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Leading with Courage. Or Duck and Cover!

A while back Evanston Township High School in Evanston, Illinois, which is about ten miles from our offices, “approved a dramatic plan…that eliminates an honors English course for the highest-achieving incoming freshman” as the Chicago Tribune described it, because those students are “usually white.”  The story went on to report that “the unanimous school board vote paves the way for freshmen of all racial, socioeconomic and achievement backgrounds to take the same freshman humanities course…”

This occurred despite opposition from hundreds of parents who were concerned that top-performing students could be bored or held back.

So the school board faced what they thought was a dilemma. Encourage excellence. Or safeguard against discrimination. It is incredibly unfortunate that there is a gap, and it shows up as a correlation between lower scores for incoming black students versus higher scores for incoming white students. This isn’t news and the socioeconomic causes are well known – and we need to attack that problem head on. But that’s way before high school. The fact remains – even if there was absolutely no racial correlation – people have different levels of interests, likes, dislikes – and abilities. We all have different competencies and different skills.

So to eliminate the honors course – what does that do? Other than disadvantage the kids who would love and benefit from a more intense higher level program – what have they done? To make sure no one feels any form of discrimination, the result is mediocrity. And for the school board – what would you call this other than duck and cover? Why not eliminate the football program – there are lots of kids who don’t play on the team and it can’t help their self esteem to not have the opportunity to play.

To change gears a bit – the National Geographic Magazine recently highlighted the plight of Afghan women. I’ve been reading NGM for many years, and I can still recall the stunningly beautiful face of a girl the magazine showcased 20 years ago. Consider that as NGM’s travelogue, the world’s all beautiful period.

But now NGM is tackling harsh realities. The current picture of the face of Afghan women is another young girl – a girl who was badly mutilated.  Her husband and others held her down while they cut off her nose, ears and hair – punishment for leaving home without permission – after her husband savagely beat her. Give NGM credit for courage – the picture is not going to sell magazines and it is not going to increase their subscriber base. It is also not going to make their job of covering Afghanistan and the region any easier, but the editors have taken a stand for something important.

One set of leaders completely dodged the issue – to what end? While the board of NGM took a stand.

So where do you take a stand? Are there any entrepreneurs who’ll care to defend the bland middle, or mediocrity, or the status quo, who’ll claim that they got where they did without courage; they didn’t have to stand up for something everyone else thought was nuts? Where and how do you make your stand?


About Robert Jordan

Robert Jordan has been launching and growing companies and helping other entrepreneurs do the same for the past 20 years. He has authored book and audio series including How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America (RedFlash Press), featuring 45 leading company founders who've created $63 billion in value from scratch, and How They Did It Nightingale-Conant audio program . His startup, Online Access, the first Internet-coverage magazine, landed on the Inc. 500 list of fastest growing companies. His newest endeavors are RedFlash, a strategy execution team, and The Association of Interim Executives, which champions interim management as its own global specialty. You can also find Robert on Google+ and Twitter. View all posts by Robert Jordan

4 Comments to Leading with Courage. Or Duck and Cover!

  1. Christopher Cole

    Or the Evanston school board could be doing this in the hope that the “smart” kids will step up and help the ones who struggle. That’s an opportunity no one should miss.

  2. Hi Christopher, that’s a great point! And I agree, it is an opportunity for students to help each other. You are proving that even if the board made a decision that wasn’t great – it doesn’t mean the students do not have options and choices to both improve themselves and help each other. Thank you –
    Bob

  3. Martha

    Sure, sometimes it’s good for kids to help their struggling peers. But I don’t send my kids to school to act as teachers aides. THey need to grow and expand just as much as the other kids.

    I don’t understand why we accept that kids have all kinds of different abilities when it comes to sports or art but when it comes to academics we can’t admit that some kids are better at English than others and need a different level of challenge.

    I agree, the board made a lousy decision. It’s a pity it’s the kids who will suffer for it.

  4. Martha, have you seen the movie Two Million Minutes? Its a documentary that takes a look at two college students in the US (Indiana U.); two in India; and two in China. The differences are vast – and its not promising for American students. These disadvantaging moves by high school boards don’t help! Thanks –

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