Learning from the Failure to Improve Literacy Worldwide
Learning from the Failure to Improve Literacy Worldwide
Mary Richardson discusses the A-Levels examination debacle caused by Covid-19.
In our fast-changing world, how should we think about the curriculum? For what macro competencies should education aim? And has the COVID-19 pandemic revealed any failures in our education systems worldwide?
Climate change and its effects aren’t some future possibilities waiting to happen unless we take action today. No. The effect of climate change is already occurring. Today. Right now. Around the world, people have been displaced, fell ill, or died because of the globe’s changing climate. These effects are uneven: Some countries and classes of people are more affected by global warming than others. Still, the United Nations estimates that catastrophic consequences from climate change are only a decade away. That’s the year 2029. [Editor’s note: The IPCC report is from 2018 and gave a 12-year prediction, so it should read 2030, not 2029.]
What is the role of education policy in an era of detrimental climate change?
My guest today is Marcia McKenzie, a professor in the Department of Educational Foundations at the University of Saskatchewan and director of the Sustainability Education Research Institute. She recently has been awarded a grant to research UN policy programs in relation to climate change education and in June will release a report for the United Nations that reviews country progress on climate change education and education for sustainable development.
In our conversation, we talk about what countries are doing or not doing in terms of education and sustainability, and we reflect on some of the existential questions that climate change brings to the fore.
Citation: McKenzie, Marcia, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 154, podcast audio, May 13, 2019. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/mckenzie/
Will Brehm 2:24
So, Marcia Mckenzie, welcome to FreshEd.
Marcia McKenzie 2:26
Thank you very much. Great to be talking with you.
Will Brehm 2:27
So, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -which is a UN body, the IPCC I think, is the acronym- says that there is a decade left to make significant changes to avoid catastrophic consequences from climate change itself. So what role do you think education plays in mitigating some of these catastrophic consequences from climate change that the IPCC says might happen in 10 years? I mean, that is 2030.
Marcia McKenzie 3:00
Yeah. Well, I don’t know if you’re familiar with David Suzuki, a Canadian environmentalist who created his foundation decades ago, and he says now if he knew how long it was going to take us to take action, he would have got into education much earlier. So, yeah, and when we see that the problems with climate change, it’s not because we don’t have the scientific understanding of what’s happening. It’s not that we don’t have the technical ability to move to other energy forms and address climate change and mitigate still the worst of its impacts, but we don’t. We’re not taking the action that’s needed because we lack the will, you know, socially and culturally and politically. So, I think that is the role of education in terms of as the UNFCCC, which was the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which was signed back in 1992. With all the different member parties that meets every year at the COP [Conference of the Parties] meetings. And there is a commitment to education, training and public awareness that’s in that agreement that member parties to UNFCCC have signed on to but, because we don’t have a lot of research on it, you know, any data, we don’t even really have a good understanding of what makes good climate change education, we haven’t been doing as much as we can be or could be. And yet, there’s this recognition and even in that, that 2018 IPCC report, the recognition that we really need to be doing a better job of education in order to have people pushing for the change we need, right?
Will Brehm 4:47
So basically, you’re saying that everyone recognizes education is like, deeply important, but we: one, we don’t know exactly what all these different countries are doing. And two: we don’t know what actually makes good education, for, or about climate change to mitigate some of these solutions. So, I mean, and we have 10 years before…that seems like a pretty big challenge. What do we do first? Is the first step to just sort of get an understanding of what’s happening around the world and all countries that are signatory to that convention?
Marcia McKenzie 5:21
Well, I think both can be done in conjunction. So there is quite a bit of good work and understanding in other disciplinary fields, say on the sociology of climate change denial, Kari Norgaard’s work, for example, where she talks about not just the, you know, what you might think of as denial in terms of saying, “No, climate change is not caused by humans”, or we don’t even agree it’s happening, but more of the subtle forms of denial that you and I and, you know, most listeners are probably engaged in where, yes, you know, climate change is happening, you know, that it’s being caused mostly by human activity. And yet because of the realities of does this mean the planets not going to be habitable for humans within a generation or two? And we don’t know how to take action, you know, people turn away from that. Right? So, she calls it implicatory denial where you are implicated in it, you don’t know what to do, you kind of live this double life.
Will Brehm 6:20
I understand that climate change happens but I’m still going to eat red meat, and fly to conferences, and buy a big SUV.
Marcia McKenzie 6:27
Exactly! And there’s other literature as well in anthropology, climate change, communication around the importance of framing such emotional issues in terms of cultural frames and priorities that are important for different groups, whether it’s a business community, a Christian religious community, or indigenous community. Candis Callison, who’s an anthropologist and Media Studies person has written about that as well in a really powerful way. So, I think we need to be bringing those insights that have been developing over the past decade or so in other fields more into education, and into both policy and practice. Because what we see right now a lot of what’s being done as climate change education, whether it’s in formal education, K-12, or higher education, or in science communication, for example, that governments may be doing and so on, is still there much just based on educating people on the science of climate change.
Will Brehm 7:29
Like it exists. Yeah.
Marcia McKenzie 7:30
And here’s how it works with the assumption that therefore people are going to be empowered to take action. But we know from longer histories of research and environmental education, as well as other fields that have looked at things like Holocaust education, when things are so emotional, so difficult that you really need to take those aspects on and wrap it into how we do education and not just teaching the science but actually look at ways to engage people in, “Yes, this is difficult and there is grief involved and there is loss” and how do you kind of wade through that, and engaging it so that we actually look at it rather than look away.
Will Brehm 8:15
It’s quite existential realizing we could be the last generation of human species and how then do you teach about it? I mean, it is totally emotional, it is totally devastating in a way and I mean, that connection to the Holocaust. I never made that connection, but I can see where educators might learn a lot from Holocaust education and other sort of genocide, conflict issues that people have to work through.
Marcia McKenzie 8:43
And I guess the second part you’re asking about in terms of looking at what different countries are doing. I think that is really key. And I’m hopeful. I don’t know if that is naive, maybe but because education is a commitment that member parties have signed on to in committing to it with the joining the UNFCCC framework. If we can develop better data and on what countries are doing and then use that to sort of leverage change. So, if you can say, “In Canada, we’re doing this in, you know, Sweden, they’re doing that, and you can kind of compare and contrast. So, who’s got it in their formal education system? And how are they doing it? Right. So, it’s going back to the first point, it’s not just is it there, but how is it being done? What’s the quality as well as the quantity and developing that data, which I mean, we have the capability to do that and a new study will be released later this year in a few months just developed that we did with UNESCO and the UNFCCC and it was an analysis of all the country submissions to the UNFCCC from 194 member countries to look at how they’re already talking about how they’re engaging in climate change education in those submissions, so that we can, by pulling that out of the submissions and looking at it together, then we can sort of set some here’s a baseline of where we’re at or where we’re at with our reporting, and where could we be next year or the year after through the COP process?
