Conference to Restore Humanity! 2022: Continuing the Fight w/ Dr. Jennifer Berkshire

Chris McNutt
July 31, 2022
A transcript of our event with Dr. Jennifer Berkshire at Conference to Restore Humanity! 2022.

The following is a transcript from Continuing the Fight w/ Dr. Jennifer Berkshire, hosted on July 28th at Conference to Restore Humanity! 2022.

0:00:00.0 Nick Covington: Welcome to the capstone of our inaugural Conference to Restore Humanity. It's been a powerful, wonderful four days of learning and community building alongside all of you, and I don't think there's a better person to help us reflect upon and help contextualize the themes that have been threaded throughout the week than Dr. Jennifer Berkshire. She wears so many hats, her most prominent as a journalist, as co-host of the excellent, "Have You Heard" podcast alongside education historian Jack Schneider and co-author with Jack of the 2020 book, A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door on the un-making of public education. Jennifer, thank you so much for being here with us today to help us continue the fight.

0:00:46.5 Jennifer Berkshire: Well, thanks, thanks so much for having me and congratulations on such an amazing event. I watched Henry Giroux's keynote, I sat in on the Q&A, and then I got to see the amazing event this morning with the circle keepers, and I really did feel like I was part of a movement. And that's exactly what, I think so many of us need to feel right now. So congrats to both of you for all of your hard work.

0:01:15.7 NC: Well, thank you so much, and of course, thank you for being, so willing to come along with us on these adventures [laughter] as we go, I think we've had you on a summit we'll be live streamed the conversation with you and Jack, and had you in Twitter spaces and now here, so thank you for being a willing partner with us in these adventures. So how we're gonna roll with the next hour is that Jennifer has prepared about 15 minutes of material for us, and after that, you can be formulating any responses or questions in that time as well, and we'll spend the rest of it in discussion, so as we go throughout that hour, you can put your reflections and questions in the chat or use the raise-hand feature as we've been doing, if you wanna ask your question or bring a topic to discussion live and in person, so we're gonna be talking here about how do we harness this energy and this enthusiasm and help continue the fight out into the world. So take it away, Jennifer.

0:02:14.3 JB: Well, thank you so much, and I'm not gonna talk for too long. It just happens that, so many of the things you've been talking about this week are really the things that consume me right now, and I'm just gonna share a couple of anecdotes with you, I happened upon a blog post recently by a guy in Tennessee, he's in Nashville he writes a blog called Dad Gone Wild. And he was responding to something that somebody else had written and he said, "You know, I don't wanna hear another word about Chris Rufo." And most of you probably know who Chris Rufo is, he's the guy at the Manhattan Institute, who was really the architect verse of the Anti-CRT panic.

0:02:57.7 JB: And now he's moved on to, "gender ideology", and this guy Dad Gone Wild, was responding to a long piece somebody had written sort of, like revealing who Christopher Rufo really is and all of his... The money behind him, etcetera. And Dad Gone Wild was like, "I'm so tired of the perpetual search for right wing bogeyman, who's coming after public education next, because where he sits in Metro Nashville, the schools are doing a fine enough job dismantling themselves [chuckle] and he just offered up this sort of bleak view of how the schools around him are... How sort of unresponsive they are to the needs and demands of parents, etcetera.

0:03:50.5 JB: And it really got me thinking because I am definitely one of those people who spends a lot of time calling attention to the words, deeds and ultimate goals of the Christopher Rufos in the world. So that was anecdote number one. And then anecdote number two, you will recognize because it comes straight from that powerful session that we just heard from the circle keepers, somebody asked a question, "Have you ever thought of incorporating parents into the circles that you do?" And I'm pretty sure it was Martin who really didn't take him long to say, "You know the problem with that is that we basically operate within a jail." Quite a blunt assessment of the reality that so many kids are dealing with, and I bring up both of those anecdotes because I feel like they perfectly encapsulate, the challenge before us right now.

0:04:50.7 JB: How on the one hand, do we stand up and defend an institution that's absolutely essential to democracy, and an institution that is just under incredible threat right now, and yet also acknowledge its imperfections, the way that it disappoints us over and over again, and the way that frankly, it is to too many of the kids who are in it right now, a prison. How do we do that? And if you've been participating in this conference all week, you know that the big theme is that this is a flipped conference. So since I don't have the answer to that question, Nick, I'm gonna flip it back to you. What do you think?

