Jenn Horne, who teaches English at Charlottesville High School, presents during TEDx Charlottesville. Horne teaches unleveled classes, and argues that grouping students by academic level is detrimental to education.

Jenn Horne, who teaches English at Charlottesville High School, wonders what would happen if schools stopped tracking students by academic level.

“What if teaching this way is a viable solution when we are faced with an achievement gap; a stratification that looks like segregation?” Horne asked. “I’m teaching de-tracked, unleveled English in order to kill [leveled classes].”

That was one of 20 ideas pitched at the third annual TEDx Charlottesville open mic night, a precursor to TEDx Charlottesville’s main event, which will be held Nov. 13 at the Paramount Theater.

“The idea for open mic night is that we give the community the opportunity to present ideas,” Richard Averitt, a TEDx organizer, told the audience.

The theme of this year’s talks is “What if,” which organizers say will encourage people to suspend judgment.

“Just about anyone who has made something started off with the question, ‘What if I did it this way?’” said Roger Voisinet, a TEDx organizer.

“‘What if’ holds the nature of imagination and possibility,” Tamar Ziff said during her talk about how the questions we ask reflect our values.

Francesca Tripodi, a Ph.D. student at the University of Virginia, argued that the big data movement gives everyone a voice. That said, Tripodi argues that — just as history shows — marginalized views often are overlooked because we tend to value stories that the Internet tells us are trending.

“The next time a company starts directing you toward what’s trending, stop, scroll down and read something else,” Tripodi said. “When you do, you acknowledge that the marginalized perspective also matters.”

Alex Smith Scales, a third-year student at UVa, asked what would happen if she said that she wanted to be president.

“Would it be easier to imagine if I was white, would it be easier to imagine if I was male?” Scales asked. “Would it be easier for you to accept if every black girl had this dream?”

Jody Reyes, a cancer nurse, asked what would happen if we didn’t fear death.

“Do you know the larger aims of your life and those of your loved ones?” Reyes said. “Now is the time to have those conversations, while there is still time.”

Kennedy Nguyen, an engineering student at UVa, questioned the night’s theme and argued that taking action, not asking questions, is what challenges us.

“I propose that you stop saying, ‘what if,’ and start asking, ‘how’ and ‘why,’” Nguyen said. “Because the hard part isn’t catching yourself [asking what if], it’s taking action.”

Janet Driscoll Miller said people are more likely to be burned out and depressed if they have a hard time saying “no.”

“One challenge we all face is that we want to be likeable and we want to be agreeable, and that can be problematic if we say ‘no,’” Miller said. “‘No’ says that you know what you stand for and what you don’t stand for … and a ‘no’ makes your ‘yes’ have more meaning.”

Bernard Hankins asked what the world would look like if we shared a common sense of empathy.

“Until you project yourself into my situation, and until I project myself into your situation, I cannot understand you,” said Hankins, who was chosen by the audience as Monday’s winner and will be given the opportunity to speak at the main event in November.

To date, the November event will feature 17 speakers from a variety of fields. Local speakers include Dan Rosensweig, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville; filmmaker Geoff Luck; and Martese Johnson, a UVa student involved in a controversial arrest by state alcohol agents in March.

TEDx officials said the two previous TEDx Charlottesville events sold out, and encouraged those interested to purchase tickets early. More information can be found at