79: Reimagine the System with REENVISIONED (Dr. Erin Raab)

Chris McNutt
October 3, 2020
Creating conversations toward human flourishing.


Chris McNutt: [00:00:04] Hello and welcome to Episode 79 of our podcast at Human Restoration Project. My name is Chris McNutt and I'm a high school digital media instructor from Ohio. Before we get started, I want to let you know that this podcast is brought to you by our Patreon supporters, three of whom are Matt Walker, Tracy Nicole Smith and Shannon Schinkle. Thank you for your ongoing support. You can learn more about the Human Restoration Project on our website,, or find us on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

Chris McNutt: [00:00:45] Today, we're joined by Dr. Erin Raab. Erin is the co-founder and principal consultant of REENVISIONED ever a movement to redefine the purpose of school. REENVISIONED aims to change the conversation of school away from standards, norms and improving the status quo. Erin and her co-founder Nicole Hensel, both graduates of the Stanford Graduate School of Education, aim to collect 10,000 stories of students, teachers and community members to develop a shared vision of what school could and should be. The organization supports schools and individuals by providing a framework to conduct these interviews, contributing to a larger conversation as well as opening space for truly eye opening conversations about what we all really want out of our education system. You can read all of these interviews at In our conversation together, Erin and I talk about systems based thinking and transforming the system, rather upholding what we always do. It's a deep, complex discussion centering on history, psychology and a lot more. I hope you enjoy.

Erin Raab: [00:01:45] My mission is to change the conversation around schooling, which is not something you often hear as a mission in the field of education. But it came out of - I've been working in education for almost 20 years and I started an international development, and worked both on Latin American programs,

Erin Raab: [00:02:02] I spent a number of years in a township in South Africa, starting up a library and education center where I ran after school programs and leadership programs for young people and then worked with the National Department of Education in South Africa and spent nearly a decade working all the way from on the ground to huge kind of multilateral international organizations. This question about why it wasn't working, my kids weren't leaving school empowered, oftentimes even having the basic literacy skills, but that they needed to get jobs. But even more than that, didn't leave with the confidence, the understanding of the world to navigate their lives as adults.

Erin Raab: [00:02:40] So at that time, I think I was still a little naive and I thought that there must be a group of experts somewhere who knew the answer. And all I needed to do is go find other experts. And I could learn the answer the right way to do it. And then I would go back out in the world and do it right.

Erin Raab: [00:02:55] And so I applied to do my Ph.D. at Stanford, got out to Stanford, realized in many ways that's not what PhDs do, that they are largely training academics. And so I ended up doing a very atypical PhD because I was there with this question of why isn't this working?

Erin Raab: [00:03:12] Why isn't this working not just for a couple of kids, but for many kids, maybe most of the kids across the world. And I had just started a library, so I thought, well, I'll start in literacy. You know that's necessary, if not sufficient, to living an empowered life. And spent almost two years really delving into the literacy literature, only to find out that really smart people had thought about literacy for a very long time and that we had empowering theories, we had empowering approaches, and we just didn't use them. So then I thought, well, maybe it's in second language acquisition. I really thought there was something we didn't know. So I thought, OK, well, maybe it's a second language acquisition. My kids learn in Zulu, they transition into English in the United States.

Erin Raab: [00:03:53] Obviously, we have a huge number of English language learners. Maybe it's in this language of power, second language acquisition issue sent another maybe year and a half in in the second language acquisition literature, only to find out that really smart people have thought about second language acquisition for a really long time.

Erin Raab: [00:04:09] We had empowering theories. We had empowering approaches. We just didn't use them. So I thought, well, maybe it's one of these newfangled areas like character development or social emotional learning that have gotten a lot of attention in the last few years. But the next building in those literatures only to find out that not only were they not newfangled, we have literally been thinking about character development, Aristotle, but also we had great ways of thinking about doing them.

Erin Raab: [00:04:37] We had great ways of actually doing them and we just didn't use them. At this point, I thought, well, maybe education isn't the place that I should be working. I think we know things. I think school might be actually harming kids and the adults in schools. We have high rates of depression, lots of dropping out, lack of motivation, lots of kids who we tell aren't valuable because they're not doing well on on exams. And so I really did a lot of soul searching. And luckily at that point, I also got introduced to systems theory and I started thinking, well, if it's not going to be a new literacy approach or not going to be a new way of thinking about second language acquisition, what would it take to shift or transform our system so that we can use what we already know?

