Today, Chris and I (Nick) are joined by John Hale, whose biography you will hear at the beginning of the interview. John was recently the guest of a Soho Forum debate on the topic of pandemic pods, which you heard excerpts of at the beginning of this episode and confined in its entirety on YouTube.
Since the Human Restoration Project has primarily been focused on pedagogy and changing the structures of school, I wanted to have John on to talk more about the history and ramifications of education policy and help us unpack what's really going on in our current conversations about pandemic pods, voucher programs and the recently announced Bezos Academy. How can we simultaneously acknowledge that schools need to change while being critical advocates for the need for public institutions and employee unions? How have market oriented takes on so-called school choice actually subverted the original intent of independent and charter schools? It's a really interesting conversation and it was great to talk to John. I'm sure we'll have him on again to talk education policy, history and organization in the future.
Dr. Joe Hale, professor of educational policy, organization, and leadership at the University of Illinois, Urban-Champaign, and author of the forthcoming book, "The Choice We Face"
Nick Covington: [00:00:00] This podcast is made possible by supporters of the Human Restoration Project, three of whom are Paul Kim, Rachel Lawrence and Trent Kirkpatrick. You can learn more about the Human Restoration Project on our website, HumanRestorationProject.org, or find us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.
Narrator (Reason): [00:00:20] Aren't pandemic pods just the latest tool through which white parents use their financial and political clout to separate out their children, thus increasing segregation.
Gene Epstein: [00:00:31] Well, again, tonight's resolution reads to combat inequality, greater investments must be made in public schools so as not to accommodate the formation of pandemic pods by affluent parents.
Jon Hale: [00:00:48] Pandemic pilots are grounded in recent history, and you have to consider the underlying racist principles that form pandemic pods...
Corey DeAngelis: [00:00:59] The money should follow the child, the money that already exists in the education system for that child should follow them to wherever they are getting an education that could be in a private school to pay for tuition and fees and that could be in a pandemic pod which is the main point of this discussion today.
Jon Hale: [00:01:15] This dual pandemic has exposed the ugly truth of racism. It exposes a deadly pandemic that has killed nearly 200000 people after an administration even really tragically denied that it was an issue. So is requiring greater investment in communities that have been ravaged by this...
Nick Covington: [00:01:41] Hello and welcome to episode 80 of our podcast at the Human Restoration Project. My name is Nick Covington and I'm a public high school social studies teacher in Iowa and the creative director here at HRP. Today, Chris and I are joined by John Hale, whose biography you will hear at the beginning of the interview. John was recently the guest of a Soho Forum debate on the topic of pandemic pods, which you heard excerpts of at the beginning of this episode and confined in its entirety on YouTube.
Nick Covington: [00:02:09] Since the Human Restoration Project has primarily been focused on pedagogy and changing the structures of school, I wanted to have John on to talk more about the history and ramifications of education policy and help us unpack what's really going on in our current conversations about pandemic pods, voucher programs and the recently announced Bezos Academy. How can we simultaneously acknowledge that schools need to change while being critical advocates for the need for public institutions and employee unions? How have market oriented takes on so-called school choice actually subverted the original intent of independent and charter schools? It's a really interesting conversation and it was great to talk to John. I'm sure we'll have him on again to talk education policy, history and organization in the future. So here's our conversation with John Hale, and I hope you enjoy it.
Nick Covington: [00:03:06] This is Nick Covington and we're talking to John Hale, an associate professor of education policy, organization and leadership at the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. He's focused on the history of teacher and student activism and finishing up a book on the history of school choice with the working title The Choice We Face. You could look for that on September 20, 2021, just in time for next year's school year, assuming there's going to be another one. But hi, John, how are you doing?
Jon Hale: [00:03:33] I am doing well. All right. Thank you for having me.
Nick Covington: [00:03:36] All right, great. So for a little bit of context for our listeners, we asked John to be on today because he was involved in a debate a couple of weeks ago now on September 16th with the Soho Forum. And the Soho Forum is a libertarian space where they kind of get together and debate ideas of importance to that community. So past topics have included things like who should libertarians vote for in the next presidential election or is there systemic racism in policing? What should the government do about lockdowns during COVID?
Nick Covington: [00:04:08] And the premise that you were debating with Corey DeAngelis and we'll talk more about him in a second was, quote, "To combat inequality, greater investments must be made in public schools so as not to accommodate the formation of pandemic pods by affluent parents," end quote. With you in support of the affirmative and Corey DeAngelis arguing the negative. So I just have to add in there too that Corey, or that the Soho Forum, rather, is sponsored by the Reason Magazine. And Corey DeAngelis is the director of school choice at the Reason Foundation and an adjunct professor at the Cato Institute. So it's not like you have to really guess where Corey's allegiance falls on that premise. And if you're interested, you can watch the debate on YouTube or listen to the podcast version, the debate, and we'll link that stuff in the show notes. So, yeah, at the Human Restoration Project, we've really focused on like the pedagogical side of progressive education, and I'm not really sure that we've ever hashed out the problems with like market based approaches to so-called school choice and voucher programs. And where Corey argues that student funding dollars should be attached to students and not schools. You should be able to give that voucher to the with the per pupil amount to take and spend whatever you think is in your child's best interest. So how do advocates of public education get that message across to people who are skeptical of the value of public institutions or view sustaining it as, in his words, quote, "throwing money at the problem"? Or, you know, what's the fundamental case against market based reforms like vouchers or these pandemic pods?
