In This Episode
DeRay, De’Ara, Sam, and Kaya share their thankfulness affirmations for 2020. DeRay sits down with Vanita Gupta to discuss the Justice Department and the continuing fight to protect democracy. Then, Kaya chats with Wendy Kopp, the CEO and co-founder of Teach For All, regarding the long list of issues facing teachers and students across the country.
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DeRay [00:00:46] Hey, this is DeRay, and welcome to Pod Save the People. On this episode, it’s me, De’Ara and Sam talking about our thankfulness affirmations for 2020. We’re taking a break from the news this week. And we have two interviews. I sit down with Vanita Gupta to discuss the Trump administration and the Justice Department. You know, Vanita used to lead the civil rights division of the DOJ. And then Kaya actually sits down and talks to Wendy Kopp, the CEO and co-founder of Teach for All, talking about the long list of issues facing teachers and students around the country. So my advice this week is about listening to yourself. I have a therapist and I’m all about therapy. If you have a pathway to therapy, I would encourage you to take it. Now, here’s what I realize about therapy that I wish somebody told me is that I was facing a particular problem and I was talking about every week and I realized that I was saying the same thing every week, like a different variation of the same thing.
DeRay [00:01:36] And it was in hearing myself repeat it, that I’m like, this. I get it that that is wild, that I’m actually like saying the same thing over and over. And like, the therapist is asking probing questions and sort of pushing. And I’m like hearing myself say it over and over was actually one of the things that helped me realize, like, this is wild, like doing this over and over. And if I hadn’t been to therapy to even hear that, because a cool thing with a therapist is like the therapist isn’t my friend, he is not my family member. We don’t work together. And I didn’t appreciate until I went to therapy that everybody else I talked to about issues is like somebody who in some way we have a deep relation. We have some sort of relationship with and a therapist is great because our relationship is rooted in this one, a style of conversation. And that actually is like a beautiful and freeing thing to work through problems. So in therapy, I have learned to listen to myself better. And the act of listening to yourself is actually also a revolutionary thing. So listen to yourself. I’m thankful for the community of people all across the country that is willing to push and fight and challenge and cry and laugh about changing this world that like I’ve just been in a community with so many people in twenty twenty who have just been about like serious things. You know, before the pandemic, people say that when resources got scarce, we would cannibalize each other that like that’s what happens. The scarcity mindset is actually like the core mindset in people and that when things become scarce, we just fight each other. And I think we saw the exact opposite right during Covid. Especially the first go round, it was like people built community in incredible ways. I was, you know, more on Zoom and in Face Time and House Party and all this stuff that like we never done. It was incredible. And it still is incredible to see the way that people have like stayed in relationship, even if they can’t be in crowds in person, even if they can’t be in the office like we have just we are a people who always build new ways of community. And like I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful for our ingenuity and like the spirit of community that just like shine through. And I think that we will forever be better for how much we have remained joyful in the midst of a big challenge. So let’s go and let’s end twenty twenty, y’all cannot wait for twenty twenty one.
Kaya [00:03:56] I’m thankful for so much this holiday season, of course, for health and safety and food and a job and so many things that so many other people don’t have during this pandemic moment. I’m especially thankful for the time that this pandemic has given us all to step back and reflect on what’s really, really important. I find myself spending time differently with family and friends. I find myself reading more. I find myself really reprivatizeing the most important things. And I wouldn’t have done that if it wasn’t for the current situation that we find ourselves in. And so even though this is an extremely dark moment for us as a country, for us as a world, for us, as a people, I am supremely thankful and filled with gratitude for the chance to think about how I want to live my life and to make the appropriate adjustments. And I’m super thankful for my Pod Save the People family. My colleagues and listeners who helped me learn and keep me sane. Peace and happy holidays.
Sam [00:05:08] You know, this year has been tough. Covid, the election, police violence, so many different crises happening simultaneously. But this Thanksgiving, I am thankful that this election went the right way. I’m thankful that we turned out, that our communities turned out in record numbers and we defeated Donald Trump. And while there remain a lot of crises and Covid remains as bad, if not worse than ever, at least now it seems like it feels like we have a fighting chance to rebuild, to reimagine a better future. So I’m thankful for us. I’m thankful that we did it, that we voted, that we turned out that we exerted our power and we fired Donald Trump. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.
De’Ara [00:05:57] You know, we’re starting to go into the holiday season and it’s been a tough year y’all, to say the least. But, you know, I think what we have to be reminded of and what we really have to move in the spirit of is giving and kindness and being empathetic. And I think that is what has actually saved us up until this point. You know, still trying to get through coronavirus, having to deal with, you know, a violent administration, dealing with the very violent nature of white supremacy. But I think really we have to really focus and really practice just being there for one another. And one of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou actually goes, “Give it all you’ve got. Love it with the passion because life truly does give back many times over what you put into it. I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver. When you learn, teach, when you get give.” And so to me, there’s this kind of ideology around, if you are giving, it’s charity. That’s not what it is y’all. We give, because as Maya puts it, it liberates us. Right. So you’re not doing it to make yourself feel good. You’re doing it to actually liberate yourself and to be more connected to a community, more connected to a person, more connected to a family member. You don’t give because you have to. You give because it is so part of who you are and making yourself better ultimately. So I think those are just my words for the season and for gratitude. Just give, give, give, give, give.
DeRay [00:07:40] Don’t go anywhere.
DeRay [00:07:41] More Pod Save the People’s coming.
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DeRay [00:08:51] Vanita Gupta is a CEO and president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
DeRay [00:08:55] We’ve had our own before way back when the pod started. She’s here to talk about some of the things we need to pay attention to as a transition happens and what we need to look forward to in the Biden administration. Vanita used to run the civil rights division of the DOJ. We are all team Vanita. Let’s go.
