How Hillsdale College prepared me for the Internet…before anyboy used the Internet

My career in educational technology is exploding with adventure and opportunity…and is now the oldest continuously running NCAA Division II football site on the web. According to conventional wisdom one would think that I had been “trained” in all of these things at some high tech university. The truth is I learned everything I’d need at Hillsdale College years before most people even had dial-up in their homes.

When I was graduating from Hillsdale the only access we had to the Internet was the first year of campus-wide email and Gopher, a system that searched college databases. Writing a research paper meant large stacks of books and large stacks of notecards sprawled across a table in the library. Publishing that paper meant banging it out on my ATT word processor that seemed to always run out of ribbon, yes I said ribbon, as I printed in the wee hours of the morning. Back then the only place to get more ribbon was an ATT retail store. Luckily there was one in Battle Creek near my grandparents. More than once I tracked down a professor early one morning to explain the situation and then called Grandma and Grandpa. They’d run out to the mall before making the hour long tip to Hillsdale. They’d bring the ribbon, usually a couple of sacks of junk food, and we’d all have dinner at the Hunt Club. It wasn’t all that bad.

What I learned at Hillsdale in the early 90’s that would help me thrive 25 years later in a new economy and Internet age was how to think. I can’t sum it up any more simply than that.

When I look at what I studied it seems almost counter-intuitive that now in addition to my classroom duties I have helped companies like Sony, Apple, Google, and the Discovery family of networks discover ways to connect with educators. I mean I am the guy who burnt the midnight hour in Simpson Hall trying to master the subjunctive tense in Spanish and who read the works of really old dead guys like Plato, Sophocles, Joseph Conrad and Ernest Hemingway.  How does that relate at all to working with the American Heart Association and NFL’s Play60 team to build more engaging content to get more kids moving?Screen Shot 2016-04-29 at 8.05.04 AM

Do you remember Apple’s old “Here’s to the Crazy Ones” ads? The ideas we studied at Hillsdale were all from “the crazy ones” of their times and by learning what made their ideas great and the linchpins of our society taught us how to look at the world the way they did. Analyze a situation. Separate its parts. Build something greater while alway cognizant of the potential consequences of that decision. From the Greeks to the Enlightenment through the founding of America and today those skills have allowed men and women to think their way out of whatever box confined them.

The freedom to think our ways to a better solution is essentially why Hillsdale has so fiercely fought for her independence. We know that just showing up and being told what to do robs us from our own humanity. The ability to reason and make choices is the greatest gift we have.

When Steve Jobs introduced the second generation of the iPad he talked about how the liberal arts lie within Apple’s DNA and how it is the beautiful creations of humanity that truly bring their products to life.

Learning to think, analyze, remix, argue logically, debate civilly, and build upon principles and proven ideas has allowed me to thrive in a job that hadn’t even been conceived in 1994 when I walked across the Hillsdale Commencement stage.

Many may look at Hillsdale as old-school, guarding the past, even backward. I look at it as a place that gave me everything I needed to build a great future.

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