Will Brehm 10:25
Right. And so that is -it sounds like what you’re describing is using some sort of evidence, global evidence, comparable evidence from all different countries involved in the UN. But really, it being used as a political project to sort of force particular change. I mean, that is what it sounds like. It almost reminds me of PISA, you know using the sort of same test all over the world and, it has become very, very political and there’s plenty of research about that.
Marcia McKenzie 10:56
Yeah. And it’s kind of -because I consider myself a critical researcher, critical policy researcher and you know, a lot of the work done on large-scale assessment and testing is quite, you know, there’s a lot of skepticism and concern, and how do you compare across different countries and socio-economic considerations, and all these very complicated and fraught. And so, it’s kind of ironic, I guess, to be in the situation of thinking, well, here’s an issue where we’re running out of time, if there’s any chance that data can help us, then let’s mobilize that.
Will Brehm 11:32
Right. Any tool we can find, let’s use it.
Marcia McKenzie 11:34
Will Brehm 11:35
So, what would worry you? In this sort of political project and getting this data, are there worries? Because, from a critical scholar, you look at other examples like PISA and sure, there’s plenty to be critical about PISA and I’ve had people on the show talk very critically about it. So, from your thinking through this climate change education or education about climate change and sustainability, what are the worries that you might have?
Marcia McKenzie 12:04
So yeah, I guess one of my concerns potentially with amassing that kind of global data is the way that these type of things can be used almost like branding on a product, you’d buy in the supermarket where it says it’s green, and then it’s sort of like guilt free shopping or whatever. But often there’s, we call it greenwashing because it’s not necessarily a sustainable product, or it’s much more complicated and things going on behind the scenes. So, I mean, that is a concern anytime you’re using data like this to kind of give gold stars or silver stars or you know, who’s doing it right. And where they kind of get off the hook, like, Okay, you got it there you say on paper that you’re doing it, therefore, that’s good enough. And what’s represented in a policy document doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s happening on the ground either. So, there are definite limitations to that type of assessment. I mean, anything that there is so far around education and sustainability more probably, at a global level of data collection is self-reported data. So, say that’s collected through UNESCO. Right now, there is some and that’s it’s being used in some of the indicators related to education and sustainability currently.
Will Brehm 13:19
So, there’s a validity issue?
Marcia McKenzie 13:21
There’s a validity issue. So yeah, I mean, at least something that’s not you know, it’s good to also have things that are not self-reported, as well as the self-reported options. But then, even better, would be finer grained analysis, like, comparative case studies at a global level that can help us also inform our understandings of what makes quality climate change education that is able to kind of empower and lead to changed action and that’s culturally appropriate in different settings.
Will Brehm 13:53
What sort of examples can you point to like currently that we know about of, you know, quote, unquote, good policy into action. You know, things happening on the ground in schools or in a country?
Marcia McKenzie 14:07
Well, in the research, and I should say I direct the Sustainability and Education Policy Network, which is a partnership of international researchers and organizations. And so, we’ve been doing research in Canada the last number of years -comparative research there- and also doing some other global projects. But looking at the Canadian example, you know, BC is somewhere that stands out for its action around climate change and other sustainability issues in both K-12, and formal education as well as more broadly. And so, there’s a number of things that lead into or I think, support that activity. I mean, one just culturally, it’s on the west coast. It’s got more of a cultural prioritization. That’s led to different things like provincial mandates for carbon action plans within schools and then we’ve got, say the City of Vancouver, it has a green mandate with the municipal politics. So, all these things kind of coalesce together so that you see stronger policy and curriculum at say the Ministry of Education level, which would be where the curriculum is developed for the province as well as different school division levels, as well as at the post-secondary institutions -like UBC is well known for its sustainability work. So yeah, and there’s great organizations there as well like the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, has a BC branch that has developed great climate justice curriculum that a lot of teachers are using in schools.
Will Brehm 15:56
So, there’s a lot of work happening in that part of Canada and it seems like its government, its non-governmental, schools are involved, cities are involved. They have the green mandate in Vancouver. How much of that is connected to the sustainable development goals of the UN? Right? I mean, so, you know, is that something that’s happening because they’re doing it for their own sort of political economic reasons in Western Canada? Or is it a response from, “Oh, the SDGs, are here and we have to meet them?”
Marcia McKenzie 16:34
Yeah, it’s an interesting question and one of the things I’m really interested in is policy mobility. So how these things like the SDGs, where do they come from? And then what impact do they have in different countries or different regions? And I think there’s a couple of different things that could factor into uptake of the SDGs or, you know, what effect they’ve had. One is, you hear about organizations or governments, who keep doing what they’re doing but they kind of orient it to the “flavor of the day” or whatever. So, I’ve talked to organizations that are like, “Well, you know, we were doing education for sustainable development. Now, we’re going to do SDGs, you know, that’s what we put on our grant applications. But we don’t -our programs don’t change, but”. So, I think, there’s some of that, but at the same time, I think the global policy programs do have a big effect. And in some places like my province, where I live in Canada, in Saskatchewan, we’ve seen absolutely the effect of the UNESCO Decade of Education for Sustainable Development-
Will Brehm 17:47
In what ways, like how does it manifest?
Marcia McKenzie 17:50
So, you know, in 2009, there was a Minister’s mandate around environment, conservation, and sustainability. So, they were recognizing, okay, we need to be doing more on this. We need to get it into the curriculum. And then they talked to folks next door in Manitoba, where they had been working with education for sustainable development and the Deputy Minister there, at the K-12 level was involved in the Council of Ministers of education, which is sort of a national advisory body of all the provincial ministries, and he had been seconded to UNESCO, so you see this kind of flow through of actually, Gerald Farthing was deputy minister at the time in Manitoba, and other folks as well that are back and forth between UNESCO Paris and the ESD section there and different Canadian places and this would be parallel in some other countries. But then you get the flow through so that the Ministry of Education in my province is talking to Manitoba, and suddenly they bring in the same folks to do the training of educational leaders and the school divisions across the province in ESD.
Will Brehm 18:58
There is a policy flow, and does it go back to UNESCO? Like does the lessons and experiences of the teachers who are getting this training and putting it into practice, get sort of that knowledge get picked up and somehow is mobile back through the channels to UNESCO to inform the SDGs and what they do in other countries or how they conceptualize what you know, quote unquote good practice is?
