Imagined Futures with Mary Jo Madda

Describe your ideal Imagined future in 10 years in 3 words.

I can tell you right now — it’s all words that start with the letter “E.”

Equity. Empathy. Ethics.

Elaborate on an ideal future that you imagine.
Whether this takes ten years or more than fifty years to get to, I want to see a world where people recognize that the “meritocracy” concept is a myth. I hope that folks will eventually understand that where one gets in life and how they get there is rooted in so much more than individual grit and talent. It’s a circumstance. It’s stereotyping and judging without knowing. It’s not based on merit alone.

On another but somewhat related note, if we want to get to a place of true equity in the working world, we need to re-envision our current education systems to teach beyond just hard skills. At this point, hard skills enable you to do a job, but soft skills get you promoted, and in many cases, social capital — the array of networks and connections an individual has — gets your foot in the door to a prospective job. Our schools are set-up to educate on certain hard skills of old, that “reading, writing, arithmetic” concept. But my hope for the future is that we won’t be relying on those classroom models born in the 1950s anyone, and instead of educating students to have a good balance of hard, soft and social capital skillsets.

What are things that don’t currently exist in society, that you wish did?

I wish for a few things.

I wish that there were more classes and professional development that pushed for folks to discuss the ethics of technology and technological consumption. While certain organizations like the Center for Humane Technology exist, we are losing ground in terms of widespread conversations about the impact that technology is having on our mental states and our means of interaction.

I wish we learned those certain skills in schools that are oftentimes assumed as something everyone should and does know. How to invest. How to build credit. How to build a brand online. How to refinance a mortgage. Tell me — what high school class did you learn those skills? None of them? Yeah, didn’t think so.

Finally, I wish we could get back to a place of empathy. We seem to have lost it for each other somewhere along the road over these past ten years or so.

How does your work personally and professionally fit into the imagined future you shared?

Years ago, I decided I wanted to dedicate my life to the study and practice of education. I started out as a middle school teacher, later became a school administrator, spent four years as a journalist writing about education and technology, and now work on two different initiatives at Google seeking to educate the next generation of black and Latino software engineers, specifically by focusing on those formative high school and college years.

I’ve seen the world of education from a lot of sides. I’ve seen folks propose all sorts of technological solutions to fix systemic inequities in our societies—and to be honest, I don’t think that technology can fix education . Rather, it’s about recognizing the importance of human relationships and advocates, and how often those connections are what raises us up, help us get jobs, and generally push up towards recognizing our full potential. Like I mentioned before, networks really are the foundation of the working world, and seeing what I’ve seen in my 10 years of working in this space, I know that we have a lot to do in the realm of social capital development.

But at the heart of everything I do, both personally and professionally, is the love I have for my students, past and present. Perhaps it comes from being the eldest sibling—I love and am fiercely protective of my two younger sisters, even when it drives them crazy. I will always choose students first, and as such, that is why I wake up every day and do the work that I do.

If there was a time capsule in the future and there was a message from you, what would it say?

My future is your present. We worked to build it for you better than we had it, and you are living it. So now, it’s your turn to pay it forward.

Who else would you like to answer these questions?

A student, actually. Someone who is changing the world, and isn’t waiting for a degree or an adult to say that they’ve done something of worth. I’ll be honest — these days, kids are a lot smarter than adults.

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