DeRay [00:09:10] Vanita, thanks so much for joining us on Pod Save the People.
Vanita Gupta [00:09:12] Great to be here again today.
DeRay [00:09:14] So a lot has changed since the last time we talked. You were one of the original guests when when I launched Pod Save the People. And now you are firmly into your role at the leadership conference. I think you had just started when when we started the pod. Or can you just give us an overview of what the leadership conference is and then we’ll sort of jump in?
Vanita Gupta [00:09:32] Yeah. So the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights is an organization that was founded 70 years ago by Jewish and African-American labor leaders who had the presence to know that the fight for civil rights could not be won by one group alone, but needed to be waged in coalition. And they founded the small committee to basically fight for federal civil rights laws in Washington and to deploy the power across organizations like the NAACP, like the labor unions, to kind of deploy that power in service of racial justice, voting rights in particular. And so throughout our 70 year history, we have been kind of the legislative arm of the civil rights movement. We helped plan the 1963 March on Washington with Dr. King. We helped write the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act in 2009.
Vanita Gupta [00:10:31] And with every administration, we are trying to advance and protect civil rights. You can imagine that in the Trump era since I joined, that has meant being a strategic hub of the resistance, basically against the attacks on everything that we hold dear on our values and trying to fight forward for justice, equality and fairness. And we are today a coalition of over two hundred and twenty national, civil and human rights organizations. We are a force multiplier, really trying to make sure that across organizations, across communities, we’re fighting some of the biggest fights of our day and in strategic ways. We’re also a staff of over one hundred with a big portion of that focused on voting rights, democracy, reform, and in the Trump era our kind of keen focus has been the fight to protect our democracy. For us, that’s looked like protecting voting rights, trying to protect the census. Given that political power is allocated based on the census, it’s been about the courts because so much of civil rights and human rights is adjudicated in the courts and there’s been too little attention by progressives on the importance of the courts. So these are some of the kind of key fights of our day. And it’s been a pretty extraordinary ride the last four years, as you can imagine.
DeRay [00:11:53] So when I think of that fight to protect democracy, one of the things that you have led on, at least for me and I don’t know another ORG doing this, but I’m sure other people are paying attention is the judge’s battle. Can you lay out for us what’s happening with the confirmations by the Trump administration? And are we stuck like you? We get you know, I think about the people who were rated, whatever the the worst rating is from that group that rights judges, you clearly know that better than I do. Can we get those people off the court later? Are we stuck with them or is it just like a bad strategy to try and get them off because it might come back to hurt us later, like what’s going on with the judges?
Vanita Gupta [00:12:27] So on the judges, Trump has filled, he inherited the largest number of vacancies than any president in modern history because there was such obstruction in the Obama administration to filling these vacancies. He has in his four years filled a quarter of our nation’s judge vacancies, meaning that a quarter of the judges that have lifetime appointments are Trump appointees. And some of these appointees are the most extreme that people have seen in recent years. Anti LGBTQ, anti civil rights, anti abortion rights and women’s rights. So Trump judges now constitute 30 percent of our appellate courts and twenty four percent of our district courts. And that’s really staggering.
Vanita Gupta [00:13:13] So in the diversity, the demographics are really quite incredible. Overall, more than eighty five percent of these judges are white. More than about seventy five percent are men. So overall, you’ve got like more than 66 percent are white men. Less than twenty four percent are women. You’ve got less than 15 percent are judges of color. The diversity stats on this are really atrocious, but there’s also a lack of professional diversity.
Vanita Gupta [00:13:43] And ideologically, they constitute some of the most extreme nominees that have.
Vanita Gupta [00:13:50] been confirmed to the bench, this is part of a longer term project for the McConnell administration, the conservatives have long understood the power of the courts in our country and in society and have been really single mindedly focused on on them.
Vanita Gupta [00:14:07] And so even while the Trump administration didn’t have a ton of legislative achievements, they were very focused on getting judges confirmed. And because every issue we care about is affected by the courts. People say, well, can we impeach them? Can we take them out? The answer really is no. The the bar for impeaching a judge is incredibly high. That is not a strategy that is going to be terribly successful. I think the goal is to be ready for when vacancies arise, that there are really good, strong people that are both professionally and demographically diverse, that represent kind of the majority of this country and and are reflected in the bench accordingly. And that there’s a lot of robust conversation, again, especially since Judge Amy Coney Barrett became the United States Supreme Court justice just a few weeks ago. A lot more conversation about whether there needs to be an expansion of the courts and what that needs to look like, whether there should be term limits and the like. That conversation, I think, is going to be ongoing, given how incredibly conservative the courts have become. But we also cannot be we’ve got to do a better job as progressives of centering the importance of the courts and why people like the American public needs to care about who become judges and what that process is in a way that conservatives have been so single mindedly focused on them.
DeRay [00:15:45] But can we get these people off the court or not? Or are we stuck now?
Vanita Gupta [00:15:49] We’re stuck. We’re stuck with these people on the court barring a really high bar of ethical conduct that gets violated.
Vanita Gupta [00:15:56] And there’s not there isn’t a strategy that you change the administration and then you get to take all these people off the court. That’s why when we say these are lifetime appointments, we mean they’re lifetime appointments. That’s why it’s really incumbent on people to care about this whole process, because judges and courts are going to determine and touch every part of our lives, every piece of legislation that’s going to get passed. So much of it gets challenged in the courts. And the success of any progressive or civil rights agenda is going to be touched by the courts. But it is not a strategy to say, OK, well, we’ll just live with these Trump judges because we can get rid of most of them in the next administration. That’s not how our judiciary works. These are lifetime appointments.
