This week: a conversation about public education in an era of privatization and polarization, with Noliwe Rooks, Jennifer Berkshire, and Linda Nathan. Listen today at 2 pm, or anytime at our site.

The pandemic interrupted public education on a massive scale, compounding damage already done by willful undermining of U.S. public education. The neglect of schools could be about to worsen, too, in tandem with other forms of democracy suppression.

Jennifer Berkshire and Jack Schneider’s new book.

Journalist Jennifer Berkshire tells us on this week’s show:

I think a lot of people listening are aware that there’s this bold push in a lot of states to suppress voting and to limit people’s access to the polls, but what they may be a lot less aware of: often hand-in-hand with that effort in many of those very same states, is an effort to privatize public education. We’ve spent so much time fighting about things like charter schools; I’m talking about something far more audacious. And that’s really the idea that you just give some portion of taxpayer dollars to the parents and you say, “You decide what to do with it. You want to homeschool, go do it. You want to pay for private school tuition, go do it.” And I think we’ve had such a wake-up call during this pandemic about what it looks like when our common bonds are frayed.

Jennifer Berkshire.

Noliwe Rooks, W.E.B. Du Bois professor at Cornell, tells us that the fraying of those common bonds happens through a merging of segregation and economics, or segrenomics:

Take testing, for example. Since Bush declared that we wanted to leave no child behind and that we would test all of these children, this was a civil rights issue. I mean, he actually announced this policy in front of the NAACP and got all of these black civil rights leaders together so that he could talk about how closing the achievement gap was a civil rights issue for our time. And that testing, high stakes testing in third grade andeighth grade was going to get it done because it’s going to give us all this information that we need to close this gap.

So this is just one example. No one in education would tell you that testing in and of itself closes gaps. You know, testing just tells you there are gaps. But the testing industry that has risen up — all over the country but again, this is about how it particularly impacts the most vulnerable — is this multi-billion dollar industry that mostly what it does is tell segregated communities, poor communities, Black and Latinx people that they’re not good enough, that they’re not learning enough, that they’re not working hard enough.

Noliwe Rooks.
Noliwe Rook’s new book, Cutting School.

Linda Nathan, founding Headmaster of the Boston Arts Academy and author of When Grit Isn’t Enough, reminds us of durable ideals for public education, recalling John Dewey’s pragmatic theory of learning by way of experience:

I’m working on developing two new schools right now. Outdoor-based, very experiential and with arts at the center . . . Kids that know how to build a computer or build a house or build a car, build anything are in much better shape than other kids. And I’m really interested in kids that can build a website, kids that can build a public park, kids that can file legislation. That’s to me what experiential education is about.

Linda Nathan.

Read: John Dewey

John Dewey, the philosopher and education reformer, argued for experiential learning to nudge students into the future—into further experiences, further experiments. Dewey saw how education, like experience, can connect the present with the future, future with the past: one good lesson suggests an idea still to come, and a present experience can build upon an earlier one.

A goal for this sort of education, then: developing attention to the continuities we discover and project by living in the world experimentally. From Dewey’s Experience and Education:

The quality of any experience has two aspects. There is an immediate aspect of agreeableness or disagreeableness, and there is its influence upon later experiences. The first is obvious and easy to judge. The effect of an experience is not borne on its face. It sets a problem to the educator. It is his business to arrange for the kind of experiences which, while they do not repel the student, but rather engage his activities are, nevertheless, more than immediately enjoyable since they promote having desirable future experiences. Just as no man lives or dies to himself, so no experience lives and dies to itself. Wholly independent of desire or intent every experience lives on in further experiences. Hence the central problem of an education based upon experience is to select the kind of present experiences that live fruitfully and creatively in subsequent experiences.

Watch: Casablanca

Oscar nominations have been announced, and the movie with the most nominations is David Fincher’s Mank, a nostalgic film about 1940s Hollywood. What was it about that era, and the rigorous chaos of its filmmaking? We’re finding clues in Casablanca this week, and for next week’s show we’re talking about it with critic A.S. Hamrah and Leslie Epstein, whose father and uncle wrote Casablanca. Epstein also has a new novel out, Hill of Beans, that brings to life the WWII era behind Casablanca.

This week’s ephemeral library

COVID-19 is changing. “The Rise of Therapy Speak.” The undisputed champion of free diving. Jessica Walter’s comic triumph. A Home for a Movement: a tour of Gloria Steinem’s Manhattan Apartment. Confessions of a Feminist: A serialized Biography of Jane Grant, First Woman Reporter at The New York Times and co-founder of The New Yorker. From our old pal and colleague Brendan Greely, now with the FT: The Bank Effect and the Big Boat Blocking the Suez.

That’s all for this week, folks. Get your shots!

The OS film society.

An American conversation with global attitude, on the arts, humanities, and global affairs, hosted by Christopher Lydon. chris@radioopensource.org

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