Marcia McKenzie 19:22
Yes, I think that is the case that there’s some of that. We just got some new funding to do a study of three UN policy programs that have a focus on climate change education and when we were -we did some initial pilot interviews for that and talking to folks from different countries that have been involved with UN programs. Before we really heard from them about how through UNESCO people coming -there’s someone from Southern Africa that we interviewed, who was involved in the environmental education and ESD work there and through UNESCO people coming- to their meetings, they were able to give feedback on what was working or not working. Or priorities in different Southern African countries and to feel like that was taken back to UNESCO and then shaped kind of later renditions of things. So, I think there is some of that for sure.
Will Brehm 20:18
Yeah. And then I mean, then you the UNESCO Secretariat would have to sort of leverage that knowledge to push other countries in ways. I mean, it’s a very political process. Really, you know, for me, and that’s what’s so fascinating is how UNESCO has to -its member driven but that Secretariat also has a very sort of clear political agenda. And we just hope that they’re doing right, and they’re going to be successful. And, you know, they have a lot of power behind the SDGs in a way.
Marcia McKenzie 20:50
Yeah, it’s very interesting and kind of who is at the table of deciding what these policy programs are going to be, and different countries that support different policy programs like ESD had its origins in Japan, and Japan’s very supportive of UNESCO and so yeah, there’s a lot of interesting politics.
Will Brehm 21:11
Yeah. I mean, when I read SDG 4.7, you know, I mean, it’s like this “catch-all” indicator, or sub-indicator, and you see that education for sustainable development, the ESD, which definitely comes from Japan, that’s where I live. And so, it’s a really, really, really big thing. But then in Korea, as Aaron Benavot was telling me, it’s all about global citizen education. So how do they fit together? You know do they fit together? Or is it just, we’re using this discourse to please two different nation-states?
Marcia McKenzie 21:43
Yeah, it’s very interesting. I mean, global citizenship kind of came along, after, in kind of the work of UNESCO from what I understand, but they are both under one division. So, there’s a section of ESD and a section of global citizenship and they work together as colleagues and there’s a lot of overlap obviously, depending how you understand education for sustainable development, but it does definitely have social aspects in there that would overlap with some of the global citizenship priorities. So, you know, in some other work we’ve been doing -for a report that will be launched in June as well -a 10 countries study and looking at focus on ESD and global citizenship education across the education policies and curricula of 10 countries. And so, you can kind of see through that process, where there’s overlap, and which countries may focus more on the environmental aspects versus the social and citizenship aspects, and I don’t know why. I’m interested to find out more about that, in terms of the politics of the different countries, but I don’t think I can comment on that.
Will Brehm 23:02
No worries. It’s just that it’s so fascinating to see how these different -because it is a member-state organization. So, the member states have a lot of power, but the Secretariat is sort of managing all of this and so the politics in that sort of global level is really quite fascinating. And I think, quite hidden as well. And, you know, it’s very hard unless you are at that table, it’s very hard to know what is actually happening.
Marcia McKenzie 23:25
And I think my sense is that the UNFCCC is even more, so you know, really sees itself or is understood as meant to be neutral and facilitating the process for member-states. But the priorities or motions need to come from the member states. So, in talking to Adriana Valenzuela who’s the education focal point for the UNFCCC about how great it would be if we could get education data on the negotiating table, and she’s like, Oh, that sounds great, but we can’t bring that forward. It would need to be a member-state. So, it’s almost like I would need to maybe work with Environment Climate Change Canada to bring it to the negotiating table to then see if we could get it there. Whereas I think this seems to be a little -UNESCO doesn’t have that same framework of the COP meetings and, you know, decision making in what’s going to be included and, you know, nationally determined contributions being put forward under the Paris Agreement and everything it’s much more kind of technical than the UNFCCC.
Will Brehm 24:31
Yeah, yeah, right. I mean, it’s really quite fascinating. As an academic, I keep thinking like it would be so great to do like an ethnography of that global process.
Marcia McKenzie 24:40
Well, that’s what we’re trying to do. And we just got the funding to do it as well.
Will Brehm 24:46
You’ll have to come back on and tell me about it once you end up doing it. One of the things that I struggle with, with the SDGs and thinking about education for sustainability or, you know, to reduce climate change is the inclusion of economic growth in the SDGs. It’s one of the SDGs. It’s seen as what countries should be maximizing -having more growth, which, you know, will put more carbon into the air, which will ultimately make climate change even worse into the future. And at the same time, including all these environmental sustainability goals of trying to make the world more sustainable. And for me, those are contradiction. And I don’t know how education for sustainability will square that contradiction.
Marcia McKenzie 25:41
Yeah, there’s been discussion of that for sure. Because you could be say, moving forward climate action while increasing gender disparity, you know, so kind of the conversation that you need to be moving them all forward, not some at the expense of others, but that’s so hard to do with 17 priorities and never mind all the you know, I think it’s 169 target under the 17 goals. But it’s the same problem that we’ve had with sustainability before that or say education for sustainable development which a lot of people see as having at least three pillars, as they’re often called, of the social, the economic, and the environmental and oftentimes people would, or still do, separate those three out. So, in my province where this is a priority that I’ve had superintendents tell me, “Well yea, we’ve got it in the curriculum now, we do it in our school division and so if you’re doing economy, social or environment, you can tick that you’re doing ESD. So, basically everything humans would be concerned with has something to do with the social, or the environment. So, you know, it becomes meaningless. So, I think it is a challenge for the SDGs even more so in a sense because at least with three pillars, you can say, Okay, these need to be nested and you can’t have economic prosperity if it’s harming the environment or harming the social. Environment is the biggest and then social then economy are nested together. Whereas the SDGs with 17, it’s much more complicated.
Will Brehm 27:21
It seems like we need to have different definitions. Like so of the economic, what does economic prosperity mean? To me, it seems like we need a new way to define that rather than GDP per capita, for instance. Right. I mean, because if that’s the goal, then we’re going to sacrifice all these other things that we say we care about.
Marcia McKenzie 27:44
Yeah, there was a presentation yesterday on the OECD and one of the folks that have worked there in the past was talking about how they’re just starting to look at well-being indexes and that would be great to see more countries go that way sooner rather than later.
Will Brehm 28:04
Yeah. I mean, are you an optimistic person? Like, do you think that in these 10 years that we’re now saying is sort of the critical moment. So, for 2020-2030, for instance, do you think the global community is really going to be able to radically alter its practices through education?
Marcia McKenzie 28:30
Yeah. I don’t know. It may be through other means. You know, it’s been really interesting the last few months to see the school climate strikes and you know, from starting with one person that fell on everyone’s kind of minds and hearts and suddenly people are out there all over the globe doing climate action strikes in schools and so I think it you know, it’s, I hope that that type of activity will just build as we’ve all got it kind of weighing on us, but no one feels like they can do enough on their own. Obviously, our governments aren’t taking.