DeRay [00:16:38] I don’t know why I thought that, like there was an impeachment process or something, especially with the ones who were rated the lowest.
DeRay [00:16:43] I mean, this is why I’m asking.
Vanita Gupta [00:16:44] No, because the whole process, the way that the federal process works, is that the Senate is supposed to be a firewall. They provide advice and consent. The White House does vetting. They nominate judges supposedly after vetting. And then the Senate is supposed to be more impartial arbiter that through the hearings gets at whether a person is fit or unfit to be a judge. The American Bar Association rates judges. There has been more people confirmed to be judges in the Trump era that were rated not qualified by the American Bar Association than ever before. But those people, once confirmed, serve lifetime appointments and that the bar for impeaching a judge is really, really high and pertains to kind of personal ethical conduct.
Vanita Gupta [00:17:34] So as a strategy for remaking the courts and having more civil rights, progressive judges on removing judges is not.
DeRay [00:17:43] So Barr and Sessions, are they were they equally bad as AG or is Barr much worse than Sessions?
Vanita Gupta [00:17:50] You know, I think Barr is the worst attorney general we’ve seen in the modern era. I mean, there was not even a pretense of having any independence from the White House. He has functioned throughout his entire tenure, really as Trump’s defense lawyer rather than as the chief law enforcement officer of the United States. Jeff Sessions, I’ve been on the record saying this is one of the most anti civil rights attorneys general that we’ve had in recent memory. But I will say the one thing he did right was recusing himself from the Mueller investigation.
Vanita Gupta [00:18:23] And as mad as it may Trump like the fact that he didn’t get his permission to do that, you know, honored a fundamental precept of the Justice Department that there is supposed to be independence from the White House and that nobody is above the law. I mean Barr is really eviscerated that at every turn and in so many instances defied the judgment of career professionals at the Justice Department and. Made no bones about it, so I I think Attorney General Barr’s tenure has been deeply troubling and destructive to basic democratic norms. It’s been really demoralizing for the staff at the Justice Department. And that’s going to need to be rebuilt in a Biden administration.
DeRay [00:19:09] In the first 100 days of the new administration.
DeRay [00:19:11] What should we be looking forward to from Biden and Harris?
Vanita Gupta [00:19:15] So I think that there’s going to be taking a lot of executive actions in the first 100 days. I think some of the executive actions that they’re going to take almost immediately will be reversing the Muslim ban, protecting dreamers, reversing the trans ban.
Vanita Gupta [00:19:30] It’s going to be reinstating the United States in the Paris agreement. So they’re in in the World Health Organization. These are some of the very immediate actions that are going to be taken.
Vanita Gupta [00:19:39] And then they’re going to be looking to put in place bolder agendas for the agencies. And and because it really will not be enough to restore everything to the Obama era. This is we’re in a different time. The country is in a different mood. We have seen incredible mobilization over the summer for racial justice, kind of a reckoning in the country around systemic injustice and how we meet that moment and articulate an agenda that’s going to really matter. We’ve been through an election cycle which while seeing record high voter turnout, over one hundred sixty million people voted. There was such a concerted effort to suppress the vote, to flood voters with disinformation, to disable them from being motivated to vote or from having the right information amid a pandemic. These are the kinds of things that need longer term fixes. And we will be pushing up the leadership conference to make sure that a Biden administration is creating an affirmative agenda that can really meet this moment and deal with voting rights, deal with COVID and inequality and jobs and COVID. There’s going to be a big COVID relief package, undoubtedly, and how wide sweeping that is is going to matter in February and March. There are so many people suffering. COVID Is on the rise. Mitch McConnell has been sitting on the Heroes Act since May, and the American people need relief. And I know that that is a first order of business for a Biden administration.
DeRay [00:21:18] How do you make sure that this administration doesn’t sabotage the next one? Is there anything that we can do, especially in the Justice Department, or do we just pray?
Vanita Gupta [00:21:25] Well, I mean, the good news is, so much damage has been done over the last four years, and the good news is that there’s civil servants have a lot of protections in place for to prevent against kind of partizan firings and the like. But look, his behavior for the last four years, his behavior since voters decided this election, with his refusal to concede his efforts to delay and slow down the transition, they are not succeeding. He has has litigation around the country to try to undo the will of the American voters is not succeeding. He will be removed from the White House on January 20th. And there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind about that. On this front, the transition is moving forward. They’re naming people, they’re, they’re doing the work. There’s a lot of folks with prior government experience that are serving the Biden transition such that these impediments are not going to get in the way of the kind of planning that they’re doing. It’s one of the reasons why I think President elect Biden almost immediately named a covid task force so that they could get to work and be able to have an actual plan in place for the pandemic on January 20th. So I fully suspect that while Trump may never concede and may try to make things as difficult as possible for transition, he is not going to succeed in impeding the ability of this new administration to be prepared and hit the ground running come January 20th. I just I don’t think it’s possible.
DeRay [00:23:00] As we go into a new administration, what are some things that we should be paying attention to? Like what are some things that we should be thinking about? Is it judges? Is it a local legislation? Should we be looking for these big sweeping things as our initial things? I don’t know. What should we be paying attention to?
Vanita Gupta [00:23:16] I think we need to be paying attention to all of it.
Vanita Gupta [00:23:19] So this is a moment where we have to keep our eye on all of these pieces that we have to be making sure that any covid relief package contains special relief for essential workers, front line workers who are mostly black and brown folks, and that we are reaching for more structural solutions than just Band-Aid ones. In this moment. It’s going to be a challenge. If it’s a Republican Senate, obviously a Republican Senate is going changes the dynamics of.
