think that I can realistically say that I’ve always known it, but I can’t quite pinpoint an age.  I can say that it was frequently referred to by teachers at my school, and so I’ve had an awareness of it for most of my teenage life, if not earlier.

And to be honest, part of me resented that term as a child.

I didn’t resent it because it didn’t fit (it completely does!).  instead, I wondered how someone who didn’t know me could dare to predict how I would feel six months, one year, or even five years into my future.

I feared being put into a box.  But moreso, I feared that my story would be lost in a world of data.

Today as an educator, I see data everywhere.  As a classroom teacher, I compiled data on my students’ reading levels and test scores in order to strategize growth.  In my current organization, I consolidate data based on seminars we run.  On Twitter every morning, I see data points make their rounds through social networking (this morning it was, “The illiteracy rate of women in Lebanon is decreasing to attain less than 2% at the age 20”).

Data is great. It helps to tell a story. But my fear is that data becomes the story. When we focus on data, it’s easy to lose the people behind it. Unfortunately, it was something that I allowed to happen with my students. It was the same fear that I had when I was labeled as a TCK (don’t worry Mom and Dad, I don’t resent the fact that you raised me as a TCK).

But I’ve also come to realize that if we’re not careful, data can quickly become the reason for everything and can take the place of people. In education, it too often becomes the reason we educate—and it shouldn’t be that way. It can be a reason and a way to measure (and it should be!), but it should not be the only reason. We educate so that people can share and understand stories beyond data.

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2 thoughts on “On Data and Stories

  1. Jude says:

    Thanks for sharing, Lauren. In the context of your remark on data and not losing perspective of the individual, you MUST look at the opening chapters of Dickens’s novel Hard Times, where in the Gradgrind school Sissy Jupe refuses to engage data, here Utilitarian and Malthusian data. She holds ferociously to the dignity and integrity of the individual in the face of it. The nineteenth century was the birthplace of big data as folks struggled to deal with burgeoning population and Irish migration. Darwinian evolution is also about how to represent data.

    Nice piece.

    • lowen17 says:

      Thanks Jude! I’m admittedly a little rusty on my Dickens, and will have to read that book–sounds like a fascinating connection and an issue that the world has been/will continue to struggle with.

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