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Am I well-educated?

Co-founder of Electives, Jason Lavender, shares his realization that he never had a single Black teacher growing up. How can we change who and what we learn as adults?

A white teacher smiling and standing in the midst of her elementary school classroom. The kids appear to be taking a test.A white teacher smiling and standing in the midst of her elementary school classroom. The kids appear to be taking a test.

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Insights from Ellen Raim, Founder of People MatterWe focus more on solving than preventing People problems.

Late last year, I had a really sad realization.

I never had a single Black teacher...in my entire life.

Preschool and kindergarten? No. Elementary school? Nope. Middle school? No, again.

Malden Catholic High School...Boston College...MIT Sloan? No, no and no.

I never had a single Black teacher. How could this be?

If you were to look at me on paper, it would appear that I am “well-educated.” But last year, I started questioning that. How could I possibly be well-educated if I’m not learning from everyone?

And this isn’t just about race, or in my realization, the absence of a single Black teacher.

The realization I had on the surface was sad, but as I unpacked it further, it grew worse and more significant. Growing up, I had been taught by an almost entirely homogeneous perspective; race, religion, orientation, cultures, lived experiences. You name it.

I hadn’t been exposed to the learning opportunities that I needed — nor was I putting in the effort.

I started to worry: all this time, have I been educated in an echo chamber? What history lessons, perspectives, and truths of the world have I missed?

This same feeling hit me again the other day. Our teammate, Maggie, introduced me to one of our new Electives instructors, Rabbi Michael Lezak. We spoke for an hour, and he is amazing. Rabbi Lezak shared stories of his pilgrimages from San Francisco to Montgomery to pay homage to the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum, his conversations with inmates on death row, his justice work at the Glide Memorial Catholic Church (yes, the Rabbi works at a Church!). In one hour, I learned so much.

But at the end of the call, I realized once again: I had never spoken with or learned from a rabbi… in my entire life.

Am I actually well-educated?

I share all of this because, lately, I have been asked the question: why did you and Krikor start Electives? What is your mission?

Well, our initial inspiration was an ‘aha’ theory around cross-training: Krikor and I felt like the term “cross-training” was well known in the sports and exercise world. If I wanted to become a better cyclist, I can’t ride a bike every day. I need to work on all my different muscles. This concept makes total sense.

But “cross-training” for our minds in the workplace is a bit of a foreign concept: If I am an accountant, I learn from other accountants, and I take training classes at work to improve my accounting skills. But what if accountants took classes with all their peers (cross-industry) on topics such as “decision making lessons in history” or “authentic storytelling” or “implicit bias in hiring?” Would they become better accountants? And better employees? And better people? We think so.

The Electives CEO believes what we learn and who we learn from matters.

So, Krikor and I initially set out to build the most engaging online school for employees that has ever existed. We focused on unique instructors and interesting class topics that would cross-train the minds of employees.

But the other reason we started to build Electives (which we don’t talk about as often) is to build the most inclusive school for employees that has ever existed.

The topics we learn at work matter. And the people we learn from matter even more.

Electives is just getting started, but in less than a year, 5,000 employees have taken Electives classes across 50+ companies. I’ve sat in on almost every class. I’ve learned more in the past nine months from Electives instructors than I have in any other nine month period of my life.

This personal learning explosion is a result of learning from different lived experiences. It’s not the visible differences — like the one that hit me last year or as recent as the other day. It’s the invisible differences that have been incredibly impactful in broadening my horizon.

As you read this, you may be reflecting on your own education. You may be feeling the same desire to change who you get to learn from. My advice? Try it. Seek it out. Especially if the opportunities don't present themselves.

Learning from diverse voices is powerful. It's better learning. And, if we truly want to be “well-educated,” we need to learn from everyone’s perspective.

Modern L&D within your reach

Electives is the learning solution for lean People teams who are frustrated with traditional corporate training solutions. Our flexible, next-generation platform offers stress-free, engaging and affordable learning solutions — which means you don’t have to wait for larger budgets or an expanded team before launching an impactful L&D program.

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