0:05:37.3 NC: There we go. Oh, that is such a good question. I think, it is just the central tension in everything that we've been looking at with every single track, isn't it. The demand that we have students... I guess we have children. We have children who, there is a need for them to kind of be brought up in a way in which they can participate both in the world and in a democracy, that they can acquire the skills that they need to become a fulfilled people, be they through literacy, finding a purpose and some of those other things too, and having those structures and spaces that we call school to explore those interests, but I think the kind of a key take away for me this week has just been, "Does it have to look the way it does, and does it have to exist in the way that it does currently?" I think, one thing that has stuck with me since I saw Henry Giroux's keynote was that notion of the dead zones of imagination.

0:06:49.3 NC: And how that even blends with this notion of capitalist realism, dead zones of imagination perhaps. Can we imagine school any other way and the capitalist realism being like, can we imagine a world without capitalism or can we imagine society being structured in any other way? And I think another key theme that has really come out in the discord discussions as we've gone through this is that discourse between schools and society and schools as a microcosm of the things that are happening in society, so say, if we wanted to improve outcomes for schools say, using metrics like test scores, something like the Child Tax Credit that has nothing to do with pedagogy or teaching methods or anything else by virtue of lifting children out of poverty, could have an impact on test scores, so we could say the biggest education program that we could have...

0:07:48.9 NC: If our goal is raising test scores, could be to lift kids out of poverty and expand the Child Tax Credit, just like we had in the last year, and so that's a big example of this discourse where the things that we do in school go on to influence society, but then obviously, society has its interplay in there, so when we talk about disrupting Anti Carceral practices in the school, not just the school to prison, but school as a prison as Martin through Foucault had reference there. And even the conversations and the other tracks, I've been really, really motivated by the conversations with the STEM punks on behaviorism, but realizing as they've said in there that behaviorist spaces are ableist spaces.

0:08:36.8 NC: And if our schools are fundamentally behaviorist, are they not also then fundamentally ableist and kind of thinking that through the lens of access and inclusion, so I know that in HRP circles, we have un-schoolers and homeschoolers, and we have school abolitionists as well, who are coming at this problem from so many different lenses, I don't think we probably have a lot of the Rufo types in there too. But I think the role of public schools could be more like in the Neil Postman sort of model that he wrote about back in 1969, I think when teaching like a subversive activity came out and schools is sort of the central location where you might spend most of the time outside of a classroom space, but use that School Center as the community hub and flip the formal and informal instruction, spend most of the time on clubs and activities and those kinds of things, and maybe get four hours a day or less of formal instruction in there, so I just think expanding our model of what schools could be rather than having them into a particular model could really go a long way.

0:09:50.5 JB: Well, as I was thinking about, I knew exactly what I wanted to talk about, but then I did feel sort of embarrassed that I didn't have an easy answer, so I thought, "Ha-ha" flipped it back on Nick, that'll be really funny. And then as it happened today, I was reading a piece by historian Rick Perlstein. And I don't know if people know Rick Perlstein, he writes these monster books that are, like this thick, he's got one called Nixonland. He's got one called Reaganland. And basically what he does is he goes back and he reconstructs the period. And I love them, I find them enormously illuminating since it really does feel like we're just condemned to repeat things over and over again, he has a piece up at the forum today, the forum is the online publication of the African American policy forum. It's called They Want Your Child! And what he does is he just goes through decade by decade, all of the school related panics. And it's so disorienting, how familiar it all feels. That before, long before there was CRT, there was secular humanism, there was sex education, it goes on and on.

0:11:02.2 JB: And then he says something at the end that I thought was so profound. I'm gonna read just a paragraph because I think it relates nicely to what you were talking about, Nick. So he says that he doesn't think that conservatives, at least some of them will ever stop trying to burn down public education. And sometimes they even admit it. That's especially true these days. In 1979, Jerry Falwell said, "I hope to see the day when as in the early days of our country, we don't have public schools." And so here's what Rick Perlstein says in response, "There is only one way to answer this attitude, an answer that can never be negotiated away, assert with pride that the purpose of public education in our republic is to make us free, self-determining individuals. For some of us, that process will send us running far from our natal villages never to return. That's just life. That's the real world. Although for some people, it will draw them closer to the world we came from than they'd imagined possible, it may even graduate them as conservatives, conservatives should welcome that risk for an identity that is freely chosen will always be stronger than one that's produced under compulsion."

0:12:18.6 JB: What I really... What I found so powerful about that, Nick, is that in some ways, it opens up the space of our, the work that we're involved in. I'm so tired of fighting about charter schools. I'm tired of having to immediately venture deep into the weeds, when the real fight right now is about just what Rick Perlstein laid out. That the public education is ultimately about freedom. And so when we hear the circle keepers saying our schools don't make us feel free, in fact, they make us feel imprisoned. That tells us that there's something terribly wrong and that we should be able to address it while also making the kind of full throated defense that I think Rick Perlstein argued so well.

