A Tale of Credentialed People in a Far Away Galaxy

This is a tale of what happened when a contingent of curious people traveled across the galaxy to meet a planet of credentialed people.

Meet the People of Credentialaca

In a far away galaxy, an orderly people lived on the planet know as Credentialaca. These people mastered the science of credentials. At birth, parents received a credential for the child. They called it a Birth Certificate. Children also received a credential that assigned a special number to them, a number that stayed with throughout life, allowing for much easier tracking across one’s life and contexts. Permission to drive legally came with several credentials. The driver needed to earn a driving credential based upon evidence of competence to drive. Then, to own a vehicle, that required three more credentials, one that you place on the front and back of the vehicle. The second verified ownership of vehicle. Still another verified that you secured the appropriate insurance coverage in case of an accident.

The Credentialed World

This extended far beyond driving. A legal union required a credential. Improving your home required one or more credentials. Traveling from one part of the world to another required a credential. Owning a pet required a credential. Enjoying wildlife in many areas required a credential. Starting a business required a credential. Even some religious groups established credentials and documents connected to membership or access to various services. Many organizations used credentials to permit entry or access. Even dying came with the issuing of a final “death credential.”

Credentialed Education

This spread to every aspect of  life. Yet, the hallmark of Credentialaca’s orderly world existed in the education system. In each class, students earned points resulting in a sort of temporary credential, a summary of a student’s earned points in a class. These points added up in each class, and the school system used a special credential to document a learner’s achievements from class to class and grade to grade. They called it a transcript. At different levels, learners who met the minimum requirements earned a celebrated credential called a diploma. One level diploma provided potential access to the next level diploma. In some areas, a single learner might earn five or more diplomas at different levels, eventually providing rights to practice in a field like medicine, law, or teaching.

Of course, not having the proper credentials on this planet ensured a certain path to pain and poverty. Those with the right credentials received the best jobs and the best healthcare. They obtained greater voice and choice in society. They gained the most powerful positions in society. They also enjoyed life in the safest communities.

The Orderly and Credentialed Life

Every day, the people of this orderly world celebrated and used their many credentials. They worked hard to earn the next credential. They displayed the credentials for which they were most proud. Some even created special decals and messages on their clothing and vehicles to show their credential pride. Some credentials carried such clout that a single glance at one of these decals was enough to conjure admiration or envy. People strolled through their days wearing, displaying, discussing, and pursuing their credentials. In general, the more credentialed the person, the more powerful and/or admired.

The Clash of Two Worlds

One day something happened that disrupted the happy and orderly world of Credentialaca. At this time, travel from one planet to another rarely occurred. Inhabitants of different planets in the galaxy knew about each other but they did not typically travel from one planet to the next. Yet, on this day, a large contingent of people arrived on Credentialaca from a nearby planet known and Curiostica.

These people could not be more different than those of Credentialaca. For starters, they used few credentials. Their school systems focused upon exploration, inquiry, skill acquisition, and a love of learning. As a first priority, they sought to nurture character and curiosity. Showing a wall of credentials as a point of pride confused the people of Curiositica. Instead, they wanted to see what you knew and could do. A certificate from a prestigious music school impressed the people of Curiostica far less than a person who composed and played a beautiful piece of music. In fact, Curostica did not issue credentials in school or almost any other part of society. They relied instead upon relationships, meaningful connections, personal responsibility, and authentic evidence.

The Reason for the Journey

So why did the people of Curiostica come to this other planet? They were curious, of course. They wondered how different people lived and thought in nearby planets, so a group with a shared interest in inter-planetary cultural studies gathered, studied as much as they could from a distance, discussed, and devised the plan for a mission.

When they arrived, the people of Credenialaca refused to let anyone out of the ship without the appropriate credential. Fortunately, the people on the mission studied the language of this planet in preparation for their trip and knew enough to learn how to acquire the necessary credentials. After going through the mandated health checks and completing all the necessary documents, the authorities allowed the people of Curiostica out of their ship.

Yet, when the authorities learned that the people came to study and learn, leaders decided that another credential must be earned to be a student on this planet. Yet, mass confusion emerged because the authorities of Credentialica did not understand how or why a group of people might study or learn apart from a pathway to a new school credential. “You mean to tell me that you are studying just because you are curious? You don’t expect to earn a new credential? You are not seeking access to a new position as a result of your study? Intrigued by such an exchange, the people of Curiositca asked countless questions, observed, and learned more about this very different world from their own.

Irreconcilable Differences

Such conversations continued for days and weeks, but it did not take long for the people of Credentialaca to become exhausted with such pointless activities, since none of them related to any meaningful credential or accolades. They asked the people of Curiostica to leave. The visitors explained that they wanted to share many of their discoveries that might benefit the people of Credentialaca, but the authorities did not even indicate enough interest to inquire about the nature of these discoveries. How could a group of entirely un-credentialed people have anything of value to offer? After several attempts to explain and invite greater interaction and cooperation between the two worlds, the visitors eventually consented, loaded their ship and returned home.

The Lost Opportunity

Soon after the ship left, a group of influential leaders in Credentialaca gathered to discuss how they might avoid such unpleasantness in the future. Of course, the solution was the creation of a whole new set of credentials. They were happy. Their world was orderly again. Meanwhile, the people of Curiostica returned home to their own planet, a world where curious people found cures for most known diseases, succeeded in creating an incredibly equitable social system, far exceeded the level of expertise in most domains of knowledge, and enjoyed largely un-credentialed living and learning.

Posted in blog, once upon a time

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is an author, professor of education, Vice Provost of Curriculum and Academic Innovation; as well as Founder and CEO of Birdhouse Learning Labs. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, The Pedagogy of Faith (editor), Adventures in Self-Directed Learning, and Digitized: Spiritual Implications of Technology. He is passionate about futures in education; educational innovation; and social entrepreneurship.

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