Erin Raab: [00:05:25] We actually know a lot about how to foster learning and community in our schools, and we largely don't do that and teach the last three years of my PhD thinking about what that means. What does it mean to transform a system… That's a very abstract thing. And then how to go about doing that and one of the first things I found is that if you want to shift a system, you have to know what its purpose is and you have to transform how people think about what that purposes and so reinvigorated comes out of that first step of systems change, which is about changing how what it is that we see to be the problem to be solved.

Erin Raab: [00:06:07] Like, what are the questions we're asking about what school is for and what we're trying to do through it? Because I truly believe we have really capable, creative, well-intentioned, hardworking people at every single level of the schooling system. You hear a lot of critiques at all levels. All the superintendents, all the educators, all we know we have really wonderful, hardworking, smart people working all over. But I think largely within systems that inhibit their ability to actually do things. And I mean, a lot of the Human Restoration Project - that ultimately are dehumanizing both for the adults and for the young people that are in our system. So REENVISIONED, it came out of that journey. It's not what I thought was going to come out. I kind of thought going into my Ph.D., I'd be starting a new literacy program. I would say I thought I'd start a new kind of literacy nonprofit or something along the lines of what I had done before. And what I realized is that that would fundamentally leave a system that I felt was chewing up children, REENVISIONED is trying to change the conversation about schooling from one about competition, social mobility. Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind to one that is about human flourishing. That is about democracy and collective liberation. That is about who we are as a community and how we practice that in schools.

Chris McNutt: [00:07:29] Yeah, you you bring up that idea of systems thinking and I'm with you, that it's very frustrating when there are education reformers who see teachers as if they're dumb or ignorant or that they're doing something wrong. Where I mean, I've seen and I'm sure you've seen that when you do change the conversation and you allow teachers to work within a different system, they do have a tendency to do that instead. And that works out a lot better.

Chris McNutt: [00:07:56] All of us feel stuck for financial reasons, safety reasons, whatever it might be, upholding something that maybe we don't agree with or we just don't realize it could be done differently. There are so many people working to uphold the status quo through better teaching strategies or through marketing, at many points an "amazing professional development tool", quote unquote, that costs a ton of money that might increase test scores by five percent or something without ever asking that fundamental question of, well, why do the test scores matter to begin with? And why are we not focusing on things like motivation and agency, et cetera, especially when we have all of that research from literally hundreds of years to support that the things that we're currently doing don't work? And there are other things that do work. Do you want to talk a little bit about what exactly it is that you're doing to make this happen?

Erin Raab: [00:08:48] And for that, I would love to just say one thing on what you just said, which is one of the things you learn when you start really delving into systems thinking is that whenever <inaudible> responses, so you think about schooling, whether it's in our high income schools, we have really high rates of anxiety, depression, suicide in our low income schools, our schools that serve low income communities. We have high rates of disengagement, demotivation, dropping out. Educators oftentimes would be most effective in their fifth year, but I think 50 percent of them leave by their third year.

Erin Raab: [00:09:29] But we tend to blame individuals and we think about individual interventions. So I lived in Palo Alto for a long time. We think about, oh, we've got this really big anxiety and depression problem. Why don't we hire more therapists? And that's really important. But it's triage. It's really important to our students. But unless you change the system, you're going to end up continuing to need that triage every year.

Erin Raab: [00:09:53] And I think the same thing when we look at adults, we continue to blame adults and blame educators for their behaviors. And yet when it's seen in every school, pretty much when the anomaly is behavior that looks different, then we know that that the behaviors are driven by the way we created the context in which they're working, not by those individuals, that it takes kind of human strength or motivation to overcome or be outside of that that kind of patterned response. And so one of the biggest things is thinking about how we can design those environments differently so that people naturally act differently.

