Speaker 0 00:00:00 Hi everyone. And welcome to the 111th episode of the Atlas society asks. My name is Jennifer Anju Grossman. You can call me JAG as you know, I'm CEO of the Atlas society. We are the leading non-profit introducing young people to the ideas of I Rand in fun, creative ways like graphic novels and animated videos. Today, we are joined by Chris Stewart. Uh, I'm very excited to, to have him on and I'm going to introduce him. But before I do that, guys, uh, start queuing up your questions, whether you are watching us on zoom or on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube. You can use the comment section to start typing in your questions, keep them short, and we'll get to as many of them as we can. So our guest, Chris Stewart is chief chief executive officer, uh, for bright beam and education, nonprofit focused on child justice.
Speaker 0 00:01:01 Stewart's past roles include C CEO for the way finder foundation, executive director of the African American leadership forum, uh, and a publicly elected Minneapolis board of education member for a decade prior to entering philanthropy and public policy. He worked directly with families in poverty, through public and private organizations. The Bush foundation named Stewart, a 2014 leadership fellow and a 2019 Pahara Aspen fellow. Chris serves on the boards of ed navigators and great schools. He blogs and tweets under the name, citizen Stewart and [email protected]
He is based in outstate, Minnesota, Chris, welcome again. Thanks for joining us.
Speaker 1 00:01:56 Thank you. Happy to be here.
Speaker 0 00:01:59 So, uh, first I'd love to start with a bit of your backstory, your origin story. Uh, where did you grow up? I know you moved around, uh, quite a bit. Mm-hmm <affirmative> mm-hmm <affirmative> like growing up. So tell us a little bit about that and, uh, what was the trajectory that brought you to where you are today?
Speaker 1 00:02:21 So in that first part, you know, the origin story, it, it is transient, uh, transient childhood that I had, uh, I grew up in, uh, well, I was born in California. I was there for a few grades, the early grades moved to, uh, Louisiana. So, uh, did, uh, a portion of elementary, middle and high school in new Orleans, uh, and did, uh, fourth grade in Minnesota and fifth grade in Los Angeles of all places. Uh <laugh> and then back to, uh, Louisiana again. So it was a, it was a strange, uh, K12, uh, career. I wasn't in the same school, I think more than a year in all those 12 years of school. Uh, so I had a very interesting connection to my education or, or lack thereof. When you talk about the trajectory though, of how did I get here today? I mean, you know what I talk about mostly as education, I'm really focused on autonomous education mostly, but, you know, I talk a lot about, um, um, educational choice and options and pathways, uh, so that every kid can find themselves in schools.
Speaker 1 00:03:30 That trajectory of how, how I got here really started when I was 22, when I became a dad. Uh, and I kind of discovered at a very early age that I was responsible for someone else. And I knew very little about public education. I knew very little about schools, but I did know all the ways that it could go wrong cuz of my own experience. So had I not become a parent, you and I might not even be talking today. We might, you know, <laugh>, I might be living some other lifestyle, some fabulous lifestyle that, uh, I'm not living right now, but, um, it really started when I put my oldest into kindergarten and I thought to myself, you know, the crappy type of jobs that I'm doing in life, the, the kind of my job outlook, the things that I have going on, uh, are not really gonna do a lot for my kid.
Speaker 1 00:04:15 So I'm gonna have to figure this, this thing out for him, you know, if nothing else and little by little like year by year, I became the more dangerous parent, uh, <laugh> more dangerous for the system. I should say. I learned more, um, I took it on really like a student and I really like I did first grade and uh, mastered it, did second grade and mastered it with, you know, with my kid and, um, became an activist. And you know, after a while I started helping other parents started, you know, getting involved in policy battles, uh, battles with the schools, the school board, uh, and that's really what got me here.
Speaker 0 00:04:54 Um, well speaking of those jobs, you, I think you mentioned at some point on a recent podcast that you've had more than 40 different jobs over the course of your career. Uh, you, you don't look old enough to have that many jobs, but I've had a lot jobs. What, what were some of those and you know, how did they prepare you for, for what you you do today?
Speaker 1 00:05:18 I did a lot of retail, uh, a lot of food service, hospitality, hotels, uh, I did Sears pennies, Marshall fields. I was an elf one Christmas <laugh>, uh, for Christmas. Um, what else did I, I sold magazines door to door and a traveling group, uh, uh, quit in the middle of my day shift in a hundred degree heat in Nevada. Uh, I sold cut co knives, man, if I really had to go through the whole thing, uh, it's a lot of different things that I did. And, um, uh, you know, how do those play into, you know, who I became or what I do now? It was all a hustle. It was all trying to move up a leg. It was like, you know, I was never gonna be satisfied, whatever station I was in. Uh, when I moved to Minnesota, I remembered this. I've been in Minnesota, all of my adult life. Uh, they were basically giving away jobs when I moved here. I, when I left California, um, um, and this is like, you know, teenage years, uh, when I left California, you couldn't buy a job. Like the job market was so terrible there that I remember the last job I applied for was at a, a place called pepper mill, um, restaurant.
Speaker 0 00:06:32 Yeah, I think I remember that.
Speaker 1 00:06:33 Do you remember the pepper mill
Speaker 0 00:06:35 Business? Mm-hmm
Speaker 1 00:06:35 <affirmative> and I applied for a busboy job and, uh, and had lots of experience in everything in, in the, the restaurant business and didn't get it, cuz there were like 40 people. So I took a Greyhound bus to Minnesota and I had a job in two days and I had three jobs in a week and uh, I remember just walking through the mall, it was like they would interview you and ask you when you could start. And literally they met like when could, when could you start? And that began my hustle mm-hmm <affirmative> that began my like, oh this is a lot of opportunity here. Um, and you know, totally different lifestyle than I had in California. You know, I had a place really quickly, uh, you know, uh, um, but I hustled mm-hmm <affirmative> if I was the shift, if I was the shift manager today, I wanted to be the store manager, you know, <laugh> shortly after that and that's where my sites were already set. Um, so work was the big thing for me. Education was gonna be the big thing for my kid. Hmm. Uh, his work was going to be education.
