The Uniquity File

September 27, 2009

When I was teaching in a high school dropout prevention program, many of my students felt that school had little relevance for their lives. They saw no reason to stay in school except that it was something to do before facing the realities of life after school. They weren’t interested in what they were studying and couldn’t see any purpose to it. I’ve encountered the same challenges in my jobs in higher education. In each case, part of my job has been to help students persist by seeing how education can help them achieve their dreams for life after graduation.

This hasn’t been easy, particularly with high school students. Many of them didn’t know what they wanted to do beyond not being in school and it became clear to me that we wouldn’t get anywhere if they didn’t have anywhere to go. We gathered daily for discussion and began to brainstorm ways to collect data from our lives to help create current interest as well as a vision for the future. We needed some systematic way to collect information and we wanted it to be more than just a journal. The Uniquity File was born.

I created the word “uniquity” after a brainstorming session. I’d written down several words related to our conversation: equity, diversity, uniqueness, equality, forbidden (which led me to think about iniquity), and ubiquitous because who we are is always with us. These files began in folders and expanded as they began to include collections of things that interested each of us. We didn’t have access to computers, but if we had, our collecting would have been easier to organize! Several of my artmaking projects have their origins in things I saved in my uniquity file during my years of teaching high school. My file has become many crates and revisiting the materials is like working on an archeological dig as I sift through the layers and see what appears and reappears.

What if each of us had a “uniquity” file that followed us from year to year, school to school, job to job–throughout our lives—detailing what we are good at, hope for, are passionate about, love to learn, envision for our lives? What if we explored these things in the context of our learning and our work and our lives? What if all of our schooling had been focused on uncovering our talents and aspirations and helping us find ways to build a life around them?

How might education be different for us?

How might our work be different?

How might our leisure time be spent differently?

These what ifs are possible, but it is largely up to you, although you’re likely to find many allies along the way: professors, staff, family, friends, other students, and community members who will be drawn to your purpose and vision and want to help you achieve it. Education, because it is a collective enterprise, is often focused on what is determined to be relevant by the larger cultures in which we live. Finding personal relevance—and resonance—requires you to become actively involved in making your learning meaningful in the context of your aspirations.

If you are someone who has found your purpose and is pursuing it, I applaud you. You are fortunate. And there’s something you can do: you can help others by sharing your path and by listening and by being a friend who cares.

What is the first thing you would put into your uniquity file?

The best way to succeed is to discover what you love and find a way to offer it to others.
•Oprah Winfrey



  1. I’m currently doing my priamry teacher training in the UK and I hope you don’t mind if I unashamedly pilfer this fantastic idea … I’ll let you know how it goes!

    • Hi, Alex,

      Pilfer away! That’s what teaching is all about for me, sharing ideas and hoping that someone else will find them useful too. Stay in touch if you’d like since I have other related ideas I’d be glad to share! I’d love to hear how it goes.


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