Chris McNutt: [00:10:27] Exactly. That actually reminds me of a conversation I was just having with Nick the other day where we were talking about how right now the the main zeitgeist topic is police reform and what goes about doing that. And I was reading - uh, it's a Verso Books by Alex… Something, that talks about why traditional police reform measures don't work, like anti bias training, teaching people to shoot someone at a different spot instead of a shot that kills them. Instead talking about why reallocating their, I guess, defunding the police budget tends to work better because the system itself has changed. And that kind of all leads me when you're talking about this idea, systems based thinking, to also think about education because there is a carceral component to education. And also I mean, there are, quote unquote, "bad teachers." But that's not really the overall problem right now. The problem is that teachers are upholding a system that doesn't work. So it's the exact same way as there are bad cops that do bad things. But still, in general, there are a lot of things that police do they shouldn't be doing to begin with.

Chris McNutt: [00:11:35] It's not their job, etc., which is the exact same way with teaching if you're upholding them where my goal is to check off a few Hirsche boxes and increase test scores by 10 percent. The point A to B to C of getting there is going to be way different than if I set up the system to be, "I want students to recognize or at least get on a path to purpose and what does that look like for me?" And the conversation entirely changes and there will still be, quote unquote, "bad teachers," but it's going to be way easier to identify that that going on in that system as opposed to what's going on currently.

Erin Raab: [00:12:10] Yeah, and what being a bad teacher changes. It changes from someone who didn't get the message across to someone who maybe isn't treating their their students as humans or creating the right kind of community. I think that's a really apt analogy. And one of the things that really worries me about the conversation right now about policing is that same system is is the demonizing of cops. I think that the more in this world where we are so divisive, the more that we can look at the ways that we are shaped. It doesn't mean that people don't make bad choices, there aren't some bad educators or bad cops… but when you have patterned behaviors, it's not about those individuals. And I think the more that we shame people, the less likely things are able to transform. I think we've seen this in education as well.

Erin Raab: [00:13:00] As soon as you're starting to publish educator names and shame them for not getting the test score growth rate in newspapers, the less able educators are able to take the risks or orient towards learning and the ways that they need to because their identities are so under under threat already. And I think that I worry a little bit that we're doing the same thing with the police at the moment.

Chris McNutt: [00:13:22] Yeah, yeah. This is going to go on a tangent here for a little bit, but I really like this mode of discussion. So I think that something that REENVISIONED aims to do is stop this, what I would see as like a neoliberal cooption of what's going on in education for the - since like the 70s or 80s, but really long before that, we see all these things that don't work in education. Instead of changing that conversation, we tend to use the right words to talk about reform. So I'll talk about like I want all students "to achieve," quote unquote. But we never define what that word achieve means. And when certain individuals do very well in that system, as in their students, let's say, get a scholarship to Stanford or something like that, we uphold those teachers as proof that the education system works, which this can be seen in any system in the United States. If we only highlight those individuals doing well or those individuals doing poor, no one's ever questioning.

Chris McNutt: [00:14:23] "Ok, well, what does it need to do?" Well, and if we change that system, does that mean that those students are still not doing well? Like, are we taking something away from someone? And the conversation just drives down to this question about individual people's actions as opposed to a collective action.

Erin Raab: [00:14:40] Chris, I love that. I don't think that this is going off and the random direction all I think this is actually central to the point. And I would agree with you. I think, one, I think it's interesting that, you know, we thought about just as we thought about what capitalism is over time.

Erin Raab: [00:14:57] So my masters has been within development studies. And so I studied how we thought about what it means to develop as a country. And that has changed over time. Capitalism isn't stagnant in that same way we thought about schooling, and what it's for in different ways. When we when schooling started in the 1800s, we were heading into civil war as a country. It wasn't sure that this democratic project was going to work. We were incredibly divided and there was a decline of religious institutions and other socializing institutions. And so schooling arose as a way to socialize us into being citizens.

Erin Raab: [00:15:40] Basically, we think about it. I can't remember what it is. I might get the statistic a little bit wrong, but on the East Coast, we already had a 90 percent literacy rate around there. It's something astonishingly high. We think it was to make sure that all kids learn to read from an early age and prepare them for work. But that was not the original narrative with Horace Mann and Horace Mann use a couple different narratives, but his primary motivation was we need a way to create a sense of who we are, both within local communities, to make sure that local communities are working together and thinking about the growth of their young people. But then also as a nation, what does it mean to be American in a time when we have such huge divisions, which I think is interesting when you when you think about it today, then we came away, we got through the Civil War.