Jon Hale: [00:05:43] Yeah, well, you know, I don't think there's...I think Corey and others would give us a clear, almost universal solutions, which is having the money follow the family and student and funding individually, each family let them make decisions like this sort of solution - there's not one way to to combat, if you will, or to address people who have lost faith in the public education system, because there are so many people who have lost faith in the public education system for different reasons. The debate with Corey DeAngelis and Libertarians was one of a, they have an economic theory or a belief that schools should be run by bit as a business or like a business. You'll notice Corey kept on talking about Wal-Mart and or Trader Joe's, right, which our schools should be run like that, which is disheartening. And it's also problematic because our schools aren't grocery stores and they're not businesses. They're not for profit entities.
Jon Hale: [00:06:47] So I think in addressing that crowd, the major point, it's not always effective because I mean, so many of us have already made up our minds. Right? We're not willing to listen. I think you do see that in the debate, if I'm not wrong, that people, especially if you consider the chat box they've already sold on this idea.
Jon Hale: [00:07:05] But it's to argue that historically our schools have never been viewed as businesses and they've been viewed as social and political institutions that were directly connected to the health and vitality of our democracy. So that requires a degree of investment that looking at looking at schools like a business doesn't require. So the first part is to get people to sort of see that our schools are these very vibrant, dynamic, but yet challenging social and political spaces that are connected to the well-being of our country and the well-being of our democracy, as opposed to either making money or making schools, quote unquote, more efficient. Or, you know, for instance, now, lately, the past couple of weeks, we see Jeff Bezos and Amazon in these preschools treating students like customers. Literally - that's the point of it. So it's getting people to see the much broader. function and purpose of schools.
Nick Covington: [00:08:10] Yeah, and that is so interesting to bring up Jeff Bezos - what what did he call it, Bezos Academy?
Jon Hale: [00:08:17] Bezos Academy <crosstalk>
Nick Covington: [00:08:20] The interesting part about that, right, is in the press releases and things that I've seen for it, like talking about it as a Montessori inspired preschool. That includes self directed activity, hands on learning and collaborative play, which, you know, from like a progressive education standpoint, sounds like, yeah, why wouldn't we want to have more of those things in there? And that's the thing that I think is is is sort of the problem with it. How would you try to sell maybe somebody on saying like what's what's the problem with Bezos Academy? Like why can't we have up to a billionaire philanthropist opening up these these free private academies that that maybe serve their own economic interests but provide free education for marginalized communities? What's the catch?
Jon Hale: [00:09:09] Yeah, there's a couple of issues there. The first of which is that why can't a billionaire philanthropist who's not paying taxes build a whole new separate system of schools? Is that what other profession do we have people who aren't even educated in or trained or certified to actually lead and build an entire system that that fills that need.
Jon Hale: [00:09:32] So, I mean, if we're in the medical profession, as you've just experienced, Nick, I bet you want someone with an M.D. or trained to be in that hospital to address and fix what was going on with you, correct?
Nick Covington: [00:09:44] Absolutely, yes.
Jon Hale: [00:09:46] Why do we have in this field of education that just because if you have a ton of money that you are somehow qualified to say what's best for other people's kids? First, I think this is probably more about who we allow to sort of run and build these schools and call that effective reform that we all need. That to me is just one of the most problematic issues with that. And then if I may just add on the second major issue is that, you know, there's nothing wrong, that's great that people want to change the system and that they want to make education a stronger field and a better system that's more attuned to the needs of all students. That's great. But why don't we work with a system that's right in front of us that I think everyone can agree? And I would agree with Corey DeAngelis and Jeff Bezos on this that it does need to be fixed.
Jon Hale: [00:10:39] But we've learned historically that the second you start pulling out of that system like these pandemic pods are doing and sort of doing your own thing, that benefits a few people on the margins, those who are able to get into Bezos Academy or whatever it's called, Amazon Preschool. And I'm sorry forgetting the name, but you get what I'm saying. These whatever the separate schools are, because you're investing in something completely separate and segregated from the public school system, which over 50 million students rely upon. And that's problematic because what do you do then with the main stream of students who need that reform? Because you're exactly right. This Montessori method is proven to work. It reaches all students. It is a very sound pedagogical tool. It would be great to have that in the public schools as well. People wanted it. It takes a strong investment. It requires specialized teacher training to be a good Montessori teacher. It requires different types of classroom. You're scrapping a textbook and working with materials that students are actually literally building. What's so, you know, just creating a separate system leaves behind the millions of students who don't get a benefit from this very small number of schools that adopt state of the art or that build a state of the art facility and have the best trained teachers out there. You're not addressing the problem. You're just sort of thrown a life raft out there for the few who can hold onto it while you're watching this massive ship sink right in front of you.
Nick Covington: [00:12:07] I think that's a great analogy. And even to a certain extent, I mean, you're throwing water onto the other ship while you're making your exit on the life raft because, I mean, you're taking that those funds and that money away from students who may have needs that exceed that of a so-called average student. And so in the conversation example with Corey, he's talking about these pandemic pods. I'm wondering like what does that look like for students with special needs? Are those are those parents also going out there and hiring para educators? Are they also going out there and hiring a team of specialists and people who can help assess their child's needs and then work to address it? I mean, I've got some students in my building, in my public high school who work with the team. That's probably two hundred and fifty thousand dollars worth of human capital in a given day just to help that student get through a day at school.