Vanita Gupta [00:23:49] What may be politically possible, but but we’ve got to keep our eye on judges, we have to also remember that personnel is policy and that there are a lot of decisions getting made about who is going to be at these agencies, who is coming in as political appointees across the federal government that is going to shape the priorities of any agency in government and for the federal government writ large. You know that over the summer there was a big push to get the Justice and Policing Act passed in Congress. It passed the House. There will be a renewed look. Unfortunately, you and I both know that these tragedies of police violence and unarmed African-American citizens are not going to end and that there will need to be renewed focus on police accountability, police reform, justice reform. And so I think there are a set of issues that we need to keep our eye on, and we have to be articulating this affirmative vision and keep pressing on it. And where things can’t happen in Congress, what are the executive actions that we can move forward on? And when I think about what we’ve learned in this election cycle about the amount of voter suppression that exists, about the amount of disinformation that has been permitted on social media platforms in the past, and some of these companies to have actual concrete action to safeguard and mitigate the crisis in the cycle, we’ve got to be thinking about what are the longer term solutions to address these problems, things like H.R.1, the For the People Act. There’s going to be talk about an affirmative regulatory agenda for social media platforms. And but like, I think the first thing that we need to be looking at is COVID. This is a massive crisis for the country. And the fact that black and brown communities and white working class communities have been so hard hit by it, it’s important that Biden’s economic team is looking at experts who have background in systemic racial barriers on economic opportunity.
Vanita Gupta [00:25:53] This is an opportunity to really dig in on some of these questions. So there’s a lot to look at because of what we’ve been through the last four years. But, you know, people sometimes think that we get through an election and it’s the end of the work if they get the candidate elected that they were hoping for. But the reality is, in some ways, we are just moving into this new phase of the work where it’s about making sure that we are pushing on the agenda that we wanted we elected candidates for and that we’re holding them accountable to actually implementing and executing on that agenda. This is a really important phase of the work, and none of us should kind of roll up our sleeves and say we’re done. This is a really crucial, crucial phase for for all of us.
DeRay [00:26:36] Thanks so much, Vanita. We consider you a friend of the pod as always. When, when you’re appointed attorney general, We will try and schedule you again.
Vanita Gupta [00:26:43] DeRay, I will talk to you soon. Thanks for having me on. Bye.
DeRay [00:26:47] Hey, you’re listening to Party of the People. Don’t go anywhere. There’s more to come.
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DeRay [00:28:00] Now, Wendy Kopp is a CEO and co-founder of Teach for All, and now Kaya’s actually sitting down with her to talk about some of the issues facing educators, students and parents in this current moment. So listen up.
Kaya [00:28:11] I am so excited today to have the opportunity to spend some time talking with the incomparable Wendy Kopp. Wendy, many of you know, as the founder of Teach for America, which is where I first encountered her back in 1992 when I was a freshly minted Teach for America Corps member. And after 20 years of work at Teach for America, which continues to this day, Wendy branched out into the world and started Teach for All, the network of almost 60 countries where we’re creating leaders who begin their careers through this unique educational experience. And so Wendy is with us today to bring us some insights from what’s going on around the world that might be helpful to us as we think about how to continue to tackle the American education crisis that we find ourselves in. Welcome, Wendy.
Wendy Kopp [00:29:06] Thanks, Kaya. Such an honor to be here.
Kaya [00:29:09] We are thrilled to have you. I know that lots of Pod Save the People, listeners are fans. And so I’m excited to have this conversation.
Wendy Kopp [00:29:16] Right. Me too.
Kaya [00:29:17] I want to start with the 2018 Global PISA studies.
Kaya [00:29:23] The OECD recently released the results of the 2018 PISA, which included a global competency portion for the first time, but the United States didn’t participate.
Kaya [00:29:36] So for our listeners who aren’t familiar with PISA, can you tell us a bit more about what PISA is and then why it was significant that the U.S. didn’t participate this time?
Wendy Kopp [00:29:45] Yes. So PISA is a study of every three years of 15 year olds performance. And historically, it’s looked at simply reading, math and science scores. And, you know, it’s really the most significant tool we have to enable cross-border learning in education. You can see which countries are, you know, improving the most quickly and learn from those countries. You know, what are they doing differently? The U.S. is one of 79 countries that has been participating in that basic PISA. But the innovators at the OECD have been thinking about the fact that, you know, education is not only about math, reading and science and have been working collaboratively with many others to, you know, get their heads around the broader outcomes that we need to be fostering in classrooms around the world. And so this is the first year that they had an additional portion that looked at this question of global competence. So it looked at questions like, you know, are our kids, you know, prepared to think critically about local and global issues? Can they understand and appreciate multiple cultural perspectives? Are they prepared to interact respectfully across lines of cultural difference? Do they take action to make a positive difference? And that’s the portion of the test that the U.S. opted out of. So I find this very, very concerning, both that we opted out and that there hasn’t been a tremendous national outcry about the fact that we did opt out. You know, I think it just shows how narrowly we’re thinking about the purpose of education in this country. And it’s particularly concerning given the inequities that rage across our country and how much we need to be, you know, preparing our students on exactly these dimensions, you know, to work across lines of difference, to understand the full complexity of the country’s history, you know, to have the agency to solve serious problems that that we face. So it strikes me as really concerning.
Kaya [00:31:54] So there’s a lot to unpack there. I mean, first of all, I think one question that I have for you is, you know, the PISA is the exam, which allows us to say, you know, Finland is eating our lunch or, you know, we’re behind X number of countries. And you hear those data points bantered around in education policy circles. But one of the things that I realized when I was leading D.C. public schools is that some of my parents didn’t know where Finland was, let alone they weren’t worried about whether we were or were not competitive with other countries in the world. And at a time in the U.S. where people seemed to be really concerned about their local situations and what just affects them, how do we get people to understand why global comparisons are important to begin with?