0:13:07.1 JB: So yes, so I would say that, through a lot of my time as a journalist and an advocate, too often I would be knee jerk critical of the kinds of vision that Nick laid out, because I would be worried, I would often get pinned as a status quo person, "Oh, you're so focused on, you wanna protect the union at any cost." Well, things are now so dire that I'm really having to wrestle with what the priorities are. And I just wanna mention one last thing before we open it up for discussion. One of the things that's so interesting about learning education history right now, and going back decade by decade, and watching these school panics play out again and again.

0:13:56.2 JB: One is how familiar they feel, and two is how they always have the same target. Even though the specifics may vary. They're always, they always identify as their enemy progressive education. And it's this incredibly powerful enemy for them. And this book, I've been talking about it a lot on Twitter lately. This is a book called The battle for the American Mind. It's by, it's co-written by a Fox News co-host. It's the top selling book in America right now. And they are fixated on progressive education, and how powerful it is. And I would imagine that some of you would probably feel a little surprised to learn just how powerful you are since we know from the conversations taking place this week that often folks feel very isolated and alone, especially if they're in an area where there is no say an education gag order, on the books.

0:15:00.0 JB: And what's amazing is the progressive education that is identified as an enemy, decade after decade, whether it's right now in his best selling book, or during the '50s, when conservative housewives in LA, were railing against, what they saw as the role of liberal elites in the school. Progressive education is almost always entirely invented, it has very little to do with what's actually happening. And so I think that another one of our tasks going forward, is to actually make it real. And that's what to me has been so powerful about this week, that we have this group, human restoration project that is doing incredible work. And it just, it couldn't be more essential right now. So Nick, I'm gonna hand it back over to you. And I'll put a couple other links in the chat. Nick mentioned that I have a podcast, it just happens that our episode that came out today is about the inspiring story of the movement to dismantle the school to prison pipeline. And I was amazed working on the story, how much bigger it was that it took off in in parts of the country where I never would have guessed. And yet here we are today in this moment of backlash, and things feel very precarious. And so my task in putting that episode together was to kind of try to negotiate that tension, and the folks who we had on the podcast, while they recognize that we're in a very complex moment, they're also quite hopeful. So I thought that was a good sign.

0:16:52.7 NC: Yeah, that is excellent. And thanks for the for the heads up, I haven't even checked my podcast feed. So I'll have to get that.

0:16:56.7 JB: You've been so busy.

0:16:56.9 NC: When the conference is over. Now, Jennifer, as people are getting some questions in here, I do want to maybe just on a personal note, talk about a little bit of the framing and in the concepts that you had shared the last year that really helped me navigate my last year in the classroom is a story I've talked with you a lot about. Because back last fall, you had shared some work that some researchers did about this thing called the grievance industrial complex. And...

0:17:30.4 JB: I'll put that up too.

0:17:30.5 NC: And that yeah, that is excellent. And that framing for me, it actually helped me anchor a lot of the random, seemingly random things that we were seeing at school boards, at school board meetings around the country, and of course, things that I was experiencing in my own district as well. And in fact, I made the grievance industrial complex and part of a plea to my own school board ahead of some very contentious school board elections, because it seems like the choice again, you said, navigating the tensions here, it seems like the choice is really between seeding a positive educational agenda, say that we're putting forth with, positive, humane values and a powerful vision for what we want our kids to be with one that is really just harvesting that agenda for rage clicks and clickbait and ratings on the internet because it just feeds this attention economy. So I don't know if you could just unpack that for our audience and for listeners, because for me anyway, that was such a huge conceptual anchor that helped me really understand where we are in this current moment.

0:18:36.1 JB: Absolutely, and it happens that coincidentally... Just before we started, I was reading a fantastic story that very much relates to this, it's called In the GOP's new surveillance state, everyone's a snitch, and it's a reporter at Mother Jones, and I'll put the piece in the chat. I think what people may not be aware of is how the... You may have heard about the logic underpinning Texas' anti-abortion law, where enforcement depends on ordinary citizens, that instead of the state coming after you, what happens is that individuals can sue anyone involved, it could be the Uber driver who takes the woman to the clinic, it could be the neighbor who knew, etcetera. And what it does basically, is it's meant to kind of erode the bonds that hold us together, because you have to be on constant high alert that anyone around you could be a snitch, and I think what people might not be aware of is just how...