Speaker 0 00:07:35 Interesting. So, uh, I was saying, it seemed impossible that you did 40 jobs, but if you were working three jobs at a time, then, uh, I guess that could help to, to fill it up. And, and your story reminds me of a colleague that I had when I worked at doll food company and the company was going to move him from California to, uh, to North Carolina and his wife was managing a very successful restaurant here. I said, well, you know, what are you going to do? What is she going to do? I mean, you're kind of moving into the middle of nowhere. And they said, oh, well, she'll just take a job as a, you know, busing tables or whatever washing dishes within the year, she'll be running the place. Hmm. I love, love that kind of, you know, confidence. Mm-hmm <affirmative>, if you're you're good, you, you know, you know, that you can, uh, make it happen.
Speaker 0 00:08:23 If not in this place, in this job, then you'll hustle and be entrepreneurial and find the next one. Um, alright. So also speaking of your evolution, we kind of get with the, uh, your experience negative, largely negative experience, um, with education and system, and then really becoming the CEO of your child's and your children's education. Um, but, uh, sort of politically, and I, I understand you're still in evolution and I, and I love that. Um, but you, you voted for Nader twice. Uh, you were drawn to Jesse Ventura mm-hmm <affirmative> um, so maybe talk a little bit about how, you know, maybe what kind of, what kind of politics you were brought up with, if any, and, um, and then how you began to hustle, you know, and kind of think entrepreneurial about what really fit in terms of you.
Speaker 1 00:09:19 Yeah. You know, the earliest that I can remember with politics was really, you know, not party politics, but it was more based upon community politics. So like, it was a big deal when mark Mor or wasn't mark, uh, Dutch Mor ran to be the first black mayor of new Orleans. Uh, and it created a lot of excitement and energy in the community of people. I didn't really know anything about parties or politics other than, you know, uh, this is, this is how you get involved. So I can remember, uh, being part of the excitement as a kid and, you know, uh, going to things with the adults in my life around that race. And when he won, it was like this watershed, it was like this glow, like, oh my God, we won something. Uh, and I just remember, uh, I can't remember exactly how old I would've been, but it was my first time ever feeling like, oh, you participated in the process somehow and you won, and this is what it means to win.
Speaker 1 00:10:16 And you have this glow and this feeling, uh, about it. And it was based on community politics, uh, African American politics, um, uh, the scent to power, the, uh, the desire to, to, um, to make progress and to be free. And, uh, that's what I felt about it in those earlier years, later years, um, man, when I was 12 or 13 and, you know, in prep for this, I had to go back and think through some of this <laugh>, uh, cuz I actually wondered if I voted for Naor three times, uh, uh, and not twice. I couldn't remember who I voted for the third time, but uh, when I was 12, um, I remember <laugh> for some reason, glamming onto John Anderson who was running as an independent, uh, in the, in 1980. Um, and uh, I don't know why, I don't know how I came about it, but I just liked somebody being different.
Speaker 1 00:11:08 I just liked somebody who didn't sound like the other guys. And uh, I still don't know very much about John Anderson. I just don't. I remember like writing him into an election at school that we had, uh, and really following him throughout that race and then Reagan won and you know, I didn't remember much more after that. Um, I only say that cuz it foreshadows what came later, you know, by the time 96 rolled around, I was really disenchanted with what Nader called the duopoly. And I just didn't feel like it was, uh, uh, that you had to choose, uh, one or the other. And I wasn't bought into the politics of this or that, you know, either one or the other, uh, and his platform around things like good government, you know, um, uh, transparency and all those things really resonated with me. And he was able because he was an outsider and I wouldn't have known this then being kind of, you know, young in, in my thinking in politics, I wouldn't have known this then, but he was freed up to say a lot of things that other people couldn't say, just because I think he knew that he was such a, an outlier so far outside.
Speaker 1 00:12:11 I was one of those people that really believed it could happen. Right. Like looking back now, I think that's kind of funny, but you know, I was a true believer that this really could happen and um, that he could win, uh, when I say this could happen and um, and you know, he didn't win of course. And you know, uh, <laugh> I can remember a second time around and getting a lot of pressure from people like, you know, because it was, the stakes were higher when it was, you know, gore versus Bush. And how could you dare vote for a third party and how could you even think about it? And, um, the Jesse Ventura thing came around and I was a volunteer on Jesse's campaign on some things. And he got very invested in it, cuz I, I thought that he was really speaking, uh, the best vision for Minnesota at that time as a governor.
Speaker 1 00:12:55 And I can remember working in a place where, um, where it was evenly split between Republicans and Democrats and the office that I was in at that time. Uh, it was a place called access cash. Uh, um, we did, we were the first kind of people to deploy, uh apropo to your, your symbol there. Um, um, ATMs into businesses and people were pressuring me at work from both sides. Come on, Chris, you can't be serious. You know, the guy's not gonna win. I mean, he's a Le he's a wrestler. He's not serious. The stakes are too high, you know, pick a team. It was that sort of thing. So I had Republicans and Democrats kind of saying that to me because the race was very close, very, very close. So after he won <laugh> that next day walking into the office, I mean, I could have just like strut, no bigger coming into the office the next day.
Speaker 1 00:13:46 And no one wanted to talk about it. No one wanted to look at me. Jesse Ventura was, uh, uh, it was a great campaign to be involved with. It was one of the smartest visions. It was very smartly one. Uh, and he was one of the better governors that we ever had. And it was precisely because he wasn't owned by the duopoly on either side, he formed a very common sense, uh, government. And, um, I can remember within weeks he sent us a rebate check cuz we had, you know, we had a surplus and instead of spending the surplus, he sent everybody a check and I can remember getting that check being in between paychecks and thinking my vote worked. <laugh> like my whole thing. This is material politics in action. This is the real deal here. And he governed very smartly after that. Um, he didn't build a lot of party. He didn't make a lot out of it, uh, out of his win, which he could have. Uh, and the duopoly spent all four years trying to make sure it never happened again, uh, and actually collaborating to make sure that there would never be a third party win again. Um, uh, but yeah, that spirit never left me. That was way back then. And that spirit has never really left me.