Wendy Kopp [00:32:44] You know, what we’ve learned through Teach for All, as you well know, Kaya, is that the roots of these inequities that we’re addressing in education are very similar from place to place all over the world We have massive of gaps in educational outcomes based on the circumstances of kids birth, and when you get into it, you realize that the reason for that is very similar, which means that the solutions are much more shareable than we have realized before. So it’s just fascinating, right? Like in health or the environment, we all know we know our fates are interconnected. We know the solutions are shareable. So we work together across country lines to learn from each other, to spread solutions. And what we’ve seen is that we could be moving a lot more quickly if we were doing that in education. Many countries have bought into that idea. And in fact, when we got together with the gentleman who really led the incredible progress in Shanghai’s education system, which, you know, 20 or so years ago had massive gaps, I mean, almost no mobility if you were, say, a migrant kid in the communities and they moved to have the, you know, some of the most exceptional not only excellence but equity in the world and talking with him and talking with one of the gentlemen who really engineered Finland’s rise in education, both of them, when we asked them independently in two different years, what did you do to get these outcomes? They said, number one, we sent our educators abroad. You know, we took an open approach. We realized we had so much to learn from the rest of the world. So this is the other reason that our decision to opt out concerns me, because it just makes me think we think we’re so exceptional or we think we can’t learn from from others in the world. And to me, that’s a sure sign of isn’t that the first sign of decline? Like if you’re a company and you’re not learning from others and you’re thinking we’re so far out in front, we don’t need to worry about how others are doing or learning from others? I mean, this is just you know, it’s one of the first things I would do. And I hope that the new administration in education will do is set out to say, OK, let’s send our educators abroad, let’s join global networks. Let’s understand what’s working in other places.
Kaya [00:35:05] Yeah, I mean, I always say the way you solve complex problems is by bringing groups of people together and having them work collectively to do that.
Wendy Kopp [00:35:13] And if we are missing out because other countries know where their kids are and are actively cooperating, then that puts us behind the eight ball for sure. When you think about the tenor of our country, I mean, we’re not even talking to each other across communities or across states, you know, yet. And still, I think everybody is really concerned about one of the I guess great equalizers of the pandemic is that all parents across all communities, whether from the wealthiest to the poorest from east to west, are recognizing that the American education system is largely inadequate. I think many parents have a front row seat and are surprised by what they’re seeing happening in their students classrooms. We say all at a time that, you know, students are not just test scores and it’s not just about reading and math. And here we have an opportunity to expand the definition of success and we’re missing out on that. Talk a little bit more about what this global competence piece really means and how it might be more attractive to parents and families who are looking for different definitions of success.
Wendy Kopp [00:36:28] And this is basically an assessment about whether our kids are prepared, again, you know, to work across lines of difference, to understand issues from different perspectives to, you know, have the agency to take action to solve problems like these are exactly the things that we’re saying are missing in our country right now. And, of course, what is happening in classrooms today is what we’re going to see in our broader society and, you know, 10, 15 years or less. Right. I mean, that’s just a truism like the classrooms of today or the picture of what the world will be tomorrow. It’s all the more inconceivable, I mean, especially at this juncture in our our nation’s history.
Wendy Kopp [00:37:14] You know, if you look at the results of this global competency portion and I don’t have all the data points in front of me, but just as a few I mean, so, you know, basically showed and these are the 66 countries participating in this, you know, not including the U.S., but it shows that 82 percent of kids respect people from other cultures as equal, which sounds OK.
Wendy Kopp [00:37:38] I mean, 82 percent. But that means that almost one out of five answered no to that question. 45 percent of kids reported, you know, a lack of interest in how other cultures see the world. Clearly, we have a lot of work to do. And I’m truly, really curious what we would find if we understood what.
Wendy Kopp [00:37:59] Those results show among 15 year olds in the U.S.
Kaya [00:38:03] I could venture a guess right when we have a president who is prohibiting in some respects, the critical examination of history in our country. Right. Who is shutting down training programs and teachings around critical race theory, which at least you don’t have to believe it, but at least calls the question and brings people into dialog. Yeah. And so, I mean, how do you how do you think our kids would. I think our kids would. I think our kids would be in the lower rung of of folks in that, because I don’t think we’re communicating values that support global competence.
Wendy Kopp [00:38:42] Yeah.
Kaya [00:38:43] And when I look at the other the other countries that opted out are England, Germany, France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Finland, Ireland. Is there any significance in that?
Wendy Kopp [00:38:52] I mean, I guess we could all imagine, like, what are these governments have in common? I mean, one of the things that’s interesting to think about, like, I guess it’s quite predictable that this administration would have made this call right. And maybe I’m wrong. I mean Kaya, I’m curious what you would say, but I actually think if I asked a whole bunch of, you know, Educators’ like, do you think we should have opted into this? I’m not sure what I would hear, because so I honestly encountered such narrow conceptions of what we need to focus on in education in the US. And I’m saying that having spent much of the last 10 years running around the world, you know, talking to folks in other countries and understanding how they’re thinking about it. And I think our perspective is that we have such huge issues in, you know, basic literacy and numeracy and such that we just don’t have a second to focus anywhere else. But I think it’s just such a you know, to me, this is our biggest and number one issue in the U.S. right now as it relates to education. And honestly, I could argue overall, because, again, what we’re doing in our classrooms today is the world we’ll have tomorrow. I just think we’re really overdue for a discussion about what the purpose of education is, what we should be working towards. And, you know, I think this is a timely moment to have that discussion where I think there’s a great deal of recognition across all, you know, the whole political spectrum that we do have a real issue. And I think we need to step back and ask ourselves, what do we want to have be true for our country, for our communities, therefore, what has to be true about our young people? Therefore, you know, what is the purpose of education? What are we working towards? And I think that would would lead us to focus much more broadly. And, of course, we’re going to realize very strong literacy skills are going to be crucial for even the ability to work across lines of difference and see things from different perspectives. But I think we’ll be focused far more broadly than that.