0:19:41.9 JB: That it's not just this one law in Texas, that that same way of seeing the world of nursing grievances and turning neighbor against neighbor, now informs laws related to education. And so we see this in places like New Hampshire and Florida and Tennessee, and the idea is that if a state passes a law, they ban something. Don't say gay, transgender bathrooms. And then it empowers individuals to sue school districts as the mechanism of enforcement. And then of course think about how all these things work. The grievance industrial complex feeds on outrage.

0:20:38.8 JB: And so every time, this is constant grease for the outrage mill, and so when a parent files a lawsuit that becomes a new story, the new story then gets fed out through the sort of network of outrage to encourage more lawsuits and ultimately what it does is you imagine you are Nick in the classroom, you're teaching in a community that is already hyper-polarized and now you know that you have to be on high alert because you have parents who are watching your every move, sometimes they've deputized their kids. To keep an eye on you for them, you've gotta worry about your administrators who frankly, they just want... They don't want the phone to ring, they don't wanna be hearing the complaint, they don't want that story in the newspaper about a parent suing, because Nick waded into some area that a state law now considers off limits, and so before you know it, Nick has been sort of chewed up in the grievance industrial complex, and they're just getting started.

0:21:38.3 JB: Now, it's really easy to focus on this stuff and just get so down-hearted, like I get down-hearted when I think about the fact that Nick is not teaching... I know from interviewing him repeatedly for stories and from my podcast that he is an amazing teacher, and it's a real loss to the kids in that school now, politics has made that impossible, but I think it's really important to also acknowledge that that as a political strategy, the conservative playbook is failing in a lot of ways, and that's because this outrage discourse is really a national discourse. It relies on anecdotes, but to really be effective, parents have to be convinced that what they know to be true about their own schools isn't true. Right, they've got... They're actually...

0:22:22.8 JB: The world is not filled with teachers who are indoctrinating and so one of the reasons you'll hear Republicans refer again and again to their success in Virginia, and they'll bring up the San Francisco school board recall, but when you actually look at votes around the country, you will often find even in red counties and in red communities that parents are voting against outrage candidates by large numbers, and I'll put a link to a piece that I just wrote about this, because I think it really challenges us to think about not just the media narrative that we're being fed, but also a way of organizing that it turns out that there may be some common ground about public education and what people understand its role to be, that has the potential to bring folks together.

0:23:30.1 NC: If you look at the polling data on how people feel about things like book banning, it's amazing that in a country that is as divided as we are right now people are overwhelmingly opposed to book bans across party lines. They don't like teacher gag orders across party lines. That tells me that we have something to work with, and I know that was a very long answer to your question.

0:23:58.3 NC: I think that was the best answer to my question.

0:24:01.0 JB: You just like the part where I went on and on about how great you are.

0:24:03.7 NC: If you could please continue... No, no. When you were talking, all I could really think is the frustration that I have and the resentment that I have of the time and the energy that gets wasted and the conversations we haven't been able to have in the last two years because all of these other panics just suck the air and the energy right out of the room and force us to just be constantly on the defensive about where is the next hit coming from? Again, my brain is swirling with Henry Giroux quotes. What do you say? When you're just surviving, you've been de-politicized because you're just looking for your next meal, your next thing, you can't act in a proactive way. And when I think about the other themes of this week that have been kind of a thread pulled across all of the tracks, the key notes, the events like this, etcetera, when I think of solidarity and fellowship of the circle keepers, when I think of joy and love and the joyous struggle of Denisha Jones, and I just mentioned the Henry Giroux, but the purpose and in engagement that humanized education provides for people, that's the positive agenda that we want to bring to schools and to improve them, and...

0:25:21.9 NC: It is just a tragedy. I think that the last two years feel like we've taken tremendous steps backwards because so much of our time and energy is just Fox throwing... Exactly. Throwing teachers and kids and systems into the mill of this grievance industrial complex. Now, I do wanna get to David Box's question, 'cause I think it is very relevant, as he asked in the chat here, how does one make a cogent argument or make cogent arguments against these school panics when the arbiters of the panic do not come to the discourse in good faith, if both sides swam in a sea of truth and logic, then yeah, we can have a fruitful dialogue, but how do you enter the discourse when the boundaries surrounding good faith don't exist?