Nick Covington: [00:13:01] And I wonder, you know, for the price of a voucher, how far is that going to get somebody who actually does have really dramatic, you know, level two, level three needs in a in a public high school where that's free for parents that like the point of service, switching to the market based model leaves a whole bunch of people behind and it impoverishes the people who are there already and leaves them with fewer resources. So, yeah, it's so interesting to hear Corey say, and he said it several times to say, oh, parents can choose the public school if they want to. That's totally up to them to choose that. Or they can take it elsewhere. But, yeah, that's that's just one really interesting sort of thing about this, too.
Jon Hale: [00:13:40] Well you undermine the whole field when you when you say something like that because of the point you're bringing up, which is such an important point to think about and to discuss and to work into our policy decisions because students with special needs require something that's quite different from a student without special needs. You just pointed to the the human and professional capital that are invested in educators and the wraparound services that can help a student with special needs, that requires an investment that's far beyond our student without special needs. Right. And so it's not an evil it's not a level or even playing field. But the reality is that not every student learns the same way and not every family can make the same decisions. So if you're looking at parents who have a child with special needs, that requires a very different skill set and pandemic pods. And when you start to take the money or when you start to adopt formulas where the money follows a student, something that, you know, Corey and Reason and the libertarians advocate, you're putting that pressure and that burden really a burden on parents to sort of find what works best for them. And a lot of times, as we know, students and families with special needs don't have the time, you know, they're entitled to by law to go to the school that's close to their house and be provided these services.
Jon Hale: [00:15:08] When you disrupt that, you're disrupting the services that children need. And just quickly add in, we research already shows that this market based reform strategy is problematic and often detrimental to students with special needs. Because if you look at the charter example, research studies time and time again have demonstrated that students with special needs and families who must provide or ensure that they get a good education are kept out of the best choice schools. Charter schools, you know, when you apply to a school or a charter school, there's no law that says they have to take them students with special needs, but a public school does. So it just shows the inequity in the very system. So people can see that what it looks like from the perspective of a student with special needs, you see very clearly and quickly that they need investment in their public schools.
Jon Hale: [00:16:04] And you can't just go ahead and recreate the Jeff Bezos Academy, because it sounds good or the theory is good when on the ground you have students with special needs and millions of other students who require something different and more than just a voucher from the government.
Nick Covington: [00:16:22] And what I thought was really interesting and I latched on to this too in Corey's argument, to talk about he mentioned something about preschool. And it really got me got me going. Because, John, you have kids, right?
Jon Hale: [00:16:34] Yes, I have two kids, one and two.
Nick Covington: [00:16:37] Ok, so, I mean, I have a two year old and a five year old. So we've had this preschool conversation going back before our firstborn was even born. And if you want to look at the landscape of school choice for preschools and how a inequitable and expensive and inaccessible it is for like middle class families that's really the landscape for school choice that they want to project onto K-12. They want you to have to be on a wait list for six to 12 months or longer. And they want you to have to pay eighteen hundred dollars a month for for care for your kid in tuition. And I think by the time both of my kids get out of preschool, I will have paid for a college education for at least one of them just by the time they hit five years old and then can get into a public school program. So, yeah. So Amazon preschool, like you called it earlier, doesn't doesn't sound like a like a great deal for me because it it sounds like stress. It sounds like it's not going to be affordable, it's not going to be accessible. It's going to mirror the exact experience that millions of parents have with with school choice and preschools for their newborns or for their unborn kids, that they're trying to get into a quality preschool education and people without means have zero access to those things.
Jon Hale: [00:17:57] Exactly. And that's just one of the points to what you just said. People without means don't have that access. And we really don't take into account those families without means to figure out this convoluted choice process or to find out where's Amazon Preschool. I mean that requires, so many people dismiss this fact, but that requires time and requires capital to sort of understand the process, that it requires all these elements that you're burdening families with, those that have the means at times even struggle with that. Just talk to parents who are trying to figure out the choice system. It's stressful. It's ou're on a waiting list. You have to figure out what's best for your child in a very short amount of time is putting a tremendous burden on them. It's not liberating. It's not freedom. It's a burden in families with the task that constitutions have required states to make. It's allowing these state legislatures to pass that off on someone else because they don't want to do it.
Nick Covington: [00:18:59] It's an abdication of that constitutional responsibility of the states.
Jon Hale: [00:19:05] Exactly.
Jon Hale: [00:19:05] And that's what all these some people call them, these Robinhood cases, all these laws that are in nearly every state across these United States where state legislatures are being sued because they are not fulfilling their constitutional obligation, but why this court cases exist across the country because of that very fact. So we know that these states aren't doing so at this moment. When we know that they're not doing that, they go ahead and turn it over to Jeff Bezos or charter school operators or other private school operators as well. They're giving up on this responsibility to provide a quality public education for all students just to kind of process that a little bit too fundamentally.