Erin Raab: [00:16:26] I'm going to do a very brief history - industrialization - and then we needed a way of thinking about how to prepare workers. But it was still very much a collective social efficiency way. I think about think about when the Russians launched Sputnik. We didn't say you should study science because that's where all the money is, which is what we say today, you know, the scientists or be an engineer, because then you can then you can make good money. No, we said study science, you can help your country succeed in the narrative around education from the late 1800s through, say, 1970 was really about these this idea of serving the larger national good. That's why you study. That's why you went through this.

Erin Raab: [00:17:15] Then in the 1980s, late 1970s into the 1980s it started shifting and it's still even with a Nation at Risk. If you read a Nation at Risk it's still very much in that frame. Like we should invest in in education because look at all these other countries. We're going to fall behind all of these other countries and our economic growth. It wasn't these kids over here aren't going to have the same kind of access to social mobility that these other kids have. But as with the fall of the Soviet Union, we kind of emerged as victorious and we started very much like taking on the neoliberal framing of the individual and that each individual should be able to navigate the system and equity move from everyone having being part of this national project to to does everyone have a chance to compete.

Erin Raab: [00:18:05] I think about it as does everyone have an equal chance to end up in the top one percent? And we are discussing whether or not we should even be having such a disparity between our top one percent and the rest of us. What we've said is that's what equality is, is do we have a really diverse representation in that high class? And I think that's really undermined our ability within education. I mean, it's muddled, one, because schools don't make socioeconomic policy. Governments make socioeconomic policy. We [teachers] can't solve inequality.

Erin Raab: [00:18:40] And I have a favorite philosopher he talks about… We end up when we frame it this way, when we reframe equity as ability to compete within an unjust system. What we end up with is people making very individually rational decisions that are collectively irrational. In one school over here, you can maximize your test scores. You can get all of your kids into the top universities, etc. But if you're looking at building a system, all that means is some kids down the road don't have that.

Erin Raab: [00:19:09] So you've always got some people. And what you're doing is you're blaming the kids who don't have that. You're blaming the the bottom 50 percent for being in the bottom 50 percent. And yet what we've done is we've created a situation in which somebody has to be in the bottom. I mean, somebody all and mathematically, obviously somebody [has to be] - but what that means, changes dramatically.

Erin Raab: [00:19:31] And then once once you can really see that it's lunacy. It's lunacy what we're doing, we're constantly studying at the bottom, studying the people to top. How do we make sure the bottom people can get to the top to do these things? And it's like, well, that's just always going to be shifting around the it's like a whack a mole game at the systems level, unless we change how it is we think about what we're doing and if equity can become rather than competition of equity. Does every child, when they go to school, have an environment that is rich for learning, in which they are seen valued, have the resources they need and the humans they need to to grow and learn and community?

Erin Raab: [00:20:11] You can do that for every single student in the United States, every single one. You cannot make sure every single student gets into Stanford right now. You can't make sure every student has a well-paying job in schools. That's not something schools can do it. We have an economic system in which 40 percent of people don't earn a living wage. Then 40 percent of students are going to graduate and not earn a living wage. Whether or not they've learned differential calculus or gotten a Ph.D., that's not a problem that schools can solve.

Chris McNutt: [00:20:42] I think what you're saying makes perfect sense, and what I think about, too, is the idea that we can then rationalize inequity or rationalize our practices. I find myself doing this all the time where I'm looking at a grade book, which is just like a bunch of zeros and ones, and then it just mindlessly going through like that's a zero. That's a zero. That's a zero. And subconsciously, what I'm doing is I'm saying these kids are worth something and these kids aren't.