0:26:05.9 JB: It's such a good question. And I think what's so and a lot of our previous iterations of school panic happen pre-internet and now now that causes stuff to spread, but it is also gives somebody like Chris Rufo a platform to tell us day after day what he's up to, and also he's quite candid about the fact that he's operating in bad faith. So how then do you respond... And Rick Crostein had an answer to this that I thought was... I thought was really smart. He said, You know, don't give an inch, because the response of liberals, and that's who he's looking at, is often to assume some kind of good faith... Good faith effort here. And so you will often see when the stuff arises, immediately, think of something like... You'll hear a crusade against gender ideology, which is really sort of the a dog whistle for fascist, and then the liberal response is to say, Well, let's debate the appropriate age at which kids should be talking about sex ed, for example. The right is making it crystal clear right now that basically their goal is to drive trans people out of existence, and the liberal response is to say, Well, let's talk about trans athletes, is it really fair that somebody who's worked so hard should have to compete against a man when she gets her Ivy League scholarship.

0:27:45.2 JB: So these are perfect examples of where their response ends up essentially laundering the bad faith effort. Now, one thing that's happened as things have sped up and moved from cause to cause, I think one of the things you're seeing at the school board level is that that the parents who may have initially gone along with the first round with the CRT panic, who thought, Maybe there's something to this, now, as the discourse gets more and more extreme, it swings to trans strippers, it swings to book bans, and now as conservatives make the case that private religious school choice should be a republican Litmus issue, like abortion is... It means that you're having candidates run for local office on a campaign of de-funding the local schools, that's a hard thing to convince local parents of. And so you're seeing parents who maybe were in during the first wave, who are now changing their minds, and that's... I don't know, folks saw that big ProPublica story about a DEI director in Georgia who was hounded out of her job by white parents, and after they succeeded in driving her out of one job, they followed her to the next town and they hounded her out of that job too.

0:29:09.5 JB: Well, what the story really didn't mention was that the angry parents then ran for school board and they lost overwhelmingly, they were crushed in a Republican... This is a Trump county, what does that tell us? To me, it says that the conversation is evolving and we feel so besieged right now because it just, it feels exhausting in the way that Nick was talking about, and that... We're wondering, Well, how do you respond? But I feel like they've gone so far and they're so open about the fact that... The goal is to get rid of public schools. I think there are some allies out there that we just... We simply didn't have before. And all apologies I am, I can't help but be an optimistic person because like Nick, I come from the heartland.

0:30:03.5 NC: And again, that's another theme of this week, is if we just give into the nihilism and the cynicism, and if we lose hope in an environment of cynicism and nihilism and against this hope is the most radical thing that you can be is hopeful and hope for a better future. And imagine something different. And to speak to what you were saying there about, it kind of seems like just like the grievance industrial complex, if we wanna call it that, just like it will feed teachers and kids and systems what... Well it turns out it's fine eating its own as well, so it will cannibalize itself too, just I think there's that whole political movement is primed towards that, isn't it? So candidates who say one thing over the other, immediately dead to them, just they turn on a dime on each other, and I think again, when you have a movement that is primarily geared on division and conflict and othering and hatred, it's so easy, you could be in one day and out the other, and there's just no positive foundation for it to sit on. Now, I think I'd like to go to Lynx here and Lynx, if you wanna unmute. I have appreciated your contributions over the course of the week here.

0:31:19.3 Lynx: Hi. My name is Linx, I am a trans and human rights educator on human rights, and I just found this part of the conversation very interesting because this quick jumping of the right from one area to the next is actually a very smart and effective strategy that the right has... Because it allows them to pull in allies that are against different things, so maybe you go who weren't into a critical race theory. Or to be against Critical Race theory are more afraid of trans people or vice versa, and so what you have is a progressive radicalization, and it's very interesting how much harder it is on the progressive side to tend these bridges amongst different movements really. So here we have the issue that it has been very, very hard to marry or to have bridges between the anti-racist movement and the LGBTIQ movement and even between the LGB movements and the trans movement because priorities are different, and I'm interested in knowing about... In your research, what do you have seen that are the most effective strategies for a common agenda, because definitely the right has an advantage that we don't have, which is that when you silence critical thinking, you don't have deferring points of views.

0:33:05.4 Linx: We inherently allow everybody to have a point of view and therefore that breeds more conflict and more difference like that, so we will always have that small disadvantage on our side, but what are the things that are useful or how we can reach out and tend those bridges?

0:33:25.1 JB: That's such a great question and Linx, it's so great to meet you. I heard your great questions during the Q&A with Henry Giroux and you're in Panama, correct?

0:33:36.0 Lynx: Yes.