Nick Covington: [00:19:55] It's not just an abdication of the constitutional responsibility that states have, but it's like it's an abdication of that entire democratic process. You know, as as you think about school boards being elected by a democratic process, state legislatures being elected by a democratic process and having a stake in what happens in those public schools, it abdicates that whole thing towards what we've been talking about there with those market reforms and sort of this like ala carte, build your own school system. And there was a great podcast a couple of weeks ago from have you heard with Jack Snyder and Jennifer Berkshire where they had a guest on there. And he said, well, you know, what if what if we apply the same logic to airports? You know, I don't like this airport. I want to go build my own airport and do that. Well, you can't do that because the infrastructure and the time and everything else takes continuous investment over decades to get infrastructure to a point where you can, you know, like you were saying, fill it with the capital and then the people and the everything else that makes the school system function. You can't attempt to imitate that overnight and expect it to be successful at all.
Jon Hale: [00:21:01] Exactly right. And you're right to say that legislators and policymakers are abdicated on their constitutional responsibility to provide a public education. At the same time, they're also ignoring this historic sort of precedent before them, which is to create public schools for the benefit of everybody. And people have a hard time with that. This is not a public good. It's not a common good. Research in history tells us that that is the purpose of public education to strengthen our democracy. And if we don't see that need now, for those of us who tune into the debate, we're just we're just missing the mark on that one in a criminal way to not see why we need these sort of shared common spaces right now. To learn how to participate in democracy. And you can't put a you can't put a dollar sign on that. Some more about the airport. You know, that analogy is exactly correct. To expect individuals to build the separate system. But again, whether it's an airport or a Wal-Mart, you're breaking down education to a very simple formula to provide a product to to inculcate and to share a curriculum with our students.
Jon Hale: [00:22:15] But having gone in schools, we know that that is not the sole or only function or purpose of schools. Schools and teachers are asked to do so much and to reduce it to that and then take away their meager resources. To actually do that undercuts the entire system and it makes their quote unquote market highly unequal when you both abdicate, if you will, and give up that constitutional responsibility and break down and simplify education to a number or to a service, just it misses the mark entirely about what public schools are supposed to be doing and then, in fact, quite honestly, that they need to be doing right now.
Nick Covington: [00:23:04] And I think to add to that point to like I'm thinking about when I read Jonathan Kozol's book and I forget which one right now, but but he mentions in there how a lot of the like the accountability reform measures that that were put on to urban schools and a lot of cases. What ends up happening is that a big, big bigwig administrator comes in, turns over a bunch of teachers, gets a temporary or even a fake boost in test scores. They get headlines, they get a raise, they go on the speaking tour, they become education consultants and whatnot. And then in two years, when kids transition away from middle school to high school, the gains that that were supposed to be the miracle of whatever the program, what was those gains vanish along with the administrator who's taking their money and run anyway. And then we're back to blaming teachers and we're back to blaming kids and we're back to blaming communities.
Jon Hale: [00:23:57] And so I wonder just kind of thinking, like looking at that critical role that we need to play to make our schools function better, understanding the role that schools have played in perpetuating, you know, structural racism, in perpetuating those biases. And even with your work, you know, in the freedom schools of the 50s and 60s that were born out of a radical democratic voice at which which we would hold up as being. This is a hallmark of democracy right here was training a generation of students to to be active in their communities and to fight for at the time what was radical change, especially in the black community.
Nick Covington: [00:24:32] So I don't know if there's a couple of questions in here, but how can we acknowledge, the sort of the dehumanizing aspects that disengaging the racist aspects of school, maybe they even talked a little bit about in that dual pandemic framing of your argument in the debate, while also like being critical friends and acknowledging that crucial democratic role that they play, even while we look at historical precedents of schools that have come from a different, more radical place and been successful and they've been held up as as examples. So like, how do the values of democratic schooling and those freedom schools and even like some charter programs, how do those fit into our public school ecosystem? And how can we be defenders of that structure while acknowledging those things?
Jon Hale: [00:25:17] Yeah, and that's why I really like how you how you frame that, because that that's also why it's so difficult. Not just to go into a libertarian lion's den and to argue for greater investment for public schools, I mean, that that's literally impossible, it's possible, but you're not going to win that debate. But it has to be said, and it's also difficult because you said you have to acknowledge the dehumanizing experience and aspect of public schools while also making the argument that, well, this is we still need to invest in these structures.
Jon Hale: [00:25:54] And to go to families who have experienced generations of public school failure. That's very difficult to do. But you can do it and it has been done. So, like you said, some charter schools are really, really successful and they work well. Some magnet schools work really well. We know these private schools where they're paying twenty five thousand dollars a year to go to are working well. So what it is, is we and we know what works. We've been able to get degrees in education at the graduate level or above for over one hundred years. And that's a lot of people that who have been educated to know what's going on and who have studied the problem professionally. The problem is one lack of willpower. So we have and our willingness to be honest with what the system is doing. And it's also a problem of trust, because in order to really make this work, we have to by acknowledging the structural inequalities, whether it's racism, misogyny, ableism.
Jon Hale: [00:26:58] If you recognize how this is baked into the structure and you really understand it, I feel like that also leads to an awareness that one of the solutions are empowering those who are closest to the that the critical problem. To actually invest in the parents of students with special needs, for instance, not just with a voucher, but with an actual say on this or a vote on the school board, because parents are experts on what and knowing what's best for their children by empowering them to make decisions about where to spend the money, about removing particular teachers or principal that aren't meeting the needs of their students, working in what they suggest into the actual school structure itself. So by acknowledging that, you're actually acknowledging one of the solutions to it, which is to bring those who rely on public schools into that and allow in people to sort of run the schools themselves.