Speaker 0 00:15:02 Um, I wanna remind everybody, who's watching, please go ahead type your questions in this is a really wonderful, um, opportunity to, to chat with, uh, with Chris, it's got a very different perspective than, um, you know, just the standard right wing, left wing, even libertarian. Um, I found it very refreshing, uh, but also just wanna get into the meat of his work. And I was, uh, really intrigued by, uh, this study that bright beam came out with a couple of years ago. Uh, it was called the secret shame, how America's most progressive cities betray their commitment to educational opportunity for all. So let's get into it. Um, what did you find and what was the reaction to your findings? And I'm also gonna ask, um, our team to put that the link to that study in, in all of the, uh, the platforms, cuz it really was shocking have to say.
Speaker 1 00:16:08 Uh, yeah, well <laugh>, I wasn't really shocked, but the, the secret shame I report came out a few years ago, probably about three years ago. Now we looked at the top 50, uh, conservative cities in the top 50, um, uh, liberal cities or progressive cities and we narrowed them down. I think we had a very long list from MIT that rated min municipalities based upon how progressive they were or how, um, conservative they were. And they had a criteria for it. I think we narrowed it down to the top 12 on both sides to study. Uh, we did work with, uh, uh, pat Wolf at the U university of Arkansas. Um, and we had some PhDs kind of crunch numbers and look at it. And uh, when I say it, I mean we were looking at student achievement and achievement gap, the gaps between subgroups in those cities and uh, low and behold, the progressive cities had larger, uh, racial achievement gaps than the conservative cities.
Speaker 1 00:17:05 Uh, it'd be, I'd be hard pressed to remember all of the cities off the top of my head, but places like Virginia Beach had VIR virtually no achievement gap, uh, racial achievement gap, uh, in comparison to places like San Francisco and, uh, and Portland. And you know, you go down the list and the, the report really came out of me doing a lot of traveling, making a lot of speeches on education and everywhere I would go before I would make the speech, I would pull their numbers so that I could incorporate it into my speech and give them a little feedback about their city. And, um, I live, uh, at, at the time I lived in the, the twin cities, uh, which is a very progressive college educated, um, city that has really terrible outcomes when it comes to kids of color and has for decades.
Speaker 1 00:17:51 Um, and then I went to Seattle and Seattle, uh, did the whole hold my beer routine. They're like, we're even wealthier. We have even more college educated people than you do. And our kids of color are doing even more poorly than yours are. It's kinda like really dispiriting. How can that be? How can you have, uh, a city that prides itself on progressive government from top to bottom, uh, all the resources that you could possibly want. Uh, and you're getting your clock cleaned by some of these smaller cities and other places in the south, you know, <laugh>, uh, of all places that don't have your politics, the story just repeated itself, I would go to San Francisco, uh, I'd go to Oakland, uh, you know, Austin and the story of progressive cities that had a lot of wealth had a lot of blooming businesses, uh, had mayors that bragged of a world class economy. Couldn't get kids reading, uh, and by, by kids, I mean, couldn't get their kids of color. Mm-hmm, <affirmative> reading on par with their white kids. Meanwhile, you know, you looked at this list of, uh, conservative cities and it was the opposite. Yeah. I wouldn't say it was the exact opposite, but I mean, you know, they were doing better, right.
Speaker 0 00:18:59 There was a couple, I, I remember a couple of, uh, exceptions, but, um, I guess what I found shocking was the size of the gaps, you know, that, that was like in San Francisco and, um, Washington DC that the, uh, the, the gaps were just totally unacceptable. And, um, so what kind of a reaction did you get to the, to, I mean, was, were people were, uh, progressive educators or education officials? Were they embarrassed? Were they, you know, they did they say, well, this, this is not true. Or, um, did they ignore you? Like what, what happened?
Speaker 1 00:19:43 They said, you know, you're absolutely right. We're gonna change immediately everything.
Speaker 0 00:19:48 Um, just give us more money
Speaker 1 00:19:49 <laugh> they didn't say any of that. No, they, um, uh, people were appalled in a lot of cases. People who weren't even really deeply connected to the issue or to the story just didn't want that story to be told about the cities that they were in. You know, there's this really weird thing too. Uh, if you think about it in a lot of these places that I was talking about, this precludes the private school population and a lot of these Uber progressive, very wealthy cities, you have very high private school participation. So that means that this wasn't just about economics either because this was, you know, the gap between the kids, the, the better off kids that were still in the system and the other kids, this wasn't, you know, all the city's kids. Right. So, so, um, so like other places, you know, um, uh, that have lower private school participation, um, there was just this real kind of head in the sand, um, a lot of butts.
Speaker 1 00:20:46 Yeah. But yeah. Yeah. But yeah, but we have more kids that have, um, special education and it's like not been some of these other places you don't, you know, and we have a lot of kids in poverty, not more than some of these other cities that we're clean at, you know, you don't, um, but there's an unwillingness to really face it because I think what a lot of people know is to change what, what we found there has to be some changes to the structure of the system. Mm-hmm <affirmative> to the structure of the rules, the work rules, um, how people teach, why they are there, how they are there, how long they're there for, um, how budgets are done, all of that. Um, and that's not gonna happen anytime soon. So because of that, you have to come up with a, uh, many kind of defensive strategies for getting around the truth.
Speaker 1 00:21:32 Um, but there's just no doubt about it. You're in California, San Francisco, uh, doesn't have a lot of black kids. Uh, I think it's like seven or 8%. Um, it's one of the wealthiest counties on planet earth. <laugh> not just in California, it's one of the wealthiest counties anywhere. And it's one of the best, it's one of the worst places in California for black students. Like I don't care what excuse you have about that, uh, as a mayor. And, and that's really the reason for the report was we wanted to put mayors on the hook for not just saying you're a world class city, but actually running your city. Like you are a world class city, which means that you have world class kids, you have kids that actually can really do well. How can you be the mayor of a city that is the wealthiest damn near anywhere and in your state, you're really kind of sucking wind in comparison to, to cities with less money.
Speaker 0 00:22:25 Hmm. So, uh, the report shines a, a bright light on mm-hmm <affirmative> this, uh, striking correlation, but it doesn't really get into causation. And was that sort of a conscious strategic mm-hmm <affirmative> choice? And I guess, I mean, at some point don't, we need to point to what's causing the failure in, in order to come up with solutions.
