Information Barriers

When I where my college-professor hat–and no, I don’t where a hat when I’m professing–my colleagues and I notice the students who seem destined to pay for a couple of semesters of school receiving virtually no benefit from the ordeal. Some of us might dismiss such students as “just not college material.” Others wag their heads at the inane things those students do–you know, like skipping four weeks of classes and then asking, “Did I miss anything?”

On reflection, we tend to recognize that these “not-college-material” students tend not to be mentally deficient but instead informationally deficient. These kids typically come from families where college and academic achievement are not family traditions.  It’s not that their brothers, sisters, parents, uncles, aunts, and so forth don’t want their family’s students to succeed. These supportive folk just don’t know where, in the great Wal-Mart of life, the keys to academic success are shelved.

There are barriers–information barriers–for people who don’t come from academically inclined families. These barriers tend to keep those students from achieving success as easily, as fast, or as flawlessly as those whose families have made them academic heirs.

I’m reminded of this information when I put on my agrarian hat–and yes, I do wear a hat most of the time in that role. Recently, Penny and I have decided to buy a couple of feeder pigs. In reading up on the matter, I’ve recognized that I don’t know a thing about raising pigs. Until recently, I didn’t know a barrow from a gilt. Most notably, I had no idea of how to procure a pig. You can’t mail order them like you do chickens. But where do you find a source.

We’ve scanned the bulletin boards at Tractor Supply and read through the items on Craigslist (where, it seems, the only pigs ever listed are potbellies). To date, we’ve encountered no likely sources. I mentioned this to a friend from church, who works at the nearest feed store, hoping she’d know where to direct us.  She suggested that I talk to her husband.

So Wednesday night, at the close of a church service, her husband, Scott, approached me. The resulting pig talk gathered Brad and Nessa around us. Joe and Kathy came in toward the end. Everybody had their input. Somebody suggested the Kingsville Auction while several mentioned local pig people. “You ought to call the Dents,” somebody said. “The Van Horns have always had a few sows,” somebody else offered. What I realized in short order was that I had come from a porcine-impaired family.  Apparently, I existed in the midst of a land of swinish plenty, but had no direct access to that information.

I strongly believe that the information necessary for academic success should be a possession coveted by everybody and bequeathed by every parent to every child. On the other hand, I’m not so sure that hog information needs to be quite so universally valued. Still, I look at the vast amount of information–about gardening, livestock, and much more–that has been lost from the knowledge stores of average American families. I see plenty of people who can work wonders on Facebook and name the last thirty winners of the NCAA basketball tournament, but who have no clue how to do simple plumbing or boil water.

Information barriers are inevitable. We can’t all know everything. We can’t bequeath an infinite store of knowledge to our progeny. This shouldn’t be our goal, but identifying and breaking through the most important information barriers we face in our lives should be a constant concern and mission.