0:33:36.5 JB: And I thought your... I just thought your description of the political reality there that you got to choose between the right-wing or neoliberalism was very eye-opening. So thank you for that. I think you're absolutely right. I often think as I'm watching these right-wing efforts pay out that why are they so great at intersectionalism, and then you think that about the problems that we tend to have, and also that solidarity doesn't come... Come naturally. I do think you can also though look at that same issue from the other point of view, so when I read these stories, I feel like I come across the same dynamic again and again that during the pandemic, where really all over the country, you would see groups of people who were furious about some kind of COVID remediation method, sometimes it was school closures, sometimes it was in places where schools were open, but they were masked though vaccine mandates, and that's the thing that really got people like it set people off.

0:35:00.7 JB: And then from there, it just hopscotches from one movement to the next, so first it pins itself to anti-CRT and then to trans stuff, but I think that without that kind of critical mass that they had around the mask stuff, it's easier to see the elements that are frankly fascist. And there's just menace. And so in a lot of communities, those spaces, those angry school board meetings were the places where the Proud Boys were, that's how they were gaining entry, and now as the critical mass of parents drifts away, the discourse has gotten too extreme for them. All that's left is the Proud Boys, and I think if you look at places in Florida, for example, people are repulsed by that, they instinctively understand that you do not want that around kids, so... I totally understand what you're saying, Linx, but I do also feel like this strategy can be a weakness, and Nick I don't know if you have a... Since I don't really have an answer for the part of Linx's question about how progressives can do a better job, I don't know if you wanna respond or if you wanna open it up and see if other people have examples.

0:36:24.8 NC: I am game to filibuster until somebody raises their hand. So why don't I do that? I think one way that we can be more informed about that, and it's been one that I've been... I don't know, in my political historical interest have been in the area of nationalism and radicalization, and very recently in the opposite direction of de-radicalization, particularly in the wake of the Buffalo shooting of white nationalist violence in the last couple of years, especially. So one of the sort of lessons of that that I've kind of taken away from it is, oftentimes the way that we approach these extreme ideas is to de-humanize the person who holds them, when in reality there, they have fled into sort of extreme ideas because they've been isolated or alienated, and so they find an identity in that, and so I think we can take a lot of as progressive educators rather than maybe demonizing people who hold these ideas, get them to see us as more human and willing to partner with us.

0:37:29.2 NC: There was something I just posted about the other day, but there's this RnB jazz pianist who actually went out and de-radicalized and de-converted former Klan members and... Gosh, I'm forgetting his name off the top of my head. If somebody can put it in the chat real quick. But that's the kind of thing that basically we have to do it. Not just for the survival of, say, public education and the kinds of values that we defend, but also for the people, those among us who are more marginalized. We have to be able to leverage our power and privilege in those contexts to be able to...

0:38:08.4 NC: Daryl Davis, thanks Chris. Yeah, here's a guy who didn't try to demonize or otherize even folks in Klan robes, but tried to partner with them to get them to see him as more human. And he often says things like, "Hey, all I do is plant seeds, and they came to these things on their own." So I think if we provide a model and we can put a better model forward, then we're bound to let other people see that, "Yes, there is a power and strength in solidarity, in joy, in purpose, in those kinds of things too." But I will go to... I'll take 'em in order here. I'll go to Chris...So go ahead, Chris.

0:38:52.8 Chris: I'll be brief, 'cause Nick, you pretty much just said what I was going to say. But I think that harkens back to the conversation that we all had on Monday, regarding progressive education and the power of showing rather than telling. As well as also claiming the term. This notion of backing away from progressive education because of the political discourse around the term is a weakness. One, because you're giving into the idea that these folks on the right who are intentionally spreading misinformation care what the term is. If it's not progressive education, they're going to go after something else that you're doing because they are radically opposed to the idea of recognizing everyone is human. So there's no point of dropping the term for them.

0:39:38.0 Chris: Likewise, if you're dropping the term just to market yourself, you're giving into this very neo-liberal ideology of, "I'm going to invent my own little package that is still progressive-ed and that divides us all, and it makes it very confusing on what exactly is the difference between you and someone else." We need to have a common label, so we can identify others who are doing the same thing. It helps us identify each other. But yeah, showing rather than telling. Rixa I'll turn it over to you.

0:40:08.8 Rixa: Hey, everyone. So I'm thinking as... And both Chris and Nick had commented on, "Don't tell them, show them." that one of my biggest takeaways of the last three years, and I'm in early education, so birth to five mostly, is that, especially with the shutting down of the doors of programs that families can no longer come in and see the need to make visible what the work actually looks like and what the work is actually teaching. Because when you put information out against, about social justice principles and things like that, people get hung up on the terms versus what the work actually is. And when you start to unpack the terms with folks, they really begin to understand that it's just about being a kinda nice human to other people. And we've had some success with just making it visible, doing a lot of front-loading with what it looks like, the books that we're reading, the things that they see, comparing it to things that are in their everyday life, but I don't think we do that well as a nation. Especially with the 24-hour news cycle, constantly pulling terms out that they're going to make into breaking news and that kind of thing. And it's incredibly frustrating to have a whole conversation with a family, and they leave feeling really good, and then they see, again, a news story or a candidate say something and then we're right back at square one.