Will Brehm 29:10
Yea a lot of governments say go back to school. Don’t strike!
Marcia McKenzie 29:13
Yeah, yeah, exactly. So, I think education is as part of that, you know, potentially. The more we can do the better to give more people the skills to feel they can take action and make change and have the knowledge that they need and to be able to work together and all those things, but I mean, within the time frames, realistically, it’s going to have to be other things as well. Some of those people that are educated, mobilizing a lot of other people. So yeah, I don’t know. And I think it’s also a question of, you know, we always talk about climate change mitigation and adaptation. Well, what does climate change adaptation education look like right?
Will Brehm 29:43
And what would that be adapting to? You know, flooding everywhere, two degrees hotter everywhere.
Marcia McKenzie 30:01
Yeah. So, I think part of the key to the mitigation part too probably is -because it’s such an emotional, difficult issue that we need to be facing the impacts and how people around the world are already being devastated by the weather effects related to climate change, and so on.
Will Brehm 30:23
Yeah, I mean, like, how do you prepare? I mean, there’s already countless deaths happening due to climate change, and climate migration is happening all over the place already. And it’s only going to get worse. There’s going to be more deaths caused by climate change. You know, hundreds of millions or billions I, you know, it’s probably pretty hard if you’re a demographer to sort of calculate that out. Yeah, but some percentage of that will be children. It’ll be a lot of children that will end up dying. And so, the question is, like, you know, climate change adaptation education, you know, how do you teach the ability to grieve for that large number of people? I don’t know. I mean, it’s sort of this is why for me, it becomes a sort of like, existential moment.
Marcia McKenzie 31:05
Yeah, I know, I know, I have a 13-year-old daughter and I don’t actually talk to her very much about my work in this area. I mean, I tell her I do research and work on sustainability and climate change education, but I don’t go on at length about the outlook. But -through the climate school strikes- she learned more through some of her friends and came home just a couple of weeks ago in tears, you know, writing, drawing in her journal that we only have 12 years left, why isn’t anyone doing anything? And you know, it’s intense.
Will Brehm 31:41
That’s powerful. That seems to be what is needed. You know that sort of powerful, emotional response. Like a cliff that’s in the distance, that we can see. It’s coming into view.
Marcia McKenzie 31:57
And we were talking about what’s needed and how we need to change lifestyles and our expectations. We were talking about, “what would it be like to move into apartment?” she’s like, “well, that’s not a problem. Like, I’d rather say let’s move into an apartment rather than, you know, half the planet or worse goes extinct”.
Will Brehm 32:17
Yeah. Right. You’re willing to sacrifice some sort of luxuries now, knowing that it actually could -that is sort of that change in attitude that we were talking about earlier. Like maybe I shouldn’t be eating meat all the time and I shouldn’t be flying around the world.
Marcia McKenzie 32:35
But I think it’s one thing for people in their 40s or 60s or 80s. You know, you can think oh, gosh, is it going to be really bad for our kids or grandkids generation? But it’s another thing for a child to look forward and say, am I going to be able to live out my full life or is it going to be just a nightmare before then.
Will Brehm 32:59
And is that sort of conversation happening at the global level? Because to me, that seems to be the most important conversation to be having.
Marcia McKenzie 33:07
Will Brehm 33:10
But it is it being reflected in some of these sort of, you know, the global meetings on climate change and sustainability. And, you know, what we can do? Is that even being like -it’s certainly not an indicator. In no way is it an indicator of the SDGs.
Marcia McKenzie 33:23
Yeah, I mean, I think people are aware, and, you know, it’s the underlying passion. Someone like Aaron Benavot, who was director of the GEM report, Global Education Monitoring report. And, the last GEM report that he did had a focus on sustainability and was really fantastic, but you can tell he’s got that passion in him. And for a lot of people that are doing this work, they have that in them. You know, we all have hypocrisies, or tradeoffs, but, you know, that is driven by that desire to do change. But sometimes when you get together at a meeting, then you kind of take that as an assumption and just move on to trying to move things forward.
Will Brehm 34:15
Well, Marcia Mckenzie, thank you so much for joining FreshEd. Please come back on when you have more of this ethnography of what’s happening at the global level.
Marcia McKenzie 34:24
Great. Thank you very much for having me. Great to meet you.
Today we continue our Education and Law mini-series with a show on the legal and policy issues surrounding special education. My guest is Janet Decker, an Associate Professor in the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies Department at Indiana University. Dr. Decker became interested in special education policy when she taught students with autism.
In our conversation, Dr. Decker talks about the legal term FAPE, which stands for Free and Appropriate Public Education. FAPE is legally guaranteed to children under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. It is one of the most important legal issues in special education, but also one of the most problematic. What is the definition of ‘Free’ and ‘Appropriate’ ‘Public’ ‘Education’?
Janet Decker’s latest co-written book with Martha McCarthy and Suzanne Eckes is Legal Rights of School Leaders, Teachers, and Students, published by Pearson.
This episode was put together in collaboration with the Education Law Association.
Citation: Decker, Janet, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 151, podcast audio, April 21, 2019. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/decker/
Transcript, translation, and resources:
Today we look at conditional cash transfers as a global phenomenon of educational development. My guest is Michelle Morais de Sa e Silva.
Michelle has written a new book called Poverty Reduction, Education, and the Global Diffusion of Conditional Cash Transfers, which was published by Palgrave Macmillan. She finds that different political ideologies have been used to justify conditional cash transfers, helping them spread worldwide.
Michelle Morais de Sa e Silva is a Lecturer in International and Area Studies in the Department of International and Area Studies at the University of Oklahoma.
Ted Dintersmith is not your normal Silicon Valley venture capitalist trying to save the world through technology. He’s much more complex.
After producing the film Most Likely to Succeed, which premiered at Sundance in 2015, Ted embarked on a trip across America. For nine months he visited school after school, meeting teachers in ordinary settings doing extraordinary things.
Today Ted joins FreshEd to talk about his new book What School Could Be: Insights and inspiration from teachers across America.
Ted is currently a Partner Emeritus with Charles River Ventures. He was ranked by Business 2.0 as the top-performing venture capitalist in the U.S. for the years 1995-1999. In 2012, he was appointed by President Obama to represent the U.S. at the United Nations General Assembly, where he focused on education.
Citation: Dintersmith, Ted, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 108, podcast audio, March 19, 2018. https://www.freshedpodcast.com/dintersmith/
Will Brehm: 2:03
Ted Dintersmith, welcome to Fresh Ed.
Ted Dintersmith: 2:05
Great to be here.
Will Brehm: 2:06
So in the fall of 2015, you literally went back to school for an entire school year, not just one school that you went to, but hundreds of schools across every state in America, what on earth made you decide to embark on this journey to go back to school?
