Blog & Book Tour

I hosted multiple book events for the release of The Power of Student Agency and the transcripts from those panel discussions follow here. Each week, guests included experts on a variety of education topics that are hot-button issues right now. We hope these transcripts help our audience members with unique needs!

Anindya’s Book Tour Launch Event with Angela Duckworth and Pedro Noguera

6-26-2020: The Power of Student Agency: Expanding on Grit to Close the Opportunity Gap

The following is a transcript from the 6-26 Zoom Virtual Book Tour event with Dr.’s Angela Duckworth, Pedro Noguera, and Anindya Kundu for The Power of Student Agency.

Cyndi Stivers:

Okay, great. Well, hi, everybody. I’m Cindy Stivers and I am the lucky person who gets to be your moderator today. I’m a longtime journalist and editor. And for the last four years, I’ve been working at TED—the TED Talks people, the TED Conferences people—mostly as a curator, but I also started a program there called the TED residency where I got to meet the man of the hour today. Anindya Kundu was a TED resident and he was such a great participant that we invited him back for a second round and of the hundred plus people that we had in the residency over four years, he’s the only guy who gave two TED talks that were both featured on the TED homepage. So he’s a rock star. And it’s really fun to be here to celebrate his first book.

So if it’s alright with everyone. I’m going to quickly introduce our panelists and then let it get to the brains in the room.

Let’s see, first of all, we have Angela Duckworth also no stranger to the TED fans. I think that’s where I first saw you. Anyway, giving a talk about grit and she is distinguished professor at the University of Pennsylvania and psychology also recipient of a brand-new inaugural Professorship that is a dual appointment to the Wharton School of Business very, very distinguished. Your 2013 TED Talk is one of the most popular ever.

And she’s also a MacArthur Genius. And yeah, her book Grit stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 21 weeks and she met Anindya after he and our other panelist wrote an introduction to the book and agreed to be on his doctoral dissertation committee.

So welcome, Angela.

Angela Duckworth:

Thank you.

Cyndi Stivers:

Next up is Pedro Noguera who’s a sociologist and distinguished professor at UCLA School of Education. Any minute now he’s going to become the dean of the USC School of Education, keeping it in LA, though, I noticed. He is widely regarded as one of the leading experts on educational inequality and his work extends beyond research and into activism and leadership. He has written more than a dozen books —he’s just getting started and more than 200 articles. He consults with school districts around the world and see, this is something that came up in the articles I read, he gives a talk and people quit their jobs and change their lives, which is basically what happened with Anindya as well. And the two of them. Collaborated on an article, you’re going to hear about calling it…that is now I’m going to forget the name of it… but it’s the opportunity gap. You’re going to hear more about this and he also agreed to write the introduction to Anindya’s book. So, and his book is called The Power of Student Agency and after about 10 years of working in education from Chicago detention centers to New York City Department of Education. Anindya has just gotten his PhD from NYU and he’s writing and teaching, even storytelling at the moment. So that is pretty much a good scene setter for you, Anindya.

Anindya Kundu:

Sure, that works. Thank you.

Cyndi Stivers:

Alright, so one thing we should do for people who are not as steeped in all this as you three are, quickly just define the terms you are known for, and then let you plunge in and among each other. Okay, so let’s start with the first concept that cropped up at least on my radar screen, grit. Angela, could you please define “grit”?

Angela Duckworth:

Yeah, I am a psychologist and I’ve been studying the psychology of effort and achievement. It came out of my background as a classroom teacher wondering why I was not as good as I should have been at listening, motivation, and effort among my very bright students. So, um, so what grit is, this motivation for long term goals and that is different from, you know, delayed gratification for short term goals. Basically, it’s the combination of passion, loving something for you know, really think about like you’re reading, like how many articles has Pedro written, like how many books? Like still edit, still looking at the question of equality and equity in education. Like that to me is what I mean by passion for long term goals and then perseverance. For long term goals which is, you know, a combination of resilience and also daily dedication to constantly get better and I will leave it at that. I will say that I think this conversation, I’ve really been looking forward to because when I started, I wanted to distinguish effort from talent and IQ, which I thought crowded out, you know, a lot of the other things about a student’s capabilities that were also important. But I now realize that my account as a psychologist is also incomplete because it sort of is, you know, notably silent on things like opportunity—any quality of opportunity in particular, and that’s why I’ve been looking forward to continuing to learn from Anindya and Pedro.

Cyndi Stivers:

Okay, thank you. And Pedro, would you like to explain the opportunity gap to us.

Pedro Noguera:

Sure. And maybe it’s also good that I also just throw in a little bit about agency and how it’s different.

Cyndi Stivers:

Well, certainly. And then because we’re going, but you can you can.

Anindya Kundu:

Add to it, you can go

Pedro Noguera:

So, the idea of the opportunity gap grows out of a recognition that these gaps in achievement that the nation has been fixated on are really predicated upon gaps in opportunity, access to learning opportunities. Everything from high quality preschool to summer school to highly qualified teachers to Advanced Placement courses in science labs.

These are the things that really make it possible for a person to, you know, use education to improve their lives. We’ve been focused as a nation on measuring achievement, but we don’t really examine access to opportunity. And when you just look at the difference between how we educate affluent kids and poor kids, you see glaring gaps in opportunity that really have not been addressed. So agency—and I’ll just set this up for fun—Anindya, is what I would describe it as grit plus effort. And actually, it’s absolutely right, persistence, not giving up but agency is different in that it starts with critical thinking. And the reason why critical thinking is so important is because we know there are real obstacles in people’s lives and obstacles related to poverty. Obstacles with your circumstances. The workers right around me right now right here doing construction have lots of grit. They work seven days a week. They work all the time and they’re still poor. What they lack is opportunity. They lack early on in some way to navigate obstacles that allow them to use their efforts to expand our possibilities for mobility and improving their lives.