Jon Hale: [00:27:57] And I will say I try to bring this up in the debate, of course. But if you look at the civil rights history, like freedom schools, like you mentioned. And you connected to today, there's a lot of civil rights advocates who are charter school founders, a lot of Black power community organizers who support school vouchers, they're not supported. In my oral histories, in the research I've done, it's not so much supporting school choice per say, like the Reason Foundation is doing, because it's this economic theory that Milton Friedman puts out. And for whatever reasons, it's for a very different reason is that it gives control and power back to the community who needs it. If you can start your own charter school and run it, that's that's community control and community empowerment, not school choice.
Jon Hale: [00:28:50] If you allow a community to sit on a private school board and to determine admissions or something like that, what you're doing, you're empowering. It's not a choice that people want. It's just to be heard and to be respected, allow the keys, if you will, to control and really have a heavy say in their own children's education, and that's really not that difficult. It's just people just have a hard time with relinquishing control. And going to these billionaire philanthropists and some very notable instances as opposed to just going to the local school and working with the structures that are already there.
Nick Covington: [00:29:28] Yeah, that's so interesting because there's nothing about what you just said about increasing community voice and having a say in that education that necessitates raising the public school to the ground and growing a bunch of Amazon preschools. There's nothing implicit in saying that. And I think that's a really interesting segway into it. Maybe the last question, which is exactly about that, it's about that idea of collective voice and the power that's in that as opposed to the fractured market nature. Maybe we call that the neoliberal nature of the marketplace that is supposed to empower individuals and competition against each other. To what you said, communities don't necessarily want that. They want collective voice and collective action. But like, increasingly, that's viewed as a negative thing. And so one of the talking points that Corey even had in the debate, and I've heard a lot of time, as I mean, I've been a labor organizer myself, and I know you've done work in this, too, is that they're a menace to society.
Nick Covington: [00:30:28] I mean, every time he talks about the California school system, he brings up teachers unions and and the inability to change because something about the teachers unions as this insidious organization, it's almost conspiratorial. The teachers unions won't let us fix the problems that are in the schools. But what is really interesting is that as I have advanced in my career and in both in labor work and in the classroom, the more that I learn about the way that these public institutions work, my inkling has never been to shatter them and break them.
Nick Covington: [00:30:57] It's to strengthen that collective voice, you know. And Corey mentions that charter schools benefit from that lack of unionization. And what better way to say that bring Wal-Mart and Amazon up as as like the panacea for for, I guess, retail choice. But there are also places that are just infamous for being anti-union and worker exploitation. I mean, you hear horrible stories about Amazon warehouses and Wal-Mart wages, et cetera. I think that's maybe I don't know if that's an ideological hurdle that we have to get over, but I think part of the PR of public goods is saying that like collective things have value.
Nick Covington: [00:31:35] So how do we bridge that gap and maybe what's going on there between the notion of like having solidarity with communities and teachers and institutions in the collective power that I view as uplifting old people and the perception of unions, especially public sector unions, like as a menace to society? I don't know if you have any thoughts on that.
Jon Hale: [00:31:56] That's like three podcast's worth because the attack on teacher unions since their founding in the early nineteen hundreds. With Margaret Hailie in Chicago. It's a lot to unpack. I agree with you, I find it so curious that Corey DeAngelis and others will say, well, one reason charters are doing so well or why they're an attractive option in this market is that there are no teacher unions there. Well, then why did the city of Chicago witness the first charter teacher strike in the country? Because they're not working and they're not getting paid and their insurance is messed up. Right then it's so great. Why are teachers and charter schools in Chicago actually doing that in Los Angeles? And you've got to fact check it, they were talking about that what you do with the charter teachers, because they are how they were being treated in the schools and look at these right to work states right across the south and southwest, I don't think those state education systems are doing that well.
Jon Hale: [00:32:59] And I'm saying that sarcastically. This is a bottom of the barrel. And you can directly correlate that onto correlate that with the fact that there aren't any teacher unions there, that they are not allowed to collectively bargain to not only raise their salary, but strengthen the profession. And if you strengthen the teacher, you strengthen the school and you strengthen the working conditions, which allow professionals to effectively educate their students, so what what do you do about I don't know what to do about this? This has been a losing battle since, especially with Scott Walker, what we saw in the Midwest and the the break up of teacher unions and collective bargaining rights. But it's to see that through collective strength and through the professionalization of teachers by way of collective bargaining.
Jon Hale: [00:33:50] That is one way to, of course, strengthen the public school system like that, you can call it. Research shows the correlation between higher teacher salaries and standardized test scores, less teacher, stronger teacher retention teachers actually staying in the schools. And if you look at some of the ideas of teacher unions like Al Shanker, I'll put it out there. His original idea, which was based on Ray Budde's idea, a charter school idea was that this was a teacher controlled experiment where they went back to the public schools after five years to test what works. That was the original concept before it was bastardized, if you will, by corporations and millionaires and billionaires who didn't know what it was like to teach co-opted the idea. So, I mean, the idea of collective strength by way of teacher unions is also baked into the system, right. And it's there. It's just we're ignoring it and then we're going in a very new direction without research to show that we're better off hiring. Teachers who aren't unionized, as if that's going to work. History tells us it's quite different and far from reality.
