Dad Gone Wild is a blogger in Nashville whose children attend the local public schools. In this post, he recounts his decision to start serious running, first for his health, but then because he became obsessed with collecting data about his running.

You see, it started with a simple app that measured time and distance and kept a running total for a benchmark. But then it progressed to enough of a dependency to justify getting a top-of-the-line Garmin race watch because, well, dependence on data requires more data. Where I once was only concerned with how far and how fast I ran, I am now measuring footfalls, cadence, and several other categories that a) I don’t know exactly what they mean, and b) I wouldn’t know how to change them even if I knew what they meant. I imagine that my running has gotten better over the years, but I attribute that to running more and trying to eat better, not measuring my cadence and footfalls. My sense of accomplishment has certainly not grown; in fact, I’ve noticed a weird phenomenon.

If I head out on a run and one of my measurement tools isn’t working, I’ll either quit the run or proceed without the measurement. The weird part is, that if I continue the run sans measurement, it’s almost like it didn’t happen. I’m going the same distance. I’m burning the same miles, but for some reason it doesn’t feel real. When I look at the data for the month, those runs cease to exist and any progress I might have made is discounted. When I compare my results to friends I “compete” against, it almost feels like I’m lying about those results.

He realizes that the data have taken over; he no longer thinks about why he runs, but only about the measurements. That’s data addiction.

We also say that standardized tests are for the good of the child and that we are preventing minority children from slipping through the cracks, the opposite is actually true, but I ask you, how many people have cited that one test back in 7th grade that opened the door to learning for them? Until they took that test they were lost in the wilderness, but that test inspired them to greatness. Now substitute test with book or mathematical concept, and I bet you get a different answer. By putting emphasis on learning for the measurable we are actually restricting people’s potential. Like when I fail to take a 3-mile run because it doesn’t add significantly to my monthly totals, similarly, students will potentially fail to partake in opportunities to learn because it will produce no measurable results.

Data addiction also leads to putting undue pressure on suppliers. Let’s face it, that is what we are turning our teachers into, data suppliers. Our teachers are under a constant barrage to deliver more data. They are losing valuable time and sanity trying to meet the ever-increasing need. They are in an endless churn to produce more data under the threat that if they don’t, we will replace them with people who can, though we never mention a viable source for these replacements. Perhaps there is a teacher orchard producing an overabundance of quality teachers willing to work for decreasing pay and autonomy that I am unaware of.

Our thirst for more that is measurable has reduced the art of teaching into that of a producer. We’ve lost sight that teaching children is more than just about instruction in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Think about the teachers who had a profound effect on you and your growth. Do you remember them because in fifth grade they had you reading on a seventh grade level, or is it deeper than that? Is it because you felt that they cared for you and were truly vested in helping you understand your place in the world?

Can data addiction be cured or are we doomed to reduce everything we do to numbers, forgetting why we do those things?

We will have a life with data, but a life without purpose.