Speaker 1 00:22:50 Yeah. I think the most honest that I could be about an answer to that is, uh, it wa first of all, yes, it was intentional to not kind of like, uh, be lazy about making, uh, causal links to anything, um, specifically, because, um, then you start having to really match up cities in a different way to like, really look at all the different things that are going in their cities that could get so complex, that it wouldn't lend itself to doing like a one year study. It would lend itself to having to do multiple years of study, or you could do like a deep dive in just like one or two places and really go deep in the, in those places. And we, we didn't set out that way that still could be done. I mean, you still could do that, but I mean, listen, um, there are nationally, there are things nationally that we know, um, that, uh, that always will be true, always be important.
Speaker 1 00:23:44 How you teach, what you teach, who is teaching, how they were pre, how they were prepared, how they're evaluated, um, uh, how you use data, how you understand the outcomes and do something about the outcomes when you see them and how you intervene. Those things will always matter no matter where you are. Uh, a lot of places have so much fancy stuff going on. They've got a department for everything. They've got, uh, a, a chief and a head of everything. And you have some little small schools in the south and some places where they've got a very simple thing going on, right? They've got, uh, well prepared teachers. Who've been there for a long time. Veterans who know what they're doing and stuff doesn't change every year mm-hmm <affirmative>, and they're, they don't have a director of everything and, you know, whatever. Um, and it's easier when you're in that type of environment than when you're in one of these big, large kind of bureaucratic environments, uh, that has no coherent educational philosophy.
Speaker 1 00:24:45 Doesn't have a high, um, um, doesn't have a high focus on outcomes for instance, but more of a focus on how adults feel and how adults in the system are treated, not how the kids are doing, not a lot of pride of ownership in, you know, in the institution. And one big, major thing that you can't get away with even where I live in Minnesota, that you can't get away with, which is this kind of idea of, you know, oh, listen, poverty is destiny. Like, um, like we just need more money. We need more resources. The kids are poor. Don't expect us to do much with them. Right. And that's a, that's a illiberal kind of way to look at life. That's very deeply embedded in the progressive, um, education workforce.
Speaker 0 00:25:31 Mm-hmm <affirmative> is there something kind of racist about it that they're, you know, saying, well, it's these kids that are, you know, of this race. And so don't expect us to, to get better results. Is there some of that?
Speaker 1 00:25:49 I think it's absolutely classist and racist and untrue. I don't think mm-hmm <affirmative>, um, I don't think your brain stops being elastic because, you know, you don't have a ton of money. I don't think that our poverty is anywhere close to what poverty is globally in places where kids are still learning to read. And there's still Asia, you know, Asian Africa. I mean, there's places in, in this world where kids are sitting on dirt floors and learning to read and, and, and acquiring language and becoming proficient in, in math and in formulas, uh, in ways that we are saying that we have many in our workforce who believe can't be done with America's first world kids that are living in relative poverty. Mm-hmm, <affirmative> like, I just wanna point that out when we say free and reduced lunch, that's our marker for poverty in the United States that free and reduced lunch kid, uh, globally speaking, would be considered, uh, you know, <laugh>, I don't wanna get into, I don't wanna go, go down that path too far, but I'm just saying yes, poverty is real, and it has some attendant, uh, things that come with it that make it harder for kids to acquire, uh, they're learning in school.
Speaker 1 00:27:01 Yes, mm-hmm, <affirmative> absolutely at the same time you can learn to read, you can become proficient. When we talk about pro proficiency in the United States, let's always remind ourselves. That's a very low bar. That is a very low bar. When we, we have school districts that have, uh, approaching basic basic approaching proficiency, kind of proficient, almost proficient, proficient, right? Like when you get to that proficient goal, and that bell goes off, I just wanna remind people, that's still a very low bar mm-hmm <affirmative>. So we're not getting to even a very low bar with kids who are perfectly capable of learning. Like they, they could do it.
Speaker 0 00:27:41 So, um, I'm gonna get to some of these questions that are pouring in shortly, but I still have a few, uh, one of the issues that we've focused a lot on, um, over the past couple of years have been the lockdowns and the school closures and, um, sounding an alarm very early on that, uh, we seemed as public policy, uh, officials seemed to, to lose the ability to think in terms of, of trade offs, right. And so, um, this was our emergency priority and we're gonna do absolutely everything to, um, to try to minimize infections and deaths, but, you know, no thought about what are we doing to kids? What are we doing to, um, to small business? Um, so I wanna talk a little bit even about your own, uh, sort of pandemic and lockdown, um, experience as the, as the father of five. Uh, not yet the grandfather, but I know working on that. Um, and also just, uh, from the, the data and the research that you're looking at, did, did these public policy interventions, um, have a, uh, disparate, negative effect on, um, children of color?
Speaker 1 00:29:01 Yeah, I would say that almost everything that we have seen says to us that the pandemic was not good for any group of kids, but the, the groups of kids that did that fared the poorest, uh, are not something that you would not imagine already. Kids who were already behind kids of color mm-hmm <affirmative>, um, kids in poverty, uh, kids in schools that already were not doing a great job of keeping them on task and getting them, you know, keeping them on trajectory, uh, definitely feared a lot worse. Um, um, and that's just, you know, I hate the way that people use that statistic to say that one kind of public policy intervention versus other, or school closings or whatever was the reason bottom line. Let's just be adults. Pandemics are not good for anything. They're not good for business. They're not good for education.
Speaker 1 00:29:50 They're not good for learning. So there there's a large element of duh to every time I hear this, well, kids fell behind, well, duh, they fell behind. They were at home <laugh> for big parts of the years. They missed foundational skills. They missed foundational lessons, and it's hard to go back and fill those in if you don't go back and fill those in. So now we have this massive remediation project, which people are rebranding as an acceleration project, but we also knew we were gonna have that. I said this from the very beginning of the pandemic, start thinking ahead, think forward two years from now, this is gonna be a problem five years from now. This will be a problem 10 years for this will be a problem because I am sentient being who understands how things work. I'm just thinking you might want to get on the ball and start thinking about the future, no matter what, what your policy intervention is, pandemics.