Kaya [00:40:55] I think that is right. But I think part of the problem is people lack vision. They don’t have a sense of possibility about what could happen beyond math and reading and what we’ve seen and you having the perspective of visiting all kinds of countries around the world, many improbable ones who are not just working on one math and reading, but are working on broader things, help the listeners understand what it could look like, what could a different vision of education include?
Wendy Kopp [00:41:29] We came together across the Teach for All network, which, you know, as you say, is now, you know, we have 60 network partners around the world. And we really came together to ask ourselves, what is it that we’re working on together over the next, say, 25 years? I mean, so, you know, by the year 2040. So as part of that process, we went through the exercise of thinking, where will the world be in 25 years? And we got deeply steeped in how much the economy is changing and how much the environment is degrading and all of the very complex challenges ahead, even though, of course, we have some consciousness of all that. There was something about being in the midst of this process together that just honestly brought into very stark, you know, crystal clarity. Like if our kids are not growing and developing as leaders who can shape a better future for themselves, navigate a changing economy and for all of us, you know, be prepared to solve these increasingly complex problems in pursuit of our, you know, improving our collective welfare. There’s no hope, like there’s no hope for reaching any of our aspirations. And it was really a reorientation for me personally and for, I think, our whole network, you know, as we thought about. Okay, so what does that mean? Like how will we gauge whether our students are growing as the leaders we need? And it just sparked a totally different conversation, first of all, about the outcomes we’re working towards and then ultimately about how to reach them, you know, and what we need to do differently in developing our teachers and designing our schools, if we’re going to be fostering students agency, growing their sense of awareness of, you know, the issues in the world, their place in the world, growing the kind of dispositions and competencies necessary, you know, to navigate a very uncertain world.
Kaya [00:43:29] Yes. Like that is inspiring to me. That is what I feel like I’ve signed up for in education. But real talk, right. That’s not what the United States education system was set up to do. It wasn’t set up to create leaders. Right. In fact, it was to create factory workers and people who would not think for themselves. And we have not shaken past the vestiges of that. We don’t have, you know, a force of educators who all believe that every kid could be a leader and could exercise that agency. Right.
Wendy Kopp [00:44:00] And actually, this is our number one problem.
Kaya [00:44:04] So let’s not even talk about the content. Right. What we’re teaching kids. Right.
Kaya [00:44:08] And look what happened when we started leaning in on teaching critical thinking with, you know, the Common Core standards and whatnot, all of madness. But I mean, how do we get people’s mindsets to shift from what education has been to what it could be without people feeling threatened? Right. Because there is you know, you hear this saying that the system is working exactly the way it’s supposed to work. How do we dismantle this systemic approach and insert a different one that does prepare our kids to lead and have agency and to make the changes that their communities need?
Wendy Kopp [00:44:48] I think this is our number one imperative and actually number one opportunity right now. As you say, Kaya, we are all in education in the U.S. working in a box that was created, you know, when I mean, 150 plus years ago and the world was very different. Our aspirations were very different. Everything was different. And we’re still operating in that box. And we desperately need to step out of that box. And we’ve we’ve done it right. Think about what’s happened over these last six months. I mean, we have stepped out of the box as we know it. And I hope we don’t just go right back into it. You know, to me, the most important thing we could be doing is coming together in our communities to consider what we’re working towards for kids. And I’ve never heard more appetite for that discussion, actually. I mean, I think with parents having a much more up close and personal look at their kids experiences in schools, I mean, I think this is there’s an opportunity in this moment and in this country, you know, which this has to be a juncture of deep soul searching for all of us in this country. And it’s a puzzle to me that when we ask ourselves, you know, how are we going to address the polarization in our country? Like, you know, what’s going to bring us together that we don’t among at least among our educators, you know, ask ourselves that question in our school, like, so what is our responsibility? What are we working towards? What will we do differently in our schools today that will make this country much stronger going forward?
Kaya [00:46:24] So I want to talk about what we’re learning from from what you’re seeing from other countries that we might learn from.
Kaya [00:46:29] But one of the worries that I have in terms of this being an opportune moment to rethink given pandemic education is I think there are a couple of different camps, right? There are people who are willing to grab the ring and figure out how to reinvent education. And so we’ve seen all kinds of innovation from pods to, you know, really different content providers to, I don’t know, all kinds of things. We’re trying we’re iterating. We’re trying to figure out what works. And then I think that there is a large contingency of people, educators, policymakers, decision makers who are literally just trying to get back to normal. Yeah. Who just wants schools to reopen and just want to do what we’ve been doing because that is comfortable to us. And so how do we not slide back into the status quo when and if we get a vaccine and kids can go back into buildings or how do we not miss this moment?
Wendy Kopp [00:47:33] It is tough, right? And I do want to acknowledge all the incredible pressures that parents and teachers and educators and many, many people are under right now as we try to, you know, make it through this pandemic, you know, and all of its requisite challenges. So I do think there are lots of competing pressures. But I also think we have to recognize that the status quo first of all, it wasn’t serving the before and secondly.
Kaya [00:48:03] Well Amen.
Wendy Kopp [00:48:03] It will certainly not be sufficient to make up for all that’s been lost in terms of everything from learning loss to the many other challenges, you know, that many students in this country have experienced in this time. I honestly, one, I don’t think we have a choice for the future of the country. I honestly don’t. But I also think that it’s going to be really important for the generation of kids in school today in particular.