0:41:47.8 S5: It seems like it's a super easy flip for them to make. And the two sides of this, and I think this is what this whole conference has been about, is that without progressive education, we're not creating critical thinkers, and then without critical thinkers we're where we're at. And people just simply don't have the skill to have critical dialogue with each other, either within schools, between administration and faculty. It's one of the things I work all the time to break down of like, "We're on the same team", but also between just right and left, or the guy that's on the tractor with the person who has an urban garden. It's all intertwined and it's all so hard when you can go into something and you have a preformed bias before you ever even enter into the conversation. And so those are some of my takeaways. I'm with the need to humanize children because I really feel like, especially...

0:43:01.9 S5: And there's also... I'll keep it brief, I'll wrap it up, but there's also a bias from the K-12 sphere to the early education sphere that early education isn't actual education that we're not actually teachers, that kind of thing, which also creates a tension. We're doing a lot of really progressive stuff in early ed, but it doesn't always get pulled up into K-12 spaces, because of "No child left behind" in the neo-liberal policies that are out there. With that I'll lay off. But thank you for the time.

0:43:41.0 NC: Thank you so much. Jennifer, do you have a follow-up to that? Should we just go right into Lynx's this question again?

0:43:45.7 Chris: I was thinking, as you were talking about... My follow-up is to Chris actually, and his imploring folks not to run away from the label "progressive education". And it's so true. It's amazing to go back and read all this history where they just... They make-up definitions for progressive education. And we did a podcast recently about the original mothers of conservatism... I'm sorry, the original moms of Liberty, these housewife populists in LA in the 50s. And the historian who wrote the book Michelle Nickerson, she makes this really provocative argument that it's really been the success of conservatives to kind of squash progressive education that has held the country back. That we would be a completely different country had they not succeeded at various points. And we are at one of those points again, which makes it all the more important to kind of embrace it and just go forward and... Yeah, I'll go back to you.

0:44:54.1 NC: Okay, let's go ahead and get Linx in here, again.

0:45:00.6 Linx: Yes, I just wanted to kind of give my input on something that came up in the chat with agreeing to disagree, and how we cannot agree to disagree on human rights. I do have quite a bit of experience of this as a trans-educator in a very, very violent society. But there is one interaction that happened at the very beginning of my activism, or close to the beginning of my activism with an activist from the US called Chris, and he was the... Sorry, Evan, he was the founder of Freedom to Marry. And he told me, 'cause I was asking him how to change the minds of some of my friends who didn't respect me as being trans, and he said, "We cannot view people as institutions. Institutions are unmovable, are ideas. But people... Everyone can move." And what I would add to that idea that I have learned along the way is that everyone can move, but I don't necessarily... I'm not necessarily the right speaker to move everyone. So I'm allowed to walk away from a conversation knowing that I'm not going to be the person to humanize trans people to this other person, but maybe a different speaker or a different person could be a better way to change that heart and that mind.

0:46:27.5 Lynx: It has been very powerful for me working with the father of a trans women and his message of unconditional love for his daughter. And he's an educator as well, and him talking about how he will not stand for people disrespecting his daughter has been what I have seen change the hearts and minds of people who are not even willing to talk to me because I'm already a trans person. So I'm already too far for them to listen to what I'm saying. And so sometimes it's about that different speaker. Part of the importance of building bridges is that we will not be able to personally change everyone's minds, but there's somebody out there that can.

0:47:17.6 NC: Right, thank you so much. And what a powerful model in that case is. Thank you so much for sharing. Kind of on a related note, I was thinking about this as sort of a tool. We talked about organizing and collaborating, kinda growing the movement as well, and I'll put this in the chat too, but this is a tool that I had used previously in my previous life as a labor organizer, and it's something that you can use to sort of organize any social movement, any kind of social activism. So the people that we're talking about here might be those people on that outside circle who might be hostile to exactly what we're talking about here. But we don't need to, to the points that have been made in the chat, we don't need to waste a lot of time trying to convince people who are hostile to our message. We can build capacity right here in this room. And then we can take... We can each go and find one more person to bring on here, and how do we then move the people who are disengaged and have them become supporters? What are the opportunities that supporters have to become activists? How can you grow that core member of people who eventually are going to be the drivers of any kind of social movements?