Speaker 1 00:30:42 Aren't good for kids. Um, I have a different attitude about it. I know there were all these fights where, you know, um, you know, you close the school. So therefore, uh, kids fell behind, you know, I, I have kind of like a, a non-committal response to those type of what I feel like are really just partisan political kind of things that people get into and ROS themselves up up around. Uh, the bottom line is I saw lots of different things happening. Um, uh, I saw, you know, for years, school reformers had said, if we ever had a national Katrina meaning, if we ever had a situation like that, when, uh, Katrina struck new Orleans, where we could completely remodel the schools, we could completely like start, you know, with the new school system like they did with charter schools in new Orleans. That would be our moment.
Speaker 1 00:31:30 This is what, uh, and it wasn't a great thing to say, but this is what a lot of reformers said, that moment came and it was okay. You guys are on now, spotlight on, I mean, the government gave you all your kids back. The government said we got nothing for you. <laugh> you've been telling us that we're not, we're no good for years and turns out like, we really got nothing for you right now. We can't get our systems up. We can't get our lights on. We can't get, you know, our staff back in the buildings, uh, all the things that you said about us for years and years and years, parents out, when the lights went out, they were kind of true and we've gotta figure out whatever we can figure out. So what do you guys have, uh, and you saw the emergence of some things like educational, um, co-ops collaboratives pods, homeschooling, a deep rise in homeschooling, um, collaborative homeschooling where, you know, parents were trading shifts with their kids or whatnot.
Speaker 1 00:32:19 Some unschooling, some people just like, you know, what would be the worst thing that would happen if, you know, if, uh, if my kids just weren't in this grind for a bit of time, like in, you know, they just read at home or whatever. So I saw this differently than a lot of my friends that were starting to get on the front lines and say like, you know, the schools must reopen and how irresponsible you to not reopen the schools and everything. It was the first time I'd ever saw, like conservatives admit that the schools were so vitally important to everything. 10 days before the pandemic. Most of the conservatives in my life would've said something along the lines of the schools are so bad, man. If you just give the kids a iPad and send them home and say, have at her, that'd probably be better than what they're getting at school pandemic comes.
Speaker 1 00:33:01 And suddenly they're the biggest public school supporters ever in the history of mankind. Oh my God, what are we gonna do? We gotta get our kids back in the schools and get 'em reopened again. And I couldn't make any sense of it. Like I couldn't, as a long term education activist who had been pelting this system with rocks for years, I couldn't get the conservative sudden swing to open schools. Traditional district open schools was the grand savior of Americans' children. Um, that's just a different perspective coming from me, but that's the way I was seeing it. You know,
Speaker 0 00:33:34 That's, that's a good point. Um, I, I get the sense, uh, from what you just said and some of the other things that you've said that you were disappointed, um, that this could have been a moment, you know, that we had this Katrina conversation about like, well, what happened if there was this big shock to the system? Um, and that it could have been more of a moment for school choice and all of the kinds of performs that you've been working, um, for, for decades. And so is, is, is that the case? And if so, is it because, uh, reformers weren't prepared or, or they weren't organized or distracted by other things? What's your sense of that?
Speaker 1 00:34:22 Um, so my sense of it is that for years, uh, reformers lived on this idea that they were the innovators and they were bringing something new to the table and innovation is actually a process and it requires kind of skill sets and it requires infrastructure and creative people. And I think they were, uh, bluffing for a long part of the, for all those years. And this was their moment to prove whether or not they had the good Silicon valley kind of like we could make this thing happen. We've got money, we've got smarter people, we've got smarter kind of ideas. Uh, we're, we're all about the good old, you know, innovation stuff. And, you know, we've got money and funding and, you know, everything else that we've been throwing into reform for years. I mean, uh, um, this was the moment light went on. You're on stage now.
Speaker 1 00:35:09 Um, show us what you can cook up. Like quickly. We couldn't get kids broadband. We couldn't get like educational platforms, uh, digital platforms in the hands of substantial number of kids to get them into safe Harbor. My three kids actually had ruralness, um, distance learning for their district schools. And as somebody who lives in this every day, I searched out every kind of possibility and found a few here or there mm-hmm <affirmative>. But if there were really smart people with, uh, some really kind of like wanted to put the college, try in with a little bit of money and saw this opportunity for it was what it was, which was to convince many in America that something alternative could happen outside of the traditional system. I think they botched it. I think they, they missed a, a really big opport and they're still missing it today.
Speaker 1 00:35:56 As a matter of fact, not all the kids have returned for one, not everybody is happy with the arrangements of what they have, but I think sometimes, you know, um, charter schools are, you know, 25, 26 years old, the school choice, the private school choice movement is, you know, are arguably 60 years old. Um, whatnot. In that time, it was a lot of, uh, policy bluster wanting to pass laws, wanting to get public money for things wanting to, uh, be parasitic on top of the existing system, not create something that completely moves kids into safe Harbor. I was saying things like, listen, you can make, uh, low cost private schools for kids in Africa, but you can't make it happen in the United States. Really. You can't do low cost private schools in the United States. Why not? Like we're the, we we're the country that creates things that, that builds things that brings new things to market, you know, um, maybe 15 years ago, um, not everybody could have an iPhone and now everybody can have an iPhone damn near, you know, like we find ways to get things into hands of people just didn't happen.
Speaker 1 00:36:57 Mm-hmm <affirmative>, it just didn't happen. And I, I find it a little bit depressing and it, it, it actually re this is gonna be depressing for you, maybe <laugh>, but it reasserted for me, I think the public education system and the district school system won this argument, because as of today, all those people who three years ago, would've been saying everything that I'm saying was possible in the reform. Now, all those past reformers have conceded that the only thing that they care about now is open district schools. And they're gonna vote on it this November. Mm-hmm <affirmative> who got the schools open the fastest and got the, got all those kids back into the traditional system, the fastest, um, that should say a lot to us, uh, in itself, you know, mm-hmm <affirmative>, um, um, that should say everything to us about how reform did,
Speaker 0 00:37:50 Let's get to maybe, maybe a cheer, um, spot and that's homeschooling don't wanna make assumptions about how you feel about homeschooling and where that fits in the mix of the different options that we'd like to see a lot more diversity in options for the diversity of, of kids and their needs and their interests and their, you know, um, and their acuities. Uh, so we've seen a, a rise in, in homeschooling. Has there also been, uh, significant increase in homeschooling for black families? And what's your perspective on the trend?