Nick Covington: [00:35:02] Yeah, man, and it is so interesting to think about that correlation since since the 70s or maybe, you know, the rise of the Reagan conservatives in the 80s and really like attacking labor unions and attacking public institutions, it almost seems like the 20 year trajectory from that to, say, No Child Left Behind and then the the 20 years onward, that ideological side is in search of a solution to the problem that they caused, which is which is exactly that. Professionalizing teachers, lowering wages, fracturing a trust in public institutions, et cetera, and then having to like, provide the solution in these market based things that aren't necessarily shown to work any better or worse, but just seem to sort by socioeconomic status, which maybe that's an inherent goal. And what they want to do. I mean, I'll try to give them the benefit of the doubt there. But it's really interesting. And all of these experiments that we've said to have tried in education, going back 40 years, maybe we haven't tried more unions, raising teacher pay, putting more money into schools at the margins in an underserved communities. And you know what I mean? It just seems like we're always coming back to these market ideas that which, again, to me and maybe there's a there's a bias here, I, I just don't see that working. Why don't we try the flip? Why don't we try let's unionize more. Let's do more of those kinds of things. Let's raise pay, let's fund schools and then let's see how test scores come out and if it's a if it's a disaster that at least we will have tried it. But like what? Why not try more of that.
Jon Hale: [00:36:33] Exactly. And it's also why do we trust people like Jeff Bezos, for instance? Because it's so current right now to to reform these schools - he's never taught. To what extent has he been in a public school? But we're trusting him or looking to that as a type of solution as opposed to ignoring professionals who are in control, who sign off on a contract where they know they're underpaid because they love the position and they love their students. Why don't we listen to people who are making the decision to make it work as opposed to someone with no experience with what type of world is that where the technological and then we keep going back to a market based reform. I mean, it doesn't work well when when people are organized to fight for more money to protect themselves and their health and their working conditions. That never works. So it is not even an ulterior motive. It is a direct motive to eliminate that barrier. Right. Of teacher unions because people can't get what they want done with these pesky teachers in the way to make sure that things are going well.
Jon Hale: [00:37:37] And on top of that, too, it's this idea that through collective bargaining and teacher unionization that we have, you know, again, the solutions are in there because it's been passed on for so long that teachers are highly trained and they know what to do best. And it's so easy to blame the teachers because you were referencing before, it's ideological. It's cultural. It's in our movies, right? Well, it's on our billboards. It's on the cover of Time magazine with Michelle Rhee in that room in 2008, like sweeping away these teacher reforms, attacking on these unions.
Jon Hale: [00:38:14] It's worked itself into our collective consciousness, if you will, that teachers are bad, that teacher unions are evil. So we're fighting against this culture or this cultural idea. And it's so easy to do because we're sort of been socialized to see it. And it's so convenient for those who are interested in reform in schools by themselves. Because if you can blame a teacher, that means you're not blaming you're not looking at the system itself. The policies need to be changed. Legislators need to be challenged, and we can't allow billionaires to run things. It's sort of like if you allow me to make a comparison or an analogy here at the end of Al Gore's, his first Inconvenient Truth solutions at the end of the documentary are individual use, less water use or turn your lights off. If you're not using them at the individual, be more conscious. Well, how about creating policies that companies can exploit the environment for profit? How about putting caps on emissions output? How about creating policies that don't allow countries to level forests in order to make a profit off the meat industry? I mean, we're trained to think that teachers are bad and we can handle this at the individual level. And we're trained away from thinking about the real problem, which is a structural issue that requires much more than individual effort. It requires a collective effort which teacher unions can, in fact, bring.
Nick Covington: [00:39:48] I think that's such a useful lens. I mean, just just for looking at all of the conversations that like we're having in society right now, is exactly that, like individualizing systemic problems and either blaming individuals for systemic outcomes or looking to individuals to solve those systemic problems themselves. So whether we're talking about structural racism, you know, the the argument for people who, for whatever reason, don't believe that's a thing, we'll say, oh, if you just grew up in a two parent household or if you if you had just done this, then racism would not be an issue in your life. The same thing could be said about police shooting, for Brianna Taylor. The rally that you were at tonight, John, I've made myself sick, you know, watching people on on the news or on Twitter, talking about if Brianna Taylor or if this person had just done this, then this event would never have happened. It allows you to blame the victim and individualize those things and an education to. Exactly. It says, let's not look at systemic underfunding for communities that need more than the suburban school to overcome generational divides in education and in funding and everything else that white, middle class suburban kids might not need. But no, they blame teachers in urban schools for. For what? Not shouldering the burden of generations of systemic and structural inequalities.
Nick Covington: [00:41:12] So that's such a useful lens. Just to look at basically every structural issue right now and maybe, you know, that's looking ahead or connecting to politics. Maybe that's just that's the argument we're having. We're not having an ideological one because I don't know if that exists anymore or one by parties. But we're talking about whether you believe that structural problems have structural solutions or whether you want to defer those to individuals and never solve those structural problems.
