|Good for the battlefield bad for society and business|
This week a young person I have known since her days as a college undergraduate wrote and thoughtful post about her struggles with mathematics in elementary school. As early as fourth grade she was taken on field trips to grocery stores to learn about careers stocking shelves after completing school. None of the other students attended that trip. As early as nine years of age educators and members of the community were making decisions about her life. Today, Stephanie Orme is a Ph.D. from Penn State who is a nationally recognized public speaker and recently gave a TED talk on Diversity Game Design.
I am very proud of Stephanie. I consider myself one of the stepping stones on her journey and I look forward to seeing her further adventures in academia. Her story made me think about my trip educationally and as a scrum master. We make too many judgment calls about young people, and those judgments are harming our society and the business community.
Our education system in the United States has wide gaps of inequality. Private schools appeal to people of means and have been training grounds of the children of business and political elites for the last 100 years. Parents often pay a premium real-estate prices to live in communities with highly rated schools. Young people living in rural or poor school districts are not so fortunate; it means that school districts make do with what they have, and they get involved in a practice known as triage.
Initially, from the medical field and pioneered by the French during the Napoleonic wars triage means the sorting of people to help them when confronted with scare resources. For example, someone with a head missing from a cannonball does not need a blood transfusion that blood can go to someone with a better chance of survival. Paramedics, emergency rooms, and combat medics use the concept of triage daily to save lives.
As early as middle school, I experienced triage in my education. The “smart” students participated in honors courses and segregated from other students. These students not only had to have good test scores but they also had to have good grades. The poor students were in remedial classes, and the unwashed middle got by with standard courses. The exception to this rule were those with cognitive and learning disabilities who received special education. I was terrible at mathematics, so I attended learning disability courses.
As time wore on, the honors students became more privileged as standard and remedial students shifted into less challenging classes. Honors students received college AP courses, scholarships, and opportunities to excel. Once labeled a basic or a standard student, opportunities to reach the upper echelon was difficult. It created a type of resentment and desire to prove those who doubted me wrong.
I was more fortunate than most. My community college prepared me for university study. I was lucky enough to receive a scholarship to a four-year school for debate and speech. Thanks to the financial sacrifices of my parents, the incredible support of my teachers, the encouragement of countless adults, and a little luck I became a college graduate. If you had checked in with me as a nine-year-old, you would have concluded that I would be stocking shelves.
It would take seven years working in the radio and the casino business to find my true vocation; software development. It would take another ten years before I would discover agile and share its worth with others. I got by on grit, but I would be fooling myself if I did not acknowledge the privilege of supportive parents and my educational background.
It is this knowledge which has shaped my perspective. The Harvard business review talks about a “fixed mindset” vs. a “growth mindset.” Thanks to triage in education, we take young people and place them into boxes. We then triage those boxes into careers and roles in our community. It is a more significant problem in business because often leaders are more comfortable around people with similar educational and cultural experience.
As someone who has not fit neatly into a box his entire life, it encourages me to adopt a growth mindset for others around me. I cannot help everyone, but I will try to help those I can. With a little luck, there will be more people like myself and Stephanie Orme helping reform business and culture.
Until next time.