Speaker 1 00:38:30 Yeah, I think black families are the fastest growing. They were before the pandemic. They were the fastest growing, uh, group of homeschool mm-hmm <affirmative> before the pandemic, the pandemic expedited it, and a lot of 'em haven't come back. Um, and the black homeschooling movement is pretty powerful now in terms of it's nascent and, you know, it's growing it's, I don't wanna overplay it, but it's, um, there's a lot more resources for them. There's a lot more, uh, uh, fellowship and support amongst black homeschoolers, you know, especially so social media has become very powerful tool for people who previously wouldn't have been able to find each other or provide each other, um, kind of, you know, um, moral and technical support. Um, and I think it's a very smart thing to do. I think that, uh, um, I think from birth black children are given a large series of all the wrong messages.
Speaker 1 00:39:28 And I think one of the healthiest things that you can do is not put them into the message factory, um, too early. Um, I wrote something recently and one of the lines in it that I wrote that, um, got people a little bit upset was I said, if, uh, if America wanted to make sure that black people never reached their full potential, there'd be no more efficient way to make that happen than to demand that we put our babies in the American public education system at age five mm-hmm <affirmative>, uh, and, uh, I believe that to be absolutely true. Um, so homeschooling, uh, isn't for everybody, uh, and it is for a lot of people who don't think that they'd be able to do it though. Right. Um, and there's many more than one way to do homeschooling, which is, I think the pan, what the pandemic showed a lot of black moms and black families is that you don't have to do it alone.
Speaker 1 00:40:18 So homeschooling, like where you just keep your kids at home just by yourself, but you have no cohort or no community is not the only way to do it. And I just have to say, um, <laugh> in my own household, we had three home for those two years. I really enjoyed them being home for those two years. Uh, there were things I just didn't have to worry about. Didn't have to think about, there was all kinds of stuff that, you know, when kids are in school every day, especially when you have multiples in the school system at the same time, it's like you're managing bullying, you're managing, um, calls to parents, calls to schools, you know, falling behind on assignments. A lot of those different things when the three of them were home here every day, it's a little bit more work. And there was also, you know, there was also some peace of mind to it.
Speaker 0 00:41:00 Yeah. And I also, I, I do like trying to find some, um, some bright spots when it is a challenging situation. I had the chance to go up and, uh, take care of my elderly parents for a good part of, of, uh, the, the lockdown. So, so that was, that was positive. At least it was for me, I'm not sure I'll have to get back to how they, they, they, they, uh, felt about it. All right. We have got a lot of questions. I'm not sure if you can see them otherwise I will choose a few. Um, we've got James from Instagram, basic question, I think important question. And that is asking, uh, you, what do you think is the most important aspect for a child growing up? Uh, this, this person says he feels, it is a sense of stability.
Speaker 1 00:41:54 Yeah. I think that's a really tough question, but I would say stability, security, safety, mm-hmm <affirmative>, um, autonomy, um, um, teaching autonomy, teaching agency, teaching sovereignty, um, are the things that I think are really important because I focus so much on autonomous education, which is basically self learning. Like self-taught being self-taught before you go to school, or before you put your mind in the hand of someone else, uh, I think those are really important things to start at home. Um, and, uh, um, yeah. <affirmative> yeah. I think those are most important things, you know, so,
Speaker 0 00:42:32 But I think it is, it's an interesting balance. One of our previous guests was Leno skinna, um, and, and she's, uh, has her whole free-range parenting, um, approach and says that, you know, yes, we need to provide stability, um, and security, but not too much security that, that we, this culture of safety that by protecting our kids, um, from all risks and from making mistakes, that we kind of deprive them the opportunity to, to gain experience, to gain self confidence and resilience, and, and that's could be part of, what's speeding into some of the, the problems that we're seeing in higher education. Okay. Uh, my modern GAT on Instagram asks, where did your drive and hustle come from growing up? Was it the way you were raised or, uh, was it more of a sense of responsibility that came in after you had your first child?
Speaker 1 00:43:33 Um, becoming a dad at a young age? Definitely made me do things I would've never done before. That's for sure. But up until that point, um, I think about everybody in my family, the number one thing in my family, um, more than college going in, I'm trying to think back didn't know very many college graduates necessarily that I can think of, but everybody had a good job <laugh> and by good job, you know, I'm sure everybody listening when I say had a good job, people know what that means when you're in working class, um, um, neighborhoods or working class communities, it could be a range of things. Like my uncle, Raymond was a, was a welder, which was a good job. He'll build a super dome and yeah, still a good job. He'll build a super dome in new Orleans. And, uh, he had things, he had a truck, he had a boat, uh, he had, uh, um, place to live.
Speaker 1 00:44:21 That was imaculate that he himself took care of every single thing. Um, my grandfathers on both sides could fix anything, um, electrical, plumbing, um, any of that stuff in the household, something that got lost in translation through my dad's generation, but being around everybody who was in pursuit of a good job, I was taught that very early. Like that's your job in life is to get a good job. Mm-hmm, <affirmative> more than college, more than anything else. Um, um, so that created a hustle. And then, you know, when I left places where there was not a lot of opportunity and then ended up in places where there was a lot more opportunity, the hustle kicked in like times 10, cuz it was like, oh my God, I can make so many more gains here. Mm-hmm <affirmative> um, than I could somewhere else, Minnesota turned out to be that place for me because economy was much more booming here than it was anywhere else that I lived.
Speaker 0 00:45:11 Mm-hmm <affirmative> all right. Facebook Maria Cummings asks, do you think that people focus too much, uh, at big party national elections versus who is running locally for their school boards and such?
Speaker 1 00:45:26 I think so. <laugh>, I mean like, you know, local, local, local, I think, uh, it pays, it pays to pay attention to national politics and to participate absolutely on big matters of the country. But, um, school board elections are the lowest turnout elections that couldn't have more responsibility over something more important to every community and to your household, your kids like the idea that you have school board members who run unopposed and no one knows how they got there until there's a problem. Um, and that's because like 7%, 8%, 12% turnout is good for school board elections. Um, I think that's gonna be different <laugh> I think if I'm a predicting person I'm predicting over the next two years, three years, four years, that turnout's gonna be higher than it had ever been for school board elections. But to answer the question directly, yes. I think, uh, it pays, pays, um, put your, especially, this is why I wanna say for all people who care about children pay attention, uh, while people are running for mayor city council and school board.