Jon Hale: [00:41:42] Yeah, I mean, which is, you know. I hate this comes to mind, but a dilly of a pickle, if you will, right, because the problems are immense and you need individuals to do that, but it requires an understanding that goes far beyond a quick fix. In trusting individuals to lead the charge as opposed to historical and collective approach.
Nick Covington: [00:42:04] But where's the money in the historical and collective approach in playing the long, slow game.
Jon Hale: [00:42:11] Exactly. And that's just sometimes, you know, then if we go down the question of these larger, deeper questions, our country wasn't built upon those principles. I mean, we expect it's an uphill battle to say that because our country never really embraced or practiced those principles, as other countries have done, to trust a long term process when in fact, solutions like that are why other countries succeed or trust other people, professionals and in expecting parents to become involved in the process more as well.
Jon Hale: [00:42:45] It's just not part of our of the United States ideological, political and economic infrastructure. So, I mean, it's really an uphill battle, unfortunately. So it's spaces like this that it's publishing where we can it's talking if we can do it at home at the holidays. Right. Sort of change that way of thinking.
Chris McNutt: [00:43:09] I'm sure you're familiar with, like Deborah Meier's work involving school reform and school choice and kind of that cooption or differing of, for lack of a better way of saying it - school choice versus school choice, like school vouchers versus the idea of schools within schools or public system where students get to choose. Based off of your expertice in writing, and what you know from history, does it make sense to structure a school system like that - where parents have multiple options, where students have multiple options but they are all within a public system?
Jon Hale: [00:43:44] Yes. So that in different ways work is really interesting, too, because. I'll say I'm sorry, I'm just, you know, trying to wrap my head around that, that's a big question to Deborah Meier. So, for instance, will it be part of that, like you could call it, the small schools movement or we mentioned Jonathan Kozol before we had a lot of union members or union sympathizers or the left, if you will, for lack of a better - I don't necessarily agree with that distinction, but people who believe in greater investments actually wanted to pull out of the public system because it was so bad. Right. Like Deborah Meier supported that, Jonathan Kozol and the free school movement. And I'm forgetting the name of Deborah Meier's School in Brooklyn -
Chris McNutt: [00:44:22] Central Park East?
Jon Hale: [00:44:23] Yes, Central Park East. And she actually publishes in the early nineties that school choice is a good idea. And she's made a more nuanced argument, as you pointed to Chris now. So we have to recognize what people how they actually are complicit in using choice as a model today. So I do think it's problematic to kind of turn over an entire district to choice because the way that those reformers are talking about, because that assumes that everyone can make a rational, equal decision based on the choices in front of them, and we just know way too much now to say that there's no parity among people to even make that choice. So to turn it over to choice would have to have an equal playing field to start with. And we just know in 2012 that's not the case. So it is problematic. There are instances of what people call control choices.
Jon Hale: [00:45:20] So we actually see that in Champagne Urbana, Illinois, is what they worked with in Boston. And you actually see this in Berkeley, where the entire district is actually a choice district. So in Champaign, much to my chagrin, I actually have to choose a school. And if the rank order them and you have to do this in Boston as well. And if I'm not mistaken, I think they're still doing the Berkeley. And the idea is it's built on principles of racial and socioeconomic integration, that you can't dip below a certain point to do that. And that works to some extent. It really does. I mean, they're less segregated than they would be with this system. The issue is white people still leave the city of Boston right here, the move to the next town over if they don't like this system. And also, if you look at what the Reason Foundation and Corey DeAngelis just has published this idea before, then that controlled choice isn't choice because that government is sort of controlling that system. So if you go down that route, Chris, long, long story short, I guess it's to say if you do an equitable choice system, then you really can't call it a choice. You have to call it community empowerment or something like that, because the word choice has been used and bastardized over time is really not a choice. So I do think that the rhetoric around choice is harmful and it just makes too many assumptions when you put out there in the public market, if you will, to try to co-opt some of their language that we just know full and equal that the framing of choice now won't work.
Chris McNutt: [00:46:55] That's fascinating. It's a really, really interesting and very nuanced answer. I appreciate it because it's something that comes up a lot. There's so many different weird alignments between the language of neoliberal reformers and what I think many progressive educators see as like this Mecca of students kind of going off and doing their own thing and and being able to do that for free, an equitable system. A lot of that language is very much over the top and shared. Yeah, this is really, really interesting.
Jon Hale: [00:47:28] They're very strange bedfellows. Right, to say Deborah Meier, Jonathan Kozol put in the same realm in some ways that Jeff Bezos, in terms of belief, of the power of starting your own school to improve the system. And that's where the rhetoric of choice fall short because it doesn't allow us that nuance to really say that. Well, Jeff Bezos is not, you know, Jonathan Kozol or Deborah Meier. They're very different and they come up with a different reason.
Jon Hale: [00:47:57] But what are they talking about, pulling out of the public school system or creating your own system? Also, what gets me to just quickly bring this up to about, you know, Donald Trump, someone else, the president during the summer, right. Where school choice is a civil right of our time period. This is something that he said over the past during his administration about the devices as well. So here's someone like Trump in Davos saying school choice is a civil right. And then you have someone like James Forman Jr., son of the Black Power organizer James Forman, Howard Fuller based in Milwaukee, but he actually founded Malcolm X Liberacion University in North Carolina in the late 60s. Like true civil rights advocates making that same claim that Trump is now in our right minds, we would never lump them together. But they're using the same rhetoric, right? So we need the term choice itself is so high because it doesn't allow us to see the nuance and it really doesn't allow us to see what people are after. Is it pure profit and privatization or is it more community empowerment?
