There is no doubt that developing ways to disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline has been a priority in discussions and initiatives at many levels of the criminal justice and education systems. There have been advances such as the growth of diversion programs that give young people a second chance, mentoring initiatives and some relaxation of some draconian drug laws.
For the persistent patterns that have led to what has been touted as the “school to prison pipeline” to be mitigated; very strong alternatives must continue to be developed, strengthened and supported. A strong alternative pipeline can be found in the field of computer science. It has great potential to redirect young people to an area of high economic viability and the potential for impactful social innovation.
One strategy is to build on existing assessments that measure computational thinking and identify students as early as middle school who have advanced abilities in these areas. According to research of the International Journal of Child-Computer Interaction “there are big differences in the computational ability of high school students even before they start learning coding”.
The article posited that “computational thinking (CT) emerges as a set of problem-solving skills that must be acquired by new generations of students to fully understand and participate in our computing world”. Students who have been identified by these assessments with high levels of computational talent may be placed on an accelerated track that includes a dedicated coding curriculum, robotics competitions, industry-specific instruction, tech sector mentorship and other development activities.
Many communities have done a great job of identifying those with athletic talents at an early age and creating plenty of camps, activities, and infrastructure that create environments for them to thrive. Players are often pushed to the limit of their abilities by community members, parents, coaches, peers and teammates. The standard excellence that is produced by the cumulative expectations of these groups has generated generations of exceptional athletes and teams in the face of significant economic hardship in many cases.
Stereotypes also play a role in the path students follow and the level of energy, effort, and identity they invest in their pursuit. The term stereotype, which the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines as “something conforming to a fixed or general pattern, in particular: a standardized mental image which is common to the members of a group and which represents an oversimplified opinion, a prejudicial attitude or an uncritical judgement”, often carries a negative connotation. A stereotype can have a different impact when it is believed and internalized by the person on whom it is projected.
The level of a person’s internal investment in a stereotype projected to them from the outside can affect the extent to which they adjust their decision-making and actions to live up to the stereotype in some way or other. another one. The power of a stereotype lies in the extent to which it is believed by those who project it and by those who are its recipients.
I argue that there are circumstances where stereotypes can cause people to raise their level of performance in a certain area because of their desire to achieve it. For example, if one is expected to be an athlete or to participate in a certain sport or sports based on societal stereotypes, this could lead to a series of consequences depending on the influences to which we are exposed. To research by Denis Dumas and Kevin Dunbar on what they describe as the “creative stereotype effect” found that stereotypes related to creativity can both improve and diminish the performance of individuals” and that “stereotypes can also produce better performance if the individual thinks their group should or will perform well on a given task.
The athletic stereotype is forced on many people, and this can help them perform at a higher level, as they rise to meet that expectation and there can be an added sense of confidence as if they are doing something to which they were designed. There can be an increased level of fluidity in how they work. A confidence that emerges from the subconscious and supports sporting success at a high level.
Similar methods can be used to build new pipelines into IT and other tech careers. The level of individual and community beliefs about certain narratives is a key element in how related patterns of behavior can become institutionalized. Communities and media can choose what they want to make important. They can choose those they deem valuable and give them high status.
By highlighting and edifying those who have excelled in tech careers, communities can build and nurture the confidence, knowledge, and skills needed to excel in tech pipelines. Athletes from a particular region who rise to the professional ranks often become symbols for many others who hope to follow in their footsteps.
An example of a tech superstar who should be a household name to people is Randy Raymond. Raymond should be highlighted not just because he excelled at Suncoast High School in West Palm Beach, Florida, graduated from Harvard University with a degree in computer science, or is a software engineer. These accomplishments are among the things that make him successful, but what makes him particularly significant is that he led the charge to establish a new cohort of Google Computer Science Summer Institute in Florida. Raymond attended the institute after his senior year in high school and it was a transformative experience for him that helped shape his future career path.
His desire and effort to blaze new trails for the students coming behind him to have access to the same kind of opportunities as him should be celebrated. Cultivating and fortifying sustained pathways in technology areas like IT and mass marketing of great examples like Raymond are both essential to building new pipelines to prosperity that can serve as powerful alternatives to the pipeline. destroyer from school to prison. We need an acceleration of intentional efforts to use the power of positive stereotypes, produce more pipelines in technology areas, and strongly promote role models in these areas.
Dr. Marcus Bright is a social impact researcher and strategist.