Speaker 1 00:46:32 And when you interact with them, ask them tough questions about what they intend to do to make sure that they have thriving children in their communities and don't let them ever be elected without answering tough questions about that. Literally what's your plan. Uh, let's hear it. Uh, and your mayors have to stop getting elected without, you know, with, with a bunch of platitudes, uh, about kids, but without a plan, this, what we talked about earlier with the progressive cities, mm-hmm <affirmative>, um, their mayors couldn't be prouder of their cities that have just imoral kind of gaps, uh, and opportunity for the kids in their, in their jurisdiction.
Speaker 0 00:47:08 So, and in terms of saying these are the priorities, these are the questions, uh, you need to ask is, is, is that a little bit of what we, you know, you're trying to get across in, in the book that you and your eight black hands podcast, uh, co-hosts recently published, tell or tell us a little bit about what, what the book, uh, who did you write it for and what are some of the tools in this toolkit of education?
Speaker 1 00:47:35 Yeah, so we really wrote that and, you know, it's a thin guide. We wanted to do something that we could get done fast enough that was, uh, accessible and readable with some clear guidelines for civilians, for people that don't live in education policy all day. Uh, and don't, you know, do what we do, which is, uh, um, uh, we're activists. So we think about it a lot and we know where the targets are and everything we wanted to write this for people who have kids in schools, um, who want to know from a parents's perspective, from a student's perspective, from a school leader's perspective and a community member's perspective, how could they could be best armed to, um, um, you know, really know what the keys are, what are the bottom line, what's the bottom line? What are the things I should be focusing on? What are the things I should be caring about, uh, to make sure that my kids thrive wherever I am, whatever level of, kind of like understanding that I'm at, give me some clear guidelines and that's what, uh, what we wrote about.
Speaker 0 00:48:36 Okay, great. So we'll also put that link where people can get the book in all of the, um, the platforms, uh, this, this hour has really flown by. We have about 12 more minutes. Uh, and I do, there are a lot of really great questions. I still wanted to get to some of them. Yeah. But, um, but there were, I mean, I, I just learned a lot in researching, um, this interview and in reading some of your, uh, previous articles, um, studies and, and one of the things that was kind of new to me, and I'd love to have you elaborate more on it was, um, your suggestion, that part of the solution needs to be more black teachers for black children. And so what are we missing? What, what might I be missing about the possible downsides of white educators teaching black students?
Speaker 1 00:49:26 Um, well, first the research just says that when, um, black kids have two black educators in their lives, it changes the trajectory on a lot of really important statistics, um, completion of school, um, fewer times being, uh, in trouble, uh, less discipline, uh, issues, um, better academics, more achievement mm-hmm <affirmative>. We also have research that tells us that white teachers have very low expectations of black students. So, um, you know, uh, and there's a couple ways this, this plays out, um, um, you can take a teacher and tell them that a classroom full of kids are gifted and tell 'em that another class of kids are struggling and have it be the exact same kids, but whatever you tell the teacher, before they go in the classroom, uh, it will impact what they do with the kids after that. Uh, and with black kids, uh, one of the more chronic things that happens for them is that people lower the bars for them.
Speaker 1 00:50:18 They lower, uh, expectations, academic expectations, expectations in terms of coursework and things that they'll be able to accomplish. Um, and those expectations fall far short of what the kids are capable of. Hmm. Um, and that's a real problem. Uh, what you see with black educators in classrooms with black students, not universally, but on average is that, um, some of that goes away like the idea that we're gonna, you know, let you get away with certain things that you would, you know, you would be able to get away with in another classroom. Um, some of that goes away and that's really important in terms of cuz one of the things about achievement, like nobody wants a football coach that, you know, says, ah, you know, what, what do points matter? You know, like what does, what does touchdown matter? Right. You know, um, you want the coach who's gonna drive you and push you and make you like with some rigor go further than you would normally go.
Speaker 1 00:51:04 You get that more with black teachers when, uh, you have same, same race classrooms, for whatever reason, you know, you can come up with whatever reason you want of why that happens. But, um, there's a lot of teachers in their first year that report, uh, once they start teaching, they were never prepared for the kids that they actually are teaching. And you know, if you survey teachers, they say that like after their first year or second year, so they spend four years to six years in college learning about theories, you know, PJ and all these other things. Right. And then they get in an actual real world environment and they have to actually almost have another education again. Um, and part of that is a cultural education. So black educators are very important. Black schools are important. Black school leaders are important. Black pedagogy is important.
Speaker 1 00:51:48 Uh, what I wrote in that piece, you know, a week or so ago that I wrote about was prior to 1954, prior to desegregation, um, black children were making gains. They actually were closing in, in the schools that were supposed to be so terrible because they were, you know, um, all black and segregated or whatnot, they're supposed to be so terrible. There was a lot of institutional knowledge in those schools that had been built up over time, including assessments, their own types of assessments that they were doing with those kids. They were, um, they were closing the high school graduation gap, the test score gap, um, um, lots of things you wouldn't expect, the way that you read history, you wouldn't expect that all of that was wiped away. So once there was like, uh, um, mandated integration, uh, lots of black schools shut down, uh, black teachers were fired, black principals were demoted and, uh, black kids were sent off to schools that had to learn from scratch, you know, how to teach them or what to do with them. Uh, that's something that's never recovered. That's a scenario that has never, uh, improved. Now we have like, you know, let's say it's six or seven total black teachers nationally and, and 2% black male teachers, which is really abysmal.
Speaker 0 00:52:57 Hmm. All right. Um, I think this is a good question. Um, not quite at the end, but, uh, Tamara on Twitter asks, is there a proper place for public schooling or should we work to transition over to charter schools prior school model?