Jon Hale: [00:49:01] And that's what I'm I guess I tried to do that in the debate. And thank you, Chris and Nick, for tuning in, because I think I got two votes that kept me in the positive. But one thing is to see that it's just it just doesn't allow us the space to really look at and pass out what people mean when they say it's just it is very muddled way to sort of talk about reform. It's almost like the label is so tainted. You can't you can't use it without people having a heart, a neo liberal association with it.
Nick Covington: [00:49:36] When we're talking about something that's like truly democratic, why should we chastise well-intentioned people grounded in the community who are in the schools when they say choice, but so many who are so against us that they do our full or shouldn't be, you know, criticized and publicly humiliated in some cases because he believes that what he's getting at is the choice of the vehicle to to impart. I never want to. I want to I'm not speaking for him, but my interpretation is what he really looked at.
Jon Hale: [00:50:06] He worked with Derrick Bell in the 90s, I'm sorry, in the late 80s to come up with this plan that led to vouchers, which then Tommy Thompson and the Wisconsin legislature took over and turned into a privatization mechanism when it started out as a Black power solution to failing public schools, so it just goes to show that the choices label just doesn't really work that well, doesn't fit that well for the realities that we're for sure.
Chris McNutt: [00:50:34] I mean, that's a neoliberal one on one thing. You just you take a term and you warp it to the point where it no longer means what it meant. And then you spend all of your time discussing what the term means as opposed to talking about the actual reform that could occur. That is particularly about that in progressive education - I mean, Jeff Bezos is calling a school, a Montessori inspired school, which obviously was always based around a free public education. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Jon Hale: [00:50:59] And notice too I think in the press release, quick ad, where he also then talks about students as customers. So you tell a story and this pedagogically sound technique and then in the next sentence refer to to kindergarten or preschoolers as customers. Like, you got to be kidding me. You know, I mean, you're exactly right how people use that and then literally the next breath contradict the very notion of Montessori, it is very interesting, though, how the tools that can be used for community empowerment can be co-opted and undermined by wealthy interests with those market things in mind. Right. So it's like they want to take those tools and those labels, but then you use them for for ends that actually end up concentrating wealth and power for them, whereas it was originally a community tool meant to serve the majority of people and now it just can't.
Jon Hale: [00:51:57] And what would really stop someone like Jeff Bezos to go into a school district and say, here's x amount of millions of dollars and let's we have to have criteria for people who use it, that they have kids in the school, they're from the community, the recognized community leaders. You're going to any community and you can find out that network pretty quickly. Why don't people just sort of say we're going to fund this with serious strings but have criteria to sort of evaluate it? But that's rarely, if ever tried. Because we actually see this. I want to get on a tangent rabbit hole I know we're trying to wrap up, but if you have to look at what LeBron James is doing in Cleveland, the more I look into it, I don't want to come to the conclusion because I have to do more research on it. But what he's doing is he took a school in a public school district and he maintained his public school status.
Jon Hale: [00:52:53] And correct me if I'm wrong, but it's not a charter school. It's not a magnet school. He's working within that structure and just providing the funding and the space and the time in this sort of holistic investment, which includes financial investment to turn around that school. I don't know why more people aren't. So far, it appears to be working well. And the principal is right. And it's grounded in a history we know that works. So it's just to show that you can do it. It's just not being done.
Nick Covington: [00:53:24] All right, well, is there anything that we that you wanted to talk about, John, or anything that you wanted to say that, you know, our questioning, questioning or the discussion didn't quite get to at all?
Jon Hale: [00:53:36] No, I think, you know, I appreciate the invitation to to speak with you. I appreciate the opportunity to sort of put these ideas out there and then also talk them through a little bit more, especially because my manuscript was do yesterday so I can always make change in how we approach this very, really quite complex issue. So I appreciate the opportunity and the time. And thank you so much in getting to know you on Twitter. It's funny how you get to know someone, a Twitter user, and we're sharing sources of which which I appreciate it. And in the lion's den, you really come to appreciate those who extended a helping hand. So, Chris and Nick, thank you so much.
Nick Covington: [00:54:13] Very cool. Well, yeah, it's been great to get to know you, too, John. And probably this we won't just stop talking to each other after this. So let's let's keep the lines of communication open. I love to I love to dig into these issues. Maybe maybe that when your book comes out, we'll we'll have you back on again around this time next year.
Jon Hale: [00:54:29] Yeah. Thank you so much. That would be great. Great opportunity. Keep the conversation going.
Nick Covington: [00:54:37] Thanks for listening. If this conversation leaves you wanting to learn more about our fight for humane education, you can learn more about us and support our cause at HumanRestorationProject.org. And of course, this podcast and all of our materials are brought to you by our donors and patrons.
Jeff Bezos is opening a tuition-free preschool for underserved children (CNN)
Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol
Small Schools and Choice Revisited by Deborah Meier
Are ‘Pandemic Pods’ a Symptom of the Public School Monopoly? A Soho Forum Debate (YouTube)