Kaya [00:48:27] I think we need I don’t think we need a strong voice championing this. There has been for a long time a lack of vision on where education should go, at least in the last four years. And I think that is going to be critical that, you know, people keep on saying, well, the secretary of education needs to say, and you and I can talk about that in a few minutes, but I actually think it’s going to take a broader coalition of leaders to stand up and demand something different from our education system and demand for us to point in a different direction in order for this to happen. I just don’t think we’re going to get there on our own.
Wendy Kopp [00:49:06] I completely, completely agree. And we need that at the national level. But we really need this at the local level. Right.
Wendy Kopp [00:49:14] Like ultimately we need to be having these conversations in communities with all the stakeholders of education, starting with students themselves and their parents and of course, educators and employers and other civic leaders and, you know, citizens and communities so that we can come together and really reflect on I mean, honestly, what do we care about? Like, you know, what do we want, what are our values, what are our aspirations? What are the actual challenges facing our kids and in this community and in the country more broadly? What are the opportunities and what does all that mean? Like what would it look like if in this community we were actually producing kids who can shape a better future for themselves and all of us? Like, what’s the locally contextualized version of that? You know, and honestly, I think not only do I think this is crucial because we should be orienting towards a broader purpose for education, but also this is our chance to get out of the very polarized and stuck situation that we’re in. You know, in education, like we have these debates, we don’t talk to each other. You know, this is a way to step back and ask a very unifying question. You know, what do we want to have be true for our young people? And I think that that’s our only chance, actually, of getting unstuck, because if we if we come together around that vision and then honestly ask ourselves, are any of us on a path to that, I think will realize we could all win all of the battles that we’ve been fighting in education and we’re not going to reach that point. So let’s work together and figure out a new path.
Kaya [00:50:56] It’s also a huge opportunity for people to exercise their power. I think in this recent election, what we saw were, you know, people organized around a goal and around a shared goal and everybody, you know, had a different role to play, but they worked towards that shared goal. As much as we are waiting for the federal government to save us or the stimulus money to save education, I think that it’s time for us to circle back to communities where education decisions are made locally. Why aren’t school board members having these conversations, leading these conversations in their community? Why aren’t mayors asking, bringing together groups of people to figure out what education should look like in their cities? I mean, we have an opportunity to express our power locally. And I think, you know, everybody keeps asking me who’s going to be the next secretary and are they going to save us? No, we have to save ourselves. This local piece, I think is really interesting. Tell us what you’re seeing around the world. Give us some some things to be excited about that we’re learning from other communities.
Wendy Kopp [00:52:08] I mean, one of the things we’ve seen across our network, we’ve started doing studies of, you know, what is going on in the classrooms where kids are developing a sense of agency, where they are, you know, growing in their leadership across these different dimensions. And what we’ve seen is that the teachers in those classrooms are operating very differently than almost any teacher development paradigm that would be say on the market in the U.S. would be working towards, you know, these teachers are they have a different set of mindsets. You know, they sort of unlearned how they were taught and have internalized a different, you know, approach, which has to do with, you know, facilitating learning and building a sense of community in the relationships in a classroom that enable kids to play a much more active role in owning their education in, you know, in the dialog, in their classroom. We’re not going to foster student leadership by having kids be passive receptacles of information for 12 years and then expect them to suddenly step up and lead the future. Like it just it’s not going to happen. So we need to change what goes on in classrooms today. So I think the systems we’re seeing that are furthest ahead are those that are working towards a broad set of outcomes, are developing their teachers to work towards them effectively, like it’s not a huge magic, mysterious silver bullet. It’s more just, you know, what are we working towards and how are we investing in the people in the puzzle in order to you know, if we’re going to develop students leadership, we need to develop teachers, leadership and really the leadership of everyone at every level in the system.
Wendy Kopp [00:53:50] That’s really what we’ve seen works.
Kaya [00:53:52] A lot of times when we talk about what teachers need to do differently, our teachers feel stressed and like the whole thing falls on them. I wonder, what about the ecosystem that surrounds teachers? What do universities have to do differently to prepare teachers to have different mindsets? What can teachers unions who support teachers growth and development, what could they be doing differently to help this shift in thinking?
Wendy Kopp [00:54:25] I truly believe this is a project for all of us. I mean, we were all we all grew up. And honestly, these education systems look so similar from place to place. So all around the world, we all grew up in an education system working towards a very narrow set of outcomes. And, you know, we’ve internalized that way of education. And if we’re going to embrace something different, we need not only the teachers and the school leaders and the people at every level of the system, but all of us parents and students themselves to come to the table and embrace a different paradigm. And I think we’ll have real allies in other sectors as well. And yes, we need the higher ed institutions and those that are preparing teachers and the teacher unions as well as we know, can be such a force in teachers development. One thing that’s interesting, Kaya, when you were talking about how teachers can feel like we’re just putting so much pressure on them. You brought me back to this conference I was at in India, which was kind of, co facilitated by students who had been developed by Teach for India and their Kids Education Revolution. And I was in a circle of students and teachers who were sharing their experiences in school. And one of the students said, with all compassion and love in her voice to to the teacher, you know, I feel like you need to feel a little less responsible sometimes. And it was just such a beautiful statement because she was kind of acknowledging that what was leading to a very kind of teacher directed classroom where the teacher is, you know, essentially the students have no agency and no ownership over their education was actually the best of intentions on the part of us adults who are trying to do the best thing for students. And she was saying, if you let us in, we can help you. We can partner with you to rethink and work together on our classroom culture and on how we’re working most expediently to the outcomes that we’re working to reach. So I just thought that was really instructive and maybe the most fundamental mindset shift that that we need all of us adults to to make.