Speaker 1 00:53:17 Um, well, charters are public <laugh>, so I just wanna start there. Charters are completely public schools, uh, and they're part of the public school, um, portfolio of choices, which includes magnet schools, charters, open schools, uh, interdistrict schools and all contract alternative schools. Those are all part of the, uh, public score, public school portfolio. Excuse me. Mm-hmm <affirmative> um, here's what I'm gonna say. Listen, you know, cuz it'll be new for me in this way, you know, just kind of just being this, uh, outspoken about it. If you had asked me a year ago, two years ago or three years ago, I would've said completely not. I would've said, you know, we've got to get all the kids out of the system and into the safe Harbor of new schools mm-hmm <affirmative> uh, and new educational learning opportunities. Um, I think what the pandemic taught me and what, um, um, most of the ed reform world is teaching me right now is, um, um, there's absolutely more than a role.
Speaker 1 00:54:13 The role of the traditional, um, district schools are central to, um, the education of American children. And everybody is agreeing on that right now, including, uh, some of the biggest, uh, anti-public school conservatives who, um, who shocked me by coming to their burning Bush, all of a sudden, after all these years of saying how terrible the schools are now, their biggest marker now for success is how many kids they can get back in the regular schools and get them going again that says everything that, that should answer the question for people on the right whether or not public education and public schools are central to American culture. Now that all their conservative politicians are saying, um, the marker of success are, are which ones of us got our kids back in the schools, the fastest.
Speaker 0 00:55:00 Interesting. I, you know, I hadn't looked at it that way, but you're absolutely right. Um, I know you take a dim view of, uh, many of the recent Supreme court rulings, but I wonder if you've given, um, some thought to Carson versus Macon, uh, in which the court ruled that main's exclusion of religious schools from state tuition program was, uh, discrimination against religion.
Speaker 1 00:55:25 Um, you know, I don't know if it's a viewer position, I'm not an attorney. Um, but I'm definitely somebody who has like activist tendencies around policy. So I care about what this does for people. United States is an outlier, uh, in the world's nations that, um, that don't fund. I mean, most of most, uh, of our competing nations actually do fund religious education. They fund religious schools, they have some sort of central kind of way of saying how everybody can, um, um, have their plural set of values and gods and creeds and different ways of, of still educating kids. But, um, America's an outlier and always has been in this, um, not funding, um, private or religious schools. Um, so it's something I welcomed. Uh, and, and, um,
Speaker 0 00:56:13 You know, did you send any of your kids to religious schools? Did you attend religious schools growing up among the many, many dozens of schools that
Speaker 1 00:56:26 Sorry about that? Um, for the audience to know, um, I'm still in the middle of a COVID case. So, um,
Speaker 0 00:56:32 I know, so that I, that means this is why we are all the more appreciative <laugh> he's he's coming on. He was like, didn't ask to reschedule. He just said, Hey, my voice might be a little,
Speaker 1 00:56:41 No, we're gonna power through it. Um, no, so my oldest I'm
Speaker 0 00:56:45 Almost, you know, you're cause you're, you're pretty, uh, electric, so I, yeah, this isn't full watage. I I'm, you know, you might have blown all the circuits if we had you on, uh, completely <laugh>
Speaker 1 00:56:56 Stein. Um, yeah. This
Speaker 0 00:56:59 Is Chris, Chris, uh, Stewart in his mellow COVID Hayes, Michael.
Speaker 1 00:57:06 Um, so no, my oldest, uh, we chose a charter school for him for a few years and it was really necessary and it served its purpose. Other than that, our kids have been in traditional district schools. Mm-hmm <affirmative> um, actually, no, I take that back. So our oldest two boys, um, went to, um, not religious, but private high schools.
Speaker 0 00:57:28 Mm-hmm
Speaker 1 00:57:28 <affirmative> they went to, um, high school, a high school in a college campus that was an international high school, uh, and that was a private school. Uh, and then after that, they went into a, a Benedictine, um, college. So we've done everything. We've done traditional district, public schools, um, elementary, middle and high school, and we've done charter and we've done private. Yeah.
Speaker 0 00:57:54 All right. Well, uh, this is bringing us up. We have just a, another minute or two, um, would love to know, uh, what's next for you. Um, if you guys, if bright me has any other studies in the works, um, how people can follow you. I think we've put most of those links, um, to your podcast and, and to your blog in, uh, the, the chat. Um, but yeah, what's, what's next for you and, and how can people learn more and get involved and support your work?
Speaker 1 00:58:26 You go to bright beam.org, you can find our organization. Uh, if you find me on Twitter, citizen Stewart, you will see me having a very public, um, rethinking of things that I was very clear about for so many years. Uh, just because I think it's time for that. I will always care about, um, educational options in the plural, um, education, uh, a pathway for every kid, uh, uh, a place to good for every family. Um, excuse me. Um, I will always care about us keeping kids at the top of the policy heap. Um, yeah. And that's it. Okay.
Speaker 0 00:59:10 Well, you know, I, I, we didn't get much into, uh, into your kind of political, continuing, continuing, um, evolution and transition, but you know, what I, what I like is that, and I think it's important. It's very important to our sort of approach to open objectiveism, um, which is that, you know, we can always find places of, um, of agreement. We don't have to agree a hundred percent and, uh, we should be able to, even if we're, um, on different political polls or have coming from different places or, uh, we, we should be able to try to make a, a priority, um, to have children be, uh, the, the center of the, the school system, um, and not have it be centered around, uh, the interests of, of, uh, you know, unions and adults and what have you. So, uh, adults, right. Adults, other than their, their parents.
Speaker 0 01:00:09 I, I, I didn't mention Chris, but, uh, my, my early days, um, on this issue, I worked for Ted Forsman and helped him to recruit John Walton. Uh, and, and they that's when they started the children's scholarship fund. And so that was, um, it was exciting and we were able to help a lot of kids, you know, in, in that first push. But, um, but also, you know, at, at the end of the day, it, it didn't, I'm not sure if we could say it had long lasting, uh, effects, you know, with, with the vouchers. So that's why I'm very grateful that there are people like you on the frontline, hopefully continuing to, as you say, throw rocks that, uh, the problem that, that we tried to solve, weren't able to, and, um, that keep at it because, uh, there really isn't any more important, um, priorities. So, so thank you, Chris. And thank you. Thanks for coming on, get some rest and, uh, you know, um, again, if you're out in California, we'd love to see you. Thank you for all that you, thank you. Appreciate it.