Ted Dintersmith: 2:26
A lot of people ask me that, particularly my friends and my family members, because it is a little ambitious to go to all 50 states in a nine month period. And the trip really didn’t take entirely the shape I expected. So initially, I felt this, and I still feel I mean, every single day, I feel the urgency of anticipating what the future is going to be like for our young adults, and having schools adapt and modify and transform themselves to keep pace, which I think very few schools actually are doing for good reasons, because the innovation economy’s sprinting ahead. So I sort of said why didn’t I go on this really ambitious trip to make sure people understand there’s urgency here. But as I traveled and I took it very seriously, I heard the, believe it or not, the advance campaign planning team who did all the work for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign. So it’s like, every day from morning, you know, breakfast till the end of the day, which would, the end of the day was typically 10, 10:30 at night with a community forum, I’m just meeting all these people, I’m going to all these schools. And yeah, boy, I just learned so much. I talked to so many interesting people, I saw so many interesting things. And so I thought, it’s like the classic thing, I thought I had something to say to America. And instead they had a lot more to say to me. And then that ultimately led to my writing a book about it.
Will Brehm: 3:50
So okay, so you went across the country speaking with thousands of people, what did you hear? What were people telling you about the state of education in America?
Ted Dintersmith: 4:01
Whether there’s just a million different perspectives on this, and you realize how incredibly complicated and intertwined our education system is, with schools, subject to all sorts of external forces, you know, state legislators, school boards, college admissions, parents, real estate agents, on and on, there are million different things that come into play, when it comes to the decisions that get made in schools. I’d say, if there’s one major takeaway is that in education, we largely have a system that is run by non-educators telling educators what to do, it’s sort of a few things in American society where that takes place. And you find that a lot of the people who project their views on the school really are thinking about the school they went to 30, 40, 50 years ago. And they’re not able to step outside of that kind of dated perspective on what’s to be accomplished in schools, or maybe more importantly, how to assess whether schools are doing a great job. And so you realize that, and this is similar, I think, to one of my perspectives from business is I generally learned a lot more about a business when I talked to the people actually kind of in the trenches doing the work than when I talked to senior managers, and I worked with some very good senior managers. But if you really want to understand what’s going on, talk to the people doing the work. And that’s what I was able to do. And I think it’s unusual because you know, I recognize I’m humble about the fact that I’m a person with a business background interested in education. And when I say that, as soon as you say those words, I have a business background now, and you’re interested in education, a lot of people in the classroom, you know, like the blood drains from their face, because they’ve seen that movie before. And it’s not a particularly good movie. But I found what I really put the time into, listen to them to hear about what they were experiencing. And in particular, to see some of the amazing things they were doing. It was really energizing.
Will Brehm: 6:05
So why is there a disconnect between the people running education and the people basically doing education, right? Like, why are the upper level managers so disconnected?
Ted Dintersmith: 6:17
In my book I talked about this, and the common denominator, and it’s not 100%, nothing ever in life is 100%, but a lot of the people that make their way to the top of these bureaucracies, you know, states, federal, you know, two things. One is they generally have very strong academic credentials. So school work for them, they expect it should work for everybody, they have no beef for the fact that they, you know, got into an elite undergraduate school and then went on to get their PhD from Harvard in the Graduate School of Education. So they are fundamentally aligned with the process of school. And they are also people that were able to work their way through and up to the top of large bureaucracies. So they know how to work a system, they have a mindset around policies and procedures and metrics, and they do what I think they’re inclined to do, what they’ve succeeded within their own personal life. And then they take that and apply it to schools across America. The problem is, a lot of kids have incredible gifts that go beyond the realm of the academic. And when you start to standardize education, so you can measure the progress of kids, I think you largely destroy the learning.
Will Brehm: 7:33
So on this trip of yours, was there anything in particular that you changed your mind about after meeting all of the educators and students and parents and principals? Like, what was the biggest thing that you came away saying, Wow, I really think differently about that now?
Ted Dintersmith: 7:50
Well, I clearly shifted not dramatically, but whatever respect I had for teachers going into the trip, which was a reasonably high level of respect only got higher. I mean, the number of teachers that would share with me, you know, in tears, you know, a variant along these lines, which is, every morning, I have to decide, do I do what’s best for my students, or what the state tells me to do? There are a lot of teachers in that category. You know, an incredibly moving day for me, is going to the national teachers Hall of Fame in Emporia, Kansas, and you see this knoll where they have these plaques and monuments and, you know, not massive monuments, but commemorating the teachers who gave their lives in classrooms for their students. And it just hit me, you know, like, we trust these teachers with the lives of our kids, but we don’t trust them with their own lesson plans. I mean there’s something really wrong there. And so that was one of my biggest things was just sort of an increase in respect and appreciation. As well, you hear all the time people say, you know, well, our teaching forces are innovative or one that really troubles me is why our public schools can’t innovate. And, you know, you realize, you put public schools and No Child Left Behind straight jackets for 20 decade, in 20 years. You tell them what they can’t do day in and day out, and then you criticize them for not being innovative. I mean, that is not fair. Despite it all I met a lot of teachers doing incredible things in public schools that I write about that just blew me away when they were able to think differently about how they want to engage and inspire their kids.
Will Brehm: 9:32
I want to ask you a list of terms basically that are sort of these I don’t know popular faddish policy terms in education today that we hear a lot in the media and a lot of politicians and big education reformers, quote unquote, reformers talk about and I want to hear your perspective of these terms, but from the perspective of all the people you’ve met. And so the first one is 21st century skills. We hear this a lot these days, what is your opinion on 21st century skills?
Ted Dintersmith: 10:05
Would people listen to me? I don’t hear a lot that’s different from what happened back in the days of Plato. And so I think in some ways, thinking that you have to be a creative problem solver, a communicator, whatever. And putting that in the context of the 21st century is a bit of a misnomer.
Will Brehm: 10:23
What about college ready?
Ted Dintersmith: 10:25
You know, this one to me is, and I pointed this in my book as one of the biggest factors impeding innovation in our K through 12 schools, and disengaging so many students. And honestly, lots of the college ready content is not of intrinsic interest to kids, is not terribly relevant to adults, and is largely baked into a system because it’s easy to test. And so I feel like we need to step back and say, we have gone dramatically overboard and pushing college ready onto the agendas of our particular middle school and high school kids.
Will Brehm: 11:03
Stem, STEM education?