Kaya [00:56:41] I mean, it is a mindset shift. These kids are ready. They have shown us in the last year or two, right through their leadership on, you know, protests. They want a different world. They they you know, they have deep feelings about guns. They have deep feelings about the climate they have. I mean, these young people are ready and as adults, we wholly underestimate their capacity. And so for many adults, it’s hard for them to see kids as partners. So talk for a minute. I had the pleasure of of visiting kids education revolution. And it really is an incredibly unique organization. Can you talk a little bit about the premise of Kids Education Revolution?
Wendy Kopp [00:57:27] Yes.
Wendy Kopp [00:57:28] Well, the founder of Teach for India Shaheen Mistri also founded Kids Education Revolution. And her what brought her to it was this belief that, you know, in our lifetime, we aren’t going to see the kind of, you know, revolution in education that we need to see. Like we’re still operating in the same exact box, again, that we were operating in decades and decades ago. And she had come to think, you know, the only way to see this happen in our Our lifetimes, as if we are doing this not only from the top down like teachers and educators, but from the ground up. And so the premise behind Kids Education Revolution is that we need partnership between students and teachers and educators in order to reimagine our education system. And, you know, that’s one of the principal safe space for student voice is another. And kids as change makers is the third principal. And they’ve really you know, they’re propagating a group of students and adults who believe in those principles and are working to live in to them in in their classrooms and in their schools.
Kaya [00:58:39] It really is remarkable to see kids and teachers sitting next to each other trying to reimagine education. It is inspiring to see kids leading professional development sessions for teachers like they do at KER and for teachers. I mean, the way teachers respond to kids is has been, I think, transformative for so many teachers. I mean, I’ve I heard teachers talking about how different this experience was. And and and when I look at how it empowers kids to lead, when you’re sitting next to adults and creating solutions with adults, from the time that you’re, you know, a middle school in high school, then you know that leadership muscle is just continually developed over time. And so it’s it’s really been one of the most remarkable things I’ve ever seen. And you can go check them out at KidsEducationRevolution.org. I think the other thing that I really love about it is that their approach and they speak unabashedly about this, that their approach to changing the education system is through love. And I think if we you know, we love data, we love comparisons, we love all kinds of things. But I think it harkens back to our humanity and our connection to one another. And that connection, I think, is the thing that compels us to different outcomes. That connection is the thing that makes us see kids differently, not as gaps that we need to fill, but as real people that we need to grow and develop.
Wendy Kopp [01:00:22] It is so true. I’ll never forget, you know, the kids education revolution kind of opening that I went to where they highlighted the fact that love is spelled backwards in the word revolution like it is absolutely core to their principles.
Wendy Kopp [01:00:40] The other thing that really struck me not only with kids education revolution, but just in this global journey is how collective people in many other cultural context are in their conception of what leadership is. And, you know, so even thinking about the Kids Education Revolution and how it’s playing out in India, where these students are operating with so much love and respect and in such deep partnership with adults, you know, you can just see that playing itself out in the U.S. context where it’s like we’ve got a lot of student leadership, but not a lot of partnership. And I just think ultimately we need all of us. I mean, if there’s been any lesson from from really 30 years of this work, but but certainly from the global journey, it is the only chance we’re going to have to change our very broken systems is through collective leadership and through fostering the leadership of each and every one of us, from students to parents to, you know, all the actors around the whole system.
Wendy Kopp [01:01:42] And love has to be at the center of that, as you say.
Wendy Kopp [01:01:45] So we will have a new secretary of education and she calls you up and says, Wendy, before I talk to anybody else, I want to learn from your global experiences and your 30 years of U.S. education experience. Tell me, what should I prioritize and how should I think about moving the American education system forward at this point? What would you tell her?
Wendy Kopp [01:02:08] I would suggest two things. One, that we need a nationwide effort to rethink the purpose of education. You know, we need to be in dialog everywhere with each other, in communities, at the national level, everywhere about, you know, what are we working towards and ultimately embrace, you know, a broad vision for student success, essentially that. So that’s the first and most important thing. I think once we’ve embraced a broader purpose and will at least be orienting all of our efforts in the right direction. And the second thing I would say is, you know, are educators abroad, you know, let’s learn from other countries, because that will broaden the mindsets and approach and understandings of our educators. And we’ve we’ve all seen the power of connecting people with peers in very different cultural context, you know, who face similar challenges and are approaching things in different ways because their cultures are different. And I just think it would be very empowering and kind of shifting for our nation’s educators.
Kaya [01:03:15] Well, you heard it here first. The two big priorities, a national dialog around the purpose of education and expanding our vision for our young people’s outcomes and working with the world to do that, learning from other people, bringing our educators together with other educators. That sounds like a plan to me. I want to thank you, Wendy, for sharing with our pod listeners. And I want to thank you also for your contribution. You’ve made such a significant contribution to not just the American education system in growing leaders all across the country, but now to the world. And so thank you.
Wendy Kopp [01:03:56] Thank you, Kaya.
DeRay [01:04:00] Well, that’s it. Thanks so much for tuning in to Pod Save the People this week. Tell your friends to check it out. Make sure that you rate t wherever you get your podcasts whether it’s Apple podcast or somewhere else. And we’ll see you next week.
DeRay [01:04:12] Pod Save the People is a production of Crooked Media. It’s produced by Brock Wilbur and mixed by Bill Lancz. Our executive producers Jessica Cordova Kramer and myself special. Thanks to our weekly contributors, Kaya Henderson, De’Ara Balenger, and Sam Sinyangwe. And our special contributor, Johnetta Elzie.