Chris McNutt: [00:21:07] And it allows us as a society, both the students in the room, sadly, as well as the teacher, to start to frame it as well, those students deserve to not have as good of a life as the students who are doing these things and those that are following the the will of what it is I'm telling them to do are worth more. And that could lead to a whole separate discussion of are we basically training a entire generation of people that without that you shouldn't question authority, that you should just do what you're told. And those that are the rule abiders, those that have done this very particular area of study are more worthwhile than those who haven't, which by itself is a giant's a crazy thing.

Chris McNutt: [00:21:54] And I know that builds into too of your discussion of what it means to have a good life. And the first thing I think of when I think of that question is the Alfie Kohn. How he introduces most of his talks is asking groups of teachers, parents, what have you, about what it means to have a good life. And when he asks the question like, what do you want your child to be like when they're 30? They always say, like, happy, loved, content, just very happy go lucky, happy times. They don't say like, I want them to be rich or quote unquote "successful" in economic terms. But yet that's the entire framing of how schools typically works. Like I want you to get an A so you get into a good college so you get a good career, etc..

Erin Raab: [00:22:36] Yes. So promise we will get to a we that actually does. And part of that is catalyzing actual conversations and having this exact conversation that you're talking about. So both in my dissertation research and then with real vision. And part of what we do is create space and catalyze conversation between young people, adults, between people working within the particular system or community about what it is ultimately we hope, and not just what do we hope for kids. Some kind of big broad, you know, other people's children. But think about a kid that you care about. What is it you want for them when they're in their thirties and and what what is a good life?

Erin Raab: [00:23:25] And you're right, it's not that people don't want kids to earn money. In fact, one of the things that surprised me in my research was that wealthy parents were just as likely as less wealthy parents to say that they didn't want their kid… living on their couch. People care partly because we've created a system in which there are real material consequences and real physiological consequences for ending up at the bottom. So people feel fearful about it. But we found that there were five main parts of a good life. When people talk about kids that they care about, if they wanted them to have productive work, so work that didn't kill their soul but paid the bills, probably they wanted them to have a rewarding relationships. So they wanted them to have interpersonal one on one, but also belong to a larger community, can be part of a group.

Erin Raab: [00:24:18] They wanted to them to be able to creatively express themselves, have a sense of who they were and and be developing that sense of self over time. They wanted them to be civically and politically engaged, and that didn't necessarily mean voting. Right now we're in a very mean the particular thing, particularly right now in this moment as we're heading into this election. But actually it was more kind of what Hannah Arendt called world making. How do you work with others to create the world that you live in? And that might be through rotary, that might be volunteering with a local garden. But how is it that you kind of come together with others in your community to make your world and they want them to be healthy physiologically and mentally?

Erin Raab: [00:24:57] So part of what came out of this we're thinking about, OK, what is then the relationship between what happens in school and that future life? And one of the things to note is that those are categories are really broad - what productive work looks like for one person and that that they enjoy is really different than for another person.

Erin Raab: [00:25:20] I had one little girl who really wanted to be an Olympic horseback rider, and I had one little boy who really wanted to be a robotics engineer. I have not thought about I could never realistically. And so what matters is how well you can see the options available to you, which options are available to you and how well you can make choices. About those things that are meaningful for you, so some people like to have three good friends, they are good friends with them their whole life, and they'd rather just not really interact with that many other people. They get all their needs met through those three friends, other people. I love to know everybody. I love people.

Erin Raab: [00:25:59] So people are going to within those categories, it's going to look really different. A big part of that is how we make decisions about these different aspects of our lives. When I think about flourishing, I draw on Aristotle, who thought about about flourishing is when we can make informed decisions about our lives. He got some deliberative decisions about how we can make informed decisions about our lives according to our own values, skills, strengths and interests.

Erin Raab: [00:26:31] And I think one of the things that struck me about his writing so many years ago is that he already identified that to be able to do that, you both need their prerequisites and that you need to live in a society in which you have the freedom to make those choices and your core basic needs have to be met because of your basic needs aren't met.

Erin Raab: [00:26:51] And all of your choices are oriented towards meeting those basic needs. And that's not that's not real flourishing. That's not real freedom. And I think that what gets added on to that is there's been a lot of research in the last 30 to 40 years by Martin Seligman and others around around what it means to flourish from a social, psychological lens.

