Things I Know 172 of 365: The container matters little if at all

Your essay should be typed, double-spaced on standard-sized paper (8.5″ x 11″) with 1″ margins on all sides.

– Purdue Online Writing Lab

In freshman English, Mrs. Miller would not accept any papers with “the fringies on them.” If we were turning in an essay from a spiral-bound notebook and hadn’t torn along the perforations, we were required to remove the “fringes” before submitting our work.

Not removing said “fringes” would result in the loss of a letter grade for our overall score.

Far beyond writing in a spiral-bound notebook, I find my current classwork governed by the exacting standards of the American Psychological Association. Margins, I have learned, are to be 1” at all times.

The quality of my writing will, of course, begin to degenerate were my margins to shrink or expand beyond the 1” mark.

A few months ago, unthinkingly, irresponsibly, stupidly, I submitted a multi-page document without changing the default margins from their 1.25” measurements.

Luckily, my stalwart instructor was paying attention to what mattered most and dutifully docked three points from 20 for my final score.

Each of these examples serves as a reminder of the standard training at the K-12 and collegiate levels meant to bring about an understanding of the importance of the container.

Sunday, I witnessed another example.

Following the demonstration of the systems and structures his state had worked to put in place to facilitate discussions of professional learning for otherwise isolated or siloed teachers, a presenter opened the floor to questions from the assembled masses.

“Who moderates the discussions?”

“Who hosts all this?”

“What’s the name of the program you’re using?”

“Who’s paying for the installation?”

One after another, the masses queried the fringes.

They wanted to understand the container, not the contents.

They were consumed by the tool, not its purpose.

For nearly half an our, we’d been privy to an explanation of how teachers were working together to share knowledge, build practices and deepen learning for their students. Where a road of conversation had been paved before us, we admired the curb rather than asking where it could lead.

I understand the fascination with the containers of our learning. We’ve been trained from the early years of our educations to believe there was a correct way and an incorrect way to store our learning – be it double spacing or indenting.

What few of us ever heard or were encouraged to learn was that knowledge and skills are not solids with corresponding intellectual tupperware in which we should store them for the correct moments. Instead, these things are the soup of learning. They are fluid and malleable – shifting to fit the shapes and structures of the situations to which we apply them.

While container certainly matters for audience. As it is important when considering the end goals, no situation has a set container. Some fit better than others.

A document margin of 4.5 on all sides would interrupt the transmission of message.

But no iteration of the communication of learning should preclude the next iteration of learning.

Containers, should fit our purposes, allowing thinking we pour into those containers should shift according to need.