Ted Dintersmith: 11:06
Another trendy thing you’ll read all the time, every kid you know, you are not going to do well in the 21st century without a STEM background, which is I think pure baloney. I actually think liberal arts is really important, you know, because they do teach these fundamental things that are important. You know that just as Plato and Socrates took on very challenging issues, kids are immersed in some of these complex ideas you find in literature, or history or philosophy, or any one of a long set of disciplines can be great vehicles for developing skills that are really important. STEM, first of all, and this is in my book as well, as I talked about the fact that, you know, for instance, MIT students on graduation day, somebody had the great idea which I think it actually is a really great idea to videotape these students on graduation day taking on this incredibly difficult challenge, which is they give the students a light bulb, a wire and a battery and say, can you light up the light bulb and kid after kid after kid, you know, cap and gown, you know, degree from the most prestigious Engineering Institute in the world, five on AP Calculus BC, five on AP Physics, 800 on the SAT and MIT blah blah blah, I mean, like, these are the best of the best, they can’t light up a light bulb. What you know, with a wire and a battery, they can’t do it. And, you know, right up the river, I talked about Eric, Missouri at Harvard in what he learned in his physics courses at Harvard. And so I’m actually deeply skeptical that when we say kids are really getting great at STEM, that in a lot of cases, I don’t know that it really goes much beyond memorizing formulas, memorizing definitions would be facile with being able to spend them back on an exam and slightly varied forms. And so, you know, like, I feel like if a kid’s passion is STEM, it can be a great path forward. But I think we need to start blending the academic with a lot more the applied, you know, that kids that are interested in physics need to be shadowing a master electrician and wiring things up and actually making circuits work instead of just memorizing Coulomb’s law and Kirchoff’s law, because I think we’re fooling ourselves when we think we’re producing great scientists and engineers in our colleges, the employers often tell me, they get here, they don’t really understand much of anything, we got to teach it to them as if they’ve never taken these courses.
Will Brehm: 13:29
It reminds me of that one part in your book, where you talk about this presidential summit that you attended when Obama was president. And there was all sorts of discussion all the way up to the Secretary of Education about calculus. You know, calculus is the thing we need to put back into the curriculum and get more kids taking calculus. And, you know, so why is that sort of this narrative that reaches all the way up to the highest levels of policymakers?
Ted Dintersmith: 13:58
Well, I put it back on the policymakers, the people that say things like that, and don’t know what they’re talking about. And they really don’t. I mean, you know, if you can google my background, I mean, I published papers written back before computational resources were really much of anything. When I had to do clothes for medicals by hand, you know, so I’m not without a fair amount of perspective on when calculus actually was useful, and how it’s a lot less used today. I mean, you know, and kids will get done with AP calculus, and you ask them when would you ever use this? Their answer is, I have no idea, you know, but they might be able to, if they’re particularly good at it to a hyperbolic cosine transformation. But Photomath or WolframAlpha does that instantly on your smartphone so we have these kids spend nine months replicating what a smartphone can readily do without ever making a mistake and they never quite get to how to apply it and actually calculus is something that has very limited applicability. You know but if you’re one of these bureaucrats, it just sounds good. You know, oh, well, kids, you know, isn’t it a tragedy that half the kids in America in high schools they don’t offer calculus. And college admissions officers, oh, we really look for kids that have taken on the rigor of calculus. You know, it’s just mind numbing, because most of the kids that take calculus are not taking statistics. You can get great jobs with statistics, it’s important for career, it’s important for citizenship, it comes into a lot of your personal decisions that are consequential and yet, we’re telling kids take something that almost no adult in America uses and don’t take something that’s indispensable across the three most important things in your life, work, citizenship and personal decisions. You know, it’s like and we just owe our kids better than that, we owe our kids a more informed perspective on the things we advocate as being important.
Will Brehm: 15:55
Okay, so going back to this list of buzzwords and ideas and policies. What about charter schools? What did you find about charter schools as you were crossing America?
Ted Dintersmith: 16:05
Well, I think that charter schools, public schools, private schools, take the category, I don’t care which one it is, you can find some great examples of schools, some okay examples and some bad examples. And I actually don’t think those percentages across the type of school that is are all that different. Yet, you know, you read in the newspapers, you look at where a lot of philanthropists direct their money. And so charter schools are dramatically superior to public schools, despite the data that says there’s really not an appreciable difference in performance. And those are performances measured by standardized tests. And there’s a lot of evidence that charter schools are doing, you know, two things. One is they’re trying to somehow dot the kids that are going to test as well, I think you see some of that. And also they are relentless about test prep. And so I think there’s nuance to these things. But we often just try to simplify it. And so there are charter schools out there, my film Most Likely to Succeed is about High Tech High in San Diego, a really spectacular school. It’s a charter school, it was started back in the days when there was a small number of charter schools formed to really prove out bold in different types of innovations. And I think most people would say there’s a role for that. That’s an important thing to have in our education system. Today, though, most charter schools are co-opted by people who are just going to try to grind out better test scores from their students and hold that up as a measure of success. And I think it’s such a shallow view of things that, you know, we just, again, we need to think harder when millions of kids lives around the lines with the policies and decisions and the massive amounts of funding we direct to schools, you know, are tied to things that just don’t reflect careful plot.
Will Brehm: 17:54
So on your trip, when I read your book, it is very, it’s much more optimistic than I actually imagine that would be before I started reading, and I want to get into some of that optimism about you know, there are many schools and systems in America that are basically doing everything different than what you’re just talking about before, you know, I mean, they’re not trapped in this old way of thinking. And there are many educators trying their hardest to innovate within the constraints of the system that exists. So can you tell me a little bit about, you know, the inspirational features of some of these schooling systems? And, you know, what do these really innovative schools look like that you visited and met the teachers and students who attended?
Ted Dintersmith: 18:43
Yeah, it’s so interesting because one of the challenges I faced in writing the book and I hope I met it is that the specifics of the things that blew me away, you know, when you looked at exactly what these kids were doing, there was no rhyme reason they were really quite different. But there were general principles that undergirded them that really made the difference between, you know, a kind of same old same old classroom where kids, you know, just kind of go through the motions and the occasional question is, will this be on the test, versus these classrooms, these schools, these even out of school settings, where kids are just racing ahead, you know, the learning is deep and retained and joyful, and you just sort of say, man, they have got this and which is why I found the whole trip so inspiring, and why I think and remain deeply hopeful that we’re going to make enormous progress in, you know, a relatively short period of time, because we don’t need to invent what works, I mean, it’s being done, you can find something really great in any school in the country, certainly, any community has its great proof points. And so we don’t need to travel to Finland to see better education, you know, we don’t need to travel to Shanghai, you know, I mean, it’s like it’s being done in the US, it is being done in lots and lots of places. And I think one of the things we need to do a better job of celebrating those successes, which is a goal of my book, and encouraging other people not to copy it, but to in their own way, embrace things that help their kids, you know, have better learning outcomes and be better prepared for a world that’s going to be full of opportunity for the people that are creative and bold and, you know, think outside of the box and curious and a bunch of other things that often get left behind in the process of school. But that world for somebody that’s just conditioned to jump through hoops for somebody that’s just good at memorizing content, replicating low level procedures that kid’s going to be in a world of hurt point forward. And so I think it’s that pattern. And that’s why intentionally wrote the book picking things from every state in the country to really reinforce the point that it’s not just in, you know, actually I found Palo Alto I found California to be not that innovative you know, but you can find these great things in places that many people don’t think of its innovative you know, that North Dakota is, you know, the country that Kentucky’s, you know, these there these really great people fighting in every single day to advance learning for their kids.