Erin Raab: [00:27:09] And I think you can then say a person really ferocious when their needs are met, when they have the freedom to make choices about their lives and when they find their choices to be meaningful and fulfilling.

Erin Raab: [00:27:22] And that's what social psychology really adds to that is that we have these areas of our life. We make choices about do we have the freedom and do we ultimately make the choices that that we find meaningful and fulfilling school helps us know ourselves, helps us practice making choices, allows us to see the choices that are available in the world. So it develops our sense of ourself. It allows for a sense of our place in the world, what options are available to us, and most importantly, allows us to be in a place that practices having the freedom to make choices about our lives and test out whether we find them meaningful and fulfilling.

Erin Raab: [00:28:03] And I'm [getting a] little bit abstract again, but a big part of what we know from brain science now, from neuroscience and what we know from Aristotle, from ancient philosophy is that who we practice being, we become literally in our brains when we do something or we think something - at many times it strengthens the synapses and it makes it more likely that we do it and we make physical structures in our brains as we practice things that that literally who we practice and how we practice being is what we become, is who we become.

Erin Raab: [00:28:36] And Aristotle said the same thing. And so I think about school, how are we practicing that flourishing now? The way we are most likely to make sure our kids flourish in the future is if they practice now the way we're going to make sure that they are able to be collaborative and creative and work with others and build healthy communities and healthy relationships is whether they're practicing that today and learning how to do that and making those brain structures work.

Erin Raab: [00:29:01] And I think we shouldn't be surprised when if we haven't practiced that, if we practice this competition and scarcity and inequity, and I don't think everyone should win the prize. And that is what's showing up in our political institutions and our companies once kids are out in the world.

Chris McNutt: [00:29:19] It really highlights, I think, the appeal not necessarily the end goal, but the appeal of books like Tony Wagner's work or Ted Dintersmith, where there's a big focus on educational reform of 21st century skills. And I think most people agree with the concept of like there should be more creativity, we should have more choice, or these skills are very important. But where the alignment may be off between educators and outside interests like those is the alignment there is - we want really well-equipped workers as opposed to the question of we want people who, as you're describing, is like flourishing. They are the ones making the goals. And maybe that is their [student's] goal as they want to have a really good job, but it doesn't have to be. There are many different ways you could go with those skills.

Chris McNutt: [00:30:10] And as you're saying, when you have a system that is, listen, obey and answer, it shouldn't be surprising that you have political institutions that basically don't listen to you. No matter what side you're on. People feel like they do not have a voice. Well, they're used to they were basically trained or brought up in an environment where there was very little choice that was a practice. And to build a democratic classroom means that you surrender some of that power so that students have the opportunity to make those choices and to act in that environment, not that they have the ability to choose the next thing that they're going to work on for their employer, but to deconstruct the power narrative altogether. So it's my choice who I work for and how I work for them or who I vote for, who I rally for. I think that that pedagogical difference is really important to identify early on so that we're not just shifting from basically a system where we focus on content, the skills to obey someone else, but to transfer from content, the skills to make choices for ourselves and those individuals.

Erin Raab: [00:31:12] One of the courses I taught at Stanford was the history of school reform with David Laborie, which is excellent, I highly recommend his book, Someone Has to Fail. If anyone wants a good overview of of the last 180 years of school reform, much of which has been so much reform, so little change. But in the way that you're talking about, I think there are two places, strategic places that reformers go wrong right off the bat. The first one is, I think about they miss misdiagnose the problem.

Erin Raab: [00:31:47] They misdiagnosed the purpose of school and they frame it either. What I found is that there are four main ways we talk about what the purpose of school is. And this is all the way back from Plato's Republic to now. And we talk about schooling, we have four different ways. We talk about it as being for individual human development, SEL learning. So how do I how do I how do we develop these math skills? How do we develop social emotional learning skills, whatever it is, individual learning, we have ways of talking about how do we develop who we are. So this is what I call social possibilities. So the citizenship, not just skills, but the orientation, the practice of the sense of identity, of being part of a collective.