0:48:32.1 NC: And it doesn't take a lot. We're doing this work in this room right now. We've been doing that work across this week. And of course, you all in this room right now are in that core group, and you're gonna go into your relative context. This could be a tool that you can use to say, "Okay, if I want to promote change" on a particular issue that you learned about on a track, or if it's a local issue related to a school board, or if you wanna get involved in ally-ship with LGBTQ and women's rights movements now that are under attack. This could be a great way to either get connected to groups who are doing network, or to start your own movement. Identify those core people, identify those people who are activists who you can count on for when an issue heats up, who are some supporters that might be right.

0:49:23.4 NC: So this is just a social organizing strategy that you can use to build those coalitions, so you don't have to burn yourself out doing this work in isolation. So with that said, Jennifer, do you have any closing thoughts or ideas on this and how do we, again, find this balance? How do we walk this tension? How do we take the energy that we've built up, this we can use it to build coalitions and help carry this movement forward in the face of everything.

0:49:58.3 JB: Well, I have to say that this... I didn't know where this conversation was gonna go. And it's so interesting that it's ended up with people really wrestling with the idea of "How do you engage people who don't just have different beliefs, but are being incentivized to believe that any kind of conversation is impossible." And to me, that feels really encouraging. I'm thinking about that a lot. When I mentioned the school board races where I'm convinced that we have people changing their minds, I wanna figure some way, figure out some way to listen in on that. What is happening, what's causing them to change their minds. Because I feel like that's promising. And that when you consider that the right really believes that local school politics is going to be their entry way, and to basically conservative forever rule. I'm now looking at it is, what if they're completely wrong? What if it's actually the block on that happening?

0:51:04.0 JB: And I would mention one other thing. I did some reporting on rural schools in Wisconsin a few years ago. I've always been very interested in rural schools, partly because I grew up in the heartland, but also because if you've spent any time in a rural community, schools are the absolute foundational institution in that community. And it's the largest employer, it's the public space. And so it's always only seemed to be so strange that the politicians would be able to work up their own constituents against their rural schools. And I met an academic at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who did some focus groups in Wisconsin. And one of the things that he discovered was that wherever he went, rural communities, suburban, urban, that people's visions of what they wanted schools to do was so much bigger, so much richer, and so much more inherently democratic than anything that's on offer now, that it just kind of blew his mind. And I feel like that's... We have to own that. And stop feeling like a vision where kids don't feel imprisoned to somehow...

0:52:28.2 JB: Yes, we have to challenge this very limited view that the reason we have public education is to prepare kids for college and a career, and that it's about this hyper-competitive rat race, etcetera. The only language people have to talk about school at all this is kind of withered discourse of the market. I feel... I'm convinced that especially as the threats become more evident and more apparent to people, that we're gonna have an opportunity to articulate our defense in broader terms than what we've been able to in recent years. And that's why I think the work of groups like the Human Restoration Project and all of this stuff that you all are doing is so essential. Because you're not gonna hear that language coming from the education establishment. You're not gonna hear it coming from the Democratic Party, you're... It's out there, but it needs to be channeled and you are the people who... You're going to do that. You were the ones you've been waiting for.

0:53:41.1 NC: What a perfect ending. It's up to us folks. That's it. So thank you so much, Jennifer, for joining us with this today. And thank you all for your participation this week. I feel like over the course of these live streams, we found our core group right here. I've been thinking of this bullseye as the week has gone on, and hopefully we can keep you moved in that inner circle, and you'll definitely be hearing from us about how you can help grow the movement too, as the shirt has said all week [chuckle] to humanize education. And we're so stoked to be able to partner with you all in this. So, yeah. As far as conference notes go, there's no more keynotes to look forward to. It's a little bit bittersweet on that end, isn't it? You can finish up, finalize the work in your tracks and Chris and I are gonna be working on having a farewell message delivered out to you in the afternoon here. So Chris, do you have any other... Do you have any last words?

0:54:44.5 Chris: No. Thank you again, Jennifer, for joining us. It's been awesome meeting all of you and interacting with all of you. And of course stay in touch. We'll have some "what's next" notes. Be sure to visit that channel, by the way, in the Discord, 'cause that's what this is all about. We don't necessarily have a plan, it's very much cooperative. And we'll see what happens.

0:55:02.6 NC: We're gonna co-create it together. So we're gonna model those good practices. And like our tagline says, "Let's Restore Humanity Together." that's not just branding folks. That's a necessity. We gotta do the work together.

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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