Note: this post was originally published on the blog of Edmentum, a leading provider of technology and services for K-12 educators and students. At the time, I served as Edmentum’s VP of Product Strategy and Experience. You can see the original post here: https://blog.edmentum.com/my-why-shameless-idealism.
Historians say that, in the Middle Ages, the percentage of the population that was literate was somewhere around 5-15%. Only monks, priests, nobles, and a few of the merchant class were trained to read and write. Interestingly, if you had asked that literate minority what percentage of humanity was even capable of literacy, even the most optimistic would have said, “Maybe 50%.” And, many would have guessed a number far lower.
Of course, later centuries have shown us that nearly every person on the planet is capable of literacy. People just need education–talented teachers, high-quality tools, and the right context for learning–to unlock their literacy. This little example reminds us that, too often, we underestimate the capabilities of our fellow humans. People have so much potential if we give them access to great education. And, I think that we can compress the timeline from the span of centuries to the lifetime of an individual student, even to a school year, even to the length of a single course.
Oh, I know that humanity is still prone to awfulness. One glance at a newspaper or a Twitter feed reminds us that our world is far from what it could be. Every day, in every corner, from distant shores to suburban subdivisions, we see conflict, division, mistrust, violence, and poverty. While I’m not so arrogant to think that I have an answer to the problems of human nature, I do know that history, social sciences, and the wisdom of poets and philosophers tells us that a surefire way to battle the awfulness is through the particular admixture of empathy, understanding, and access to opportunity that is at the heart of great learning experiences.
And, that’s why I’m so proud of the work we get to do at Edmentum. By making programs and offering services to help teachers teach and students learn, we help schoolchildren grow into more thoughtful, empathetic, rigorous, and creative members of the human race. If you follow the logic, it means that the work we do here in our cubicles and conference rooms actually adds to the balance of goodness in the world. I’m so passionate about Edmentum’s product strategy and experience design because the programs we design, make, and manage carry a really tasty payload: learning, growth, and understanding. I like to think that our products help convert raw, unrefined human potential (such powerful stuff, that raw human potential!) into a better world. We’re not just making software—we’re not even just making teachers’ jobs easier—we’re making humanity better. I want that spirit baked into every pixel we design, every line we code, and every electron of product that we beam across the Web.
I know that’s incredibly idealistic—perhaps laughably so–but it’s why I do what I do. I encourage our product and experience design teams, as well as every one of my fellow Edmentum team members to be shameless about their idealism.