Erin Raab: [00:32:31] A third way we talk about it is the social efficiency way of how do we prepare, how do we prepare enough STEM workers, how do we make sure our economy can compete with China's? These kinds of questions, lots of political scientists and lots of economists and lots of policymakers frame their thinking in their research and their policy there. And we had the kind of individual efficiency. So how do I make sure my kid gets into Stanford? How do we make sure every kid graduates from high school and these kinds of things?

Erin Raab: [00:32:58] Now, these four purposes are just I think that they're just true. They are just we have those purposes for schooling. But when we think about the design of actually what happens within schools every day, what I found is that you have to focus on you have to design for the individual and the collective development, not for the efficiency purposes. When you design for the development, you get the efficiency. When you design for creativity and learning and community, it turns out people are prepared to take different kinds of jobs.

Erin Raab: [00:33:28] But if you try and design for getting people into the jobs, I mean, it's like planned economies. You know, it's too complex. It's not the way humans work. This is not an engineering exercise, this is this is a cultivation exercise, both at the micro level and at the end. So the first thing is that they frame it incorrectly. They think about the problem we're solving. And the second way is that they think about the connection between what happens in school and those future outcomes they want incorrectly.

Erin Raab: [00:33:57] And I think the best way I have come to think about this is through a metaphor. So lots of people think about this as an engineering or as a manufacturing problem. Oh, what we need are these kinds of people in the world and whether that's even Democratic citizens or STEM workers or or flourishing any any of it, you can actually take the right problem and still think about the connection between school and those future outcomes incorrectly. Lots of people have changed their thinking to be talking about flourishing, to be talking about driving, to be talking about these bigger things. But how they think about is they, rather than backwards, plan all the way to the pre-K, kind of exactly what curricular structures and and knowledge they're going to tick off along the way so that they have this nice continuum.

Erin Raab: [00:34:45] And I think it gets a couple of things - one, growth, human growth. I mean, any of us to pay attention to our own growth is long term and it's not linear. You can't go back and say it's going to it's going to happen this very consistent way over 18, 26, or 84 years. I think it just that's not the way I think the next thing is that we think about fixing kids. It's like, oh, we've got to make them creative, we've got to intervene to make sure that they don't. But just like, just like an acorn already has an oak tree inside of it, you just have to create the right environment for it. Kids already have all of those things. They just need to be able to practice them. We don't need to fix kids. We need to create an environment in which they have the opportunity to be who they are to practice these kinds of skills and ways of being.

Erin Raab: [00:35:36] And I think the third thing is, is that teachers can't control the outcomes directly. And this should be so obvious. It's one of those simple, obvious truth that that somehow gets lost in our conversations. But whether you're talking about test scores or whether you're talking about a really healthy human being who's flourishing, none of us have direct control over someone else's growth. Because it is always an interaction between an individual and their environment, because people have will, because each person is different and interprets the environment and experience is differently, educators have control over is the environment that they design and the set of experiences that they design for young people.

Erin Raab: [00:36:22] And just in the same way that that a gardener might think about the soil and the sun and the water and how that might be different for each plant, but they can't control whether or not that particular tomato comes out exactly how they predicted. But they can overall create a very thriving garden if they're paying attention to to the environmental factors, the things that are within their control. So the second way that that reformers often go wrong is that they think they can directly control the outcomes if they just put in exactly the right. You know, if they if I think about it like the manufacturing line, if we just intervene here and we add that that little piece, you know, that will end up a product.

Erin Raab: [00:37:06] I just think of like just opening the coding class and all of a sudden we're going to have all these STEM kids, which doesn't happen. Also, it makes kids hate coding, which is very ironic. So, yeah, yeah.

Chris McNutt: [00:37:18] Let's dive into the the practical. We got the theoretical. I'm really into it, like everything you're talking about is directly in line with what HRP does, the whole shtick for us is this. I get it. Let's talk about how people can get involved with REENVISIONED and how this could be incorporated maybe in a pandemic context, how could we use these resources to make something happen?

Erin Raab: [00:37:43] Also one thing on that is what I always find interesting about why we need to create more STEM workers or we're going to get equity through kind of creating more coders is. Let's be honest that once women and people of color are the primary coders, that job is just not going to be paid as much. I mean, we've seen that again and again and again that that is not the way to create equity.

