I have to confess that Badges are one of those edu-topics that is a source of bemusement. I think I am clear on the mechanics of how they are supposed to function, and what they represent. But seeing how excited some very accomplished and smart thinkers get about badges, I keep thinking I must be missing something…
I recall David Wiley writing something like, ‘once people start getting jobs based on badges, the jig will be up for higher education as we know it.’ And maybe it will be. But for the time being, I want to suspend my befuddlement to share an example of alternate credentialing that can be less instrumental yet far more meaningful.
I’ve written in the past of a wild job I once had:
…six months working with perhaps the most unlikely and lowest-paid renovation crew ever assembled — mostly consisting of drug addicts and other misfits who were about to be evicted from the century-old Saskatoon building that was being gentrified. I was living in the building next door, not finishing my thesis, and was gradually swept in, working fourteen hour days and pretty much living inside the madness. It was a compelling contrast to graduate school. The project manager was fresh off a ten year stint in prison for drug-running, lived in an old converted schoolbus, and wrote striking songs of prairie freakerdom with titles like “Son of a Sodbuster” and “Lost in the Bathroom (I Took Too Much Acid)”… I never learned so much as I did with that job. I did framing, drywall, restored hardwood floors, plumbing (installing 30 toilets, and 20 vintage tubs, innumerable pipe patches), and all sorts of other things that continue to come in handy. I gave serious thought to giving up school and working a trade. I also got a close-up sense of what life is like for the poorest, most damaged and least privileged members of our society, and I hope I never forget those hard lessons.
Perhaps because of the contrast with my academic studies, I was immensely proud that I managed to succeed in this environment — not only learning the skills, but navigating a very intense and complex social environment. How do I know I succeeded? Because the day I was set to leave town, my Chainsaw Carpenter teacher arrived at my door, presenting me with a custom hand-crafted plaque, reading the following declaration with dramatic fanfare:
“Let it be known from this day forth that BRIAN KENNETH LAMB has successfully completed his Chainsaw Carpenter apprenticeship and has been elevated to Journeyman 4th Class. Dated December 5th 1996.”
An amazing moment, and the sense of satisfaction I had matches up with anything I’ve achieved since. My university degrees are in an envelope in a filing cabinet, but my Chainsaw Carpentry award sits on my desk, a constant reminder of a very meaningful learning experience.
I’m preparing to move on from another job this week, after ten years at UBC this is my second-last day. As expected, packing up the office space is proving to be one of the most arduous parts of moving on.
* Coda: After leaving Saskatoon, I soon lost touch with my Chainsaw Carpenter teacher. After writing the blog post I quoted above, I received a surprising and gratifying email from a pseudonymous but unmistakable source. He’s still doing the music in a big way, and every bit as wild as I remember.