Will Brehm: 21:22
And do you think all of the different models and systems that you’ve seen that were inspiring? Are they scalable? I mean, you said don’t copy it, right. But how then can it be scaled even a whole school district or a whole state, you know, maybe not think about the national level?
Ted Dintersmith: 21:40
Yeah, and I write about districts. So, you know, I’ve got a great chapter, a great profile of what’s going on in Charlottesville, Virginia, great district level innovation, the state level New Hampshire, so not only can it I mean, it is being scaled but it’s being scaled at a meta level instead of at a prescriptive level. And so what the people that are really thinking carefully about this are doing is scaling a set of conditions instead of scaling, you know, a cookie cutter model of a particular classroom or school. And I think that’s really the difference between, you know, two decades or more of US education policy, which is decided on behalf of everybody across the country, you need to do X and so now we’re going to make you do it. And we will hold, you know, Title One funding out to sort of bribe you to make sure you, you know, march to the right tune on this versus the really informative, thoughtful leaders like, you know, Jenny Barry in New Hampshire who are looking at how do you put in place the conditions that led superintendents and principals and classroom teachers do the things they entered the profession to do? And how do you trust the teachers to lead the way in far more informed assessments. And so to me, that’s really incredibly encouraging, you know, where you look at a model that is not being scaled, as I say with you, Will, on October 17, study x in class y, which, I mean, who the heck wants to live in a world like that students don’t want to, teachers don’t want to, I mean, when we micromanage a curriculum, and say that all kids need to study the exact same thing for the exact same high stakes test, we really are undercutting any real chance of learning and proficiency development among kids, as opposed to putting in place a condition. So let people run with things, set their goals, really just knock it out of the park in terms of accomplishment.
Will Brehm: 23:44
So what are some of these conditions, right? Like, there must be some sort of, I don’t know, more abstract conditions that that might be able to be scaled to the middle level, like you said?
Ted Dintersmith: 23:55
I put it at the top of the list where it works. There’s a high degree of trust, you know, and if you, you know, it’s one of the things that happens, the bigger the bureaucracy, the more the machine moves away from trusting people to implementing policies and procedures to keep something bad from happening. Once you take trust out of the system, once you, you know, look at what we did our brilliance of holding teachers accountable to standardized test they didn’t believe in and I think, shouldn’t have believed in. You know, we’ve really, you know, cut the legs out from under, you know, what our schools are capable of doing, you know, so that’s the first thing I’d say trust. Second thing is having clarity about where you want to get with kids. And, you know, I talked about, you know, schools, districts, even states that are thinking very carefully about what are the, what are the competencies, what are the skill sets and mindsets you want your students to be developing and be clear at that level. And then working back from that, to understand what school experiences will lead to that. And for sure, the competencies that are going to matter going forward are not memorizing content, replicating low level procedures, following instructions. Machine intelligence is already far better at that than any person could ever be. But it is things like, you know, creative problem solving or aspects of citizenship or aspects of character like never giving up. And so the question is, then how do you embed those in the school experience but not fall prey to this cockamamie thing, like, we’re going to have standardized test of grid, you know, like, you know, like we would someday be here, we’re going to have standardized test of creativity, which honestly, kind of falls in the category of a profoundly bad idea. But, you know, and then really tying the student work to authentic accountability, are they producing things they’re proud of that beat some level of some standard, you know, if a kid is really going to be held accountable to their ability to do great work in language arts? How do you test that? Well, you know, it turns out, you know, and this is another thing that I think is so interesting is that, that if you don’t feel the need to roll all these things up into a particular number, it turns out there are easy ways to, you know, make sure the kids are held accountable. I mean, I often share the story that in 25 years in venture capital, I never want to ask somebody what their SAT scores were, what their grade point average was, but I always ask them to send me three or four writing samples of work that they’re proud of. I’ve learned so much, it didn’t take me five hours to read three or four writing samples. And I actually think that that approach said a lot about my successes as a venture guy is I can read their best examples in, you know, a few minutes, 5, 6, 7 minutes, I can read them. And if they were interesting, I could pick up the phone and talk to them and say, you know, of the things you sent me the third one really struck by interest. Tell me more about it, ask him some questions. If it was really their work. If they really mastered it, they had great answers. And so you think about something like the SAT essay question, right? I think this is so telling is that for 12 years, the College Board gave essay questions on the SAT, it’s actually something really useful to do, you know, kid has no prep, you know, no help from any adult, they can’t anticipate the topic, there’s a proctor you really get to see the kids on writing.
If they had just said for all applications, admissions officers, if you want to see an authentic example of the kids work without coaches, without parents, without tutors, click on this and you’ll see their essay. They didn’t do that. No, they said, we got to put a number on it. And so they ran these essays through these, you know, out of work people they’d hire off of Craigslist, who in interviews will say, I didn’t even read the work I just scan it, people have debunked it by taking great writers and having right sheer nonsense and getting a 750 to 800. If they just were, you know, five paragraphs, four to five sentences per paragraph, invert the sentence structure, introduce some vocabulary words that you know, that are unusual or challenging. Bingo 750 to 800.
And you realize like we obsess about rolling it up and do a few numbers when we’re really letting the easy measurement tail wag the learning dog. And so like New Hampshire, there are digital portfolios with these students, teachers lead the way in authentic assessments but they can be audited. So if your school board and your school is saying most of our kids are doing anywhere from well to outstanding in these areas, you can say I want to look at 10 at random portfolios, see for yourself, teachers cross check each other. To me, that’s far better in terms of getting kids to work on authentic, you know, projects and essays and you know, they value creativity, they really do align with developing skills that matter with a thoughtful assessment system or assessment framework as opposed to boom, high stakes test. They’re generating multiple choice or formulaic essays, somebody somehow turns them into a number. And then when they go up 0.7%, everybody says, great, when they go down 0.3%, everybody says the bottom is falling out. I mean, it really makes no sense.
Will Brehm: 29:26
America is sort of known maybe in a more negative way for having very different funding levels between schools based on these property taxes, and then also deeply segregated schools even after Brown versus the Board of Education. How do you think America is going to be? Or do you think America is going to be able to overcome some of these race and class divisions that we find in schooling?
