It surprised Alex Chernyakhovsky. He was looking at a way to predict how the bird flu epidemic of 2006 spread when he discovered, “The World Health Organization didn’t have any predictive programs; it was all reactive,” Alex says. “I couldn’t figure out how they were planning on preventing something they couldn’t predict.”
So, Alex got involved. The result is a ground-breaking computer model that predicts the way this serious disease spreads.
But, here’s the real surprise. Alex isn’t an “insider” expert epidemiologist. He isn’t a college graduate. In fact, he isn’t even in college. He’s still in high school, a 17-year old about to enter his senior year.
But, he is a creative thinker. And, he had a new idea about a serious problem that even the World Health Organization had not previously considered.
There is a message here for some of our educators. Non-educator groups are criticized by educators who are upset that “outsiders” are making observations and doing research on education. Instead of focusing on the facts, those educators try to shoot the messenger.
But, sometimes outsiders bring unique points of view to problems that result in important new insights and better solutions. It’s just as true for education as for medical science.
For example, in the 1980s John Jacob Cannell, a medical doctor, not an educator or a testing expert, discovered that all of his young patients in West Virginia were getting above average scores in school. Cannell knew these kids and their abilities well, and he understood those test results simply could not be correct.
Cannell began a study at his own expense that led to the discovery of massive test score inflation, which is now called the “Lake Woebegon Effect.” The effect is named after radio humorist Garrison Keelor’s mythical town where all children are above average.
Cannell’s discovery shocked the professional testing community, but it did help to explain why test scores were so high in American schools even as our academic standing was slipping in relation to the rest of the world.
So, whether its medicine or education, outsiders can make important contributions to our understanding. Mankind will be much better off once educators join the medical community in appreciating that fact and in taking full advantage of all knowledge, whatever the source.
By the way, the Cincinnati Enquirer reports young Alex Chernyakhovsky is now asking questions about predicting the spread of the swine flu. Thank goodness someone is.