Erin Raab: [00:38:06] OK, so REENVISIONED does three things. One, we very literally catalyze new conversations in communities. And this we have a set of materials. We have a whole project that we've developed that that is use centered. Young people interview each other to interview adults in their lives. They're the ones they learn how to qualitatively code. So they make sense of that data.

Erin Raab: [00:38:28] They pull out the themes and they come up with a vision for their for their classroom, for their school, for the district. We've used this in a couple of different ways. We piloted this across five states. We have, I don't know, 400 to 500 interviews that are on the on the website.

Erin Raab: [00:38:42] We've used this with adults at a huge national network where we're actually the adults are the ones still asking the questions and making sense. And we've used this on a micro level in an alternative school or one classroom where they went out to their whole school. And it's been done at every single level. And it can be done if you have a one day long workshop where you're bringing together all the people virtually or not in your community or or it can be done over an entire school year.

Erin Raab: [00:39:07] So it's just really, really flexible. But it's a process basically for asking these different kinds of questions together. And I think it's really important that it's both young people and adults. I think a lot about adults had wisdom. We've lived through things, we've seen things. And young people bring renewal. They bring creativity. They bring new perspectives. And so bringing those together is really, really important. And so we have a set of resources. They are free, they are online. They are not beautifully designed yet. They're still kind of PDF and word. But all you need to go is go to the website, put in your email. You can download all of them.

Erin Raab: [00:39:43] If it seems like something you want to do and you want to partner about how to make that work in your classroom or in your district or in your school, then just reach out and we'd love to work with you. And so that is one way is that if you're an educator or school leader and you want to think about how do we have these conversations as a community, we have a bunch of resources for you.

Erin Raab: [00:40:05] Number two thing, we do it as we're building a network of like minded people. This is how we met Chris. You know, this is how I meet leaders across the country. I'm part of that is that we do consulting work with like minded organizations, nonprofits and schools who are thinking about part of our work has come up with a set of design principles that actually do lead to some. When you think about how do I create that garden, we have a set of design principles in a way of thinking about what that is. And we work with different organizations around thinking about how to bring that into the work and or to think about their theories of change. How do we connect what it is we're doing with that ultimate? How do we change the metaphor for us with this ultimate outcome?

Erin Raab: [00:40:43] We also have a book club, a monthly book club we were reading next month. We're reading Abolitionist Teaching, we've this has been going for a number of years. So if you're interested in being part of a really wonderful community of educators who are thinking deeply about these topics and committed to their own learning monthly reach out, we'd love to have you. We have constant conversations like we've had with leaders across the country. Also, if you just want to talk, reach out. I talk to probably five to seven people a week trying to learn what's the. Going on, and then we ought to see we have something not obvious, but we have like a Facebook community and Instagram community, we're on Twitter, these different social media things, which honestly I'm not that great at, but I think are really important for getting the word out.

Erin Raab: [00:41:25] And then number three is thought leadership. You know, a lot of what we're talking about is really it's a weird shift in frame from how we take it. It actually is from the ground up a different way of thinking about what it is that we're doing through school, what it's for and how we can go about doing that well, and so we've been focusing on writing thought pieces of my dissertation is out there.

Erin Raab: [00:41:52] We do blog posts trying to illuminate different facets of it and the shift that has to be made and kind of mindset or frame to be able to see the problems and how we can solve them aligned with this vision of really creating a strong, a strong, thriving democracy and a place where all young people and all educators can be flourishing both today and and in the future. So we catalyze conversations. We build a network and we're engaged in thought leadership to get these ideas out there.

Chris McNutt: [00:42:28] I hope this conversation leaves you inspired and ready to push the progressive envelope of education, you can learn more about progressive education, support our cause, and stay tuned to this podcast and other updates on our website at

Chris McNutt
Chris McNutt is the co-founder and executive director of Human Restoration Project, a nonprofit organization focused on student engagement, well-being, and motivation. His work centers on realizing systems-based change, examining how progressive pedagogical shifts (e.g. PBL, ungrading) reimagine school to best suit the needs of students and teachers alike. He was a public high school digital media & design educator who focused on experiential learning, portfolio-driven assessment, and community involvement.
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