Ted Dintersmith: 29:56
Yeah, it’s a huge issue. And I talked about being, you know, two different schools 10 miles apart, in Mississippi and, you know, it’s just night and day. One is in a building that anybody would probably say should be condemned. And the other one had, you know, just football fields, fields, plural, you know, practice fields, the main stadium I mean, it’s just most beautiful place in the world you can imagine and you find that all over America. I’m not picking on Mississippi is that it’s almost anywhere you go, you can, in 10, 15 miles you can find two school particular here, urban, suburban area, you can find two schools in close proximity with dramatically different amounts of budget, you know, funding is really this, you know, Rodriguez versus the San Antonio decision more than Brown versus the board that drove all that because local property taxes tell the story. And that’s a very difficult gap to get people to face up to, because the ones with the cloud, the ones with the power, you know, are the ones that you know, have their kids going to the better resource schools. And so it’s a huge issue. But then we take something that’s an enormous challenge. And we make it that much worse. Because if you look at the data on how much time kids in the under resourced schools spend doing worksheets. I mean that’s their day, they’re doing worksheets around the clock. They’re giving material that they have no interest in, material that we can’t really explain how it will ever matter them in life, you know, we block them from getting a high school degree because they can’t pass Algebra Two. I mean, you know, like, I got a PhD in math modeling from Stanford. And I’m not sure in my career I ever used anything from Algebra Two. I mean, you know, like, it’s just really astounding the things we pile up block kids from getting a high school degree, because nobody ever steps back and thinks about it. And so what I found, which gave me encouragement, actually, quite a bit of encouragement is when the heart and soul of school was far more aligned with challenges that were messy and ambiguous and connected with the real world where it wasn’t clear what you needed to do to get an A where you knew you were going to fail multiple times and had to just keep coming at it where you know, where it required real out of the box, you know, out of the box thinking that you know, again and again, people would tell me oh my gosh, you know, these underperforming kids, the at risk kids, the kids that we’ve sort of viewed as being not on the right side of the bell curve, they actually blow us away when they’re doing something they care about. And oftentimes a really rich, you know, micromanaged kids fall apart when they’re given that kind of ambiguity. I mean, they paralyzed, they’re paralyzed when they think they might fail. And so it suggests this view that we could better prepare all kids by connecting more of their school experience with taking on, you know, creating and carrying out initiatives that one way, shape or form make the world better that do have lots of ambiguity and lots of messiness, and lots of challenge with them, that’s actually better preparation for them later in life, and starts to make real progress and reversing that achievement gap.
Will Brehm: 33:14
So when I was finished reading your book, I kind of I was left feeling to be honest, that a lot of what you’re saying is about education is really for getting children prepared to enter a workforce that is going to look radically different in the future than it does now. And I just wanted to ask on your journey, did you experience or witness in a sense civics or citizenship, or the ability to learn how to be in the world? Right, like, so how does citizenship education fit within public schooling? I mean, is education only about jobs? Or is there more?
Ted Dintersmith: 33:52
Yeah, and you know, I do write a lot about school experiences, where kids are connected to the world and in different ways, making their world better. And in some of those ways, it’s directly aligned with the career path. And that’s important to me, I mean, I feel like we have given a kid an enormous gift if they come out of high school with the skill set to directly get a job that pays well above the minimum wage. And by the way, I think that’s doable for most kids in school in America today, and their K through 12 years.
And you know, so as opposed to spending the entirety of K through 12 on college ready, which means that the kid leaving high school really has to choose between a crap, a lousy minimum wage job or college, they pick college. You know, the math on that is pretty dreadful with, you know, only half finishing in six years or less. And then of those that finish, only half of those get any kind of a job we normally associate with a college degree. So it’s sort of like you start down the four year path, four-year degree path. And it’s one chance in four in a reasonable time frame, at least the kind of job everybody thinks a guarantees, and of those kids, no matter who they are, you know, 70% are taking on substantial amounts of student loan debt. And trying to pay off student loan debt, if you don’t have a very good job is a nightmare. And so, you know, I look at that. And so I feel like in a ruthless economy, and people need to try, I mean, if they google me, you know, like, I know a lot about innovation. People need to really recognize the fact that machine intelligence is just advancing at a blistering pace. And you know, I tell this story about the team that got funding at Google for the driverless car, which is now I want to say, maybe eight years ago and so they put their careers on hold, they made this big bet on driverless cars, you would think that they would be by and large really optimistic about being able to pull it off and the most optimistic person in the founding groups said that it would take at least 20 years before we’d have driverless cars. So you know, three years ago, driverless cars were three times safer than human driven cars. So if it’s been talked about today, it will be real in 10 years. I mean, it’s just will be real.
So that’s why I push so hard for making sure kids have an ability to plug in to the economy and make their way forward. I don’t think by the way, it’s either or, I don’t think it’s just and actually really celebrate and focus on schools that blend the academics with the career that learn about electricity by shadowing a master electrician instead of studying Coulomb’s law that captured documentaries, you know, the right docu.., produced documentaries to capture aspects of their local history. I think there’s a way to blend.
Experiences are really give kids a career lift with experiences that get them thinking about intellectual ideas. And that’s one of the great roles these teachers play is to say, oh, you’re interested in this, What about this, is sort of move that initial interest to something broader and to really get at the core thing of citizenship you know, I mean, what is it mean to be a citizen i mean, is it you know, AP US history, right? But everybody says that the gold standard for history classes in high school in America is AP US history. You know, it’s like less than a class period on the Constitution. I mean, the number of adults that can explain to you anything about the Constitution is, you know, like you’re lucky if it’s one in 50. And so we give lip service to preparing kids for citizenship, but I don’t think it’s happening. And yet if kids suddenly start proactively identifying opportunities, challenge problems in their community and learn that they can take their own talents and their ability to learn and their ability to just keep going at it with support from their community and they can make a positive difference in their world. That to me is the most important citizenship lesson we can deliver to our kids.
Will Brehm: 37:54
Well, Ted Dintersmith, thank you so much for joining Fresh Ed and best of luck promoting the book.
Ted Dintersmith: 37:58
Well, thank you, thanks for having me and I really love what you’re doing so I hope we get a chance to meet in Tokyo and I’m just cheering you on from afar.
Will Brehm: 38:06
Thank you so much
Based on their experiences in the current labor movement sweeping the UK, they find an alternative to the neoliberal university.
Their new co-written blog post entitled “University Strikes: Reclaiming a space for emancipatory education” was published by Discover Society.
Learn more about the strikes here: https://www.facebook.com/StrikeOnTeachOut/