Cyndi Stivers:

That sounds great. And that’s that missing piece Angela was referring to. Right.

Anindya, would you like to expand upon “agency”?

Anindya Kundu:

Definitely, so I define agency in my book as a person’s capacity or potential to locate and use resources to overcome challenges in their life to create positive change in their life. And so again, that definition is inherently social. It implies understanding that there are these social obstacles that a lot of people face and the resources that I refer to are also social. So, it’s really a social picture. Success resources can be, you know, social networks, being able to ask someone for help, or have someone listen to you about your challenges. Or they can be cultural which can be, you know, having a sense of racial pride, a deep sense of identity or having a mentor in your life that acknowledges that there are different forms of giftedness and that your grit or your talents can be displayed in a multitude of ways. And so, to kind of build off of what Pedro said in education, you know, I think one of the things that me and Pedro realized that grit was missing was this context specificity. There’s this application of grit. To think about it in a very uniform way. But when we apply that to school systems to think about assessing achievement, it can actually be kind of dangerous and not help to close the opportunity gap. And what I mean by that is, you know, thinking about some of the participants in my book, these people who I have profiled, they’ve overcome immense obstacles from homelessness to incarceration to undocumented status, broken families, gang involvement, simply by growing up in a low income background. There’s the student who had to take care of his sibling and was homeless before going to school every day. So that’s a form of credit, there was the girl who realized she was pregnant but still completed all of her regions exams in New York and enter college applications. So that’s a form of grit and today you know the mom, who is an essential worker that has to go work in her minimum wage job but doesn’t really know what to do about childcare because her kid is home from school. She has grit, too. And so, acknowledging these kinds of grit and these kinds of real challenges that people have are very important in education so that we can then start to help them with the specific supports that they will need to overcome these challenges. And I think education presents us the platform to do this.

Cyndi Stivers:

Absolutely. And I love that quote in your book that “education is our greatest collective responsibility”, hard to argue with that. I think. Also, I’d love to, unless Angela, Pedro, have anything you’d like to jump in on right now. Let’s see if anyone is looking up as if they want to.

Angela Duckworth:

I mean, maybe I’ll just jump on the last comment about context specificity and similar stories. It’s a great book. By the way, can I just say that it’s a, you know, beautiful idea and it’s beautifully written and some of the stories I think you know, the most powerful are the ones that you remember. And I think this idea of what grit looks like, you know when I started out researching grit in high school students, you know, I thought like oh, we’ll analyze their extracurricular activities. And just to give you a sense of like pre-Anindya versus post-Anindya and how much I’ve learned from him.

So it just was like, oh okay, my first thought was, I mean I grew up in the suburban like suburbs of Philadelphia. I was like oh, I’ll look for like multi-year extracurricular commitments. Like, were you on, I don’t know, the tennis team for like multiple years? And did you advance? And I do think that can be a signal of an adolescent developing passion and perseverance for long term goals. But you know, post-Anindya and Pedro I’m like now like conscious more than I was that what grit looks like differs so much by opportunity and it’s often visible to your typical college application, you know, like, where do you check off like “I did have to take care of my little sister and more, you know, in grades 9,10, 11, 12” and there are no titles or honorifics that I can use to signal that kind of passion and perseverance.

Cyndi Stivers:

Yeah, that’s not listed in the yearbook under your picture right? Oh yes, Pedro.

Pedro Noguera:

Yeah. If I could add because I want to also acknowledge the way Angela has allowed because it’s very easy to if you start to embrace the idea of grit, then to blame kids that are not too excellent and you say, well, they don’t have enough grit. They just need more grit and not see the obstacles that they confront. And I think, Angela, I know from having read an op-ed she’s written about the way the greatest interpreted can be distorted to become a kind of blame-the-victim.

Angela Duckworth:

Weaponized I think you’d be weaponized which I didn’t foresee but like I completely agree with you, Pedro’s like why would you want him? Kids like you can’t even pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. It’s like, literally, physically impossible. And I, and I actually Googled where this expression comes from: pull yourself up by your bootstraps and the original use was to suggest that you can’t do that physically, therefore you need somebody to give you a hand, right and so anyway. Peter, I don’t want to interrupt you, but I’m like, yeah. Amen.

Pedro Noguera:

I just add that we never talked about grit, at least within the context of talking about affluent kids right, that is because they have a privilege. If you have privilege, you need less grit. Now, truthfully, I would say there are a lot of privileged kids out there who need grit, right that who do give up. It’s easy but they have wealthy parents who can get them private tutors who can give them, second, third, fourth chances and so, in the context of talking about athletes and privilege. We really don’t talk much about grit and how important it is. We really save that for poor kids. And I think that’s where Anindya’s work is important because it highlights how gaps in opportunity make it difficult, even when you’ve got a lot of grit to change your circumstances.

Cyndi Stivers:

Well, you just set up perfectly. The other burning question on my mind, which is you know there as I was reading the book The Illusion of the Meritocracy in Education resounded for me and this moment in history of, you know, where unfortunately people have had to die, but this strange combination of the reset moment of as Rahm Emanuel put it in today this hundred year pandemic. A 50 year depression and a 25 year level of you know, social unrest. We’re finally digging into some structural racism issues in America, maybe. Finally, how will this change your work?

Anindya Kundu:

So I’ll jump in. I think my work really wants to be able to acknowledge the moment and bring in that context specificity. To also counter what Pedro alluded to what we call the “scholars deficit perspectives” and so even if it’s not explicit, there is this implicit idea sometimes that the students who don’t necessarily make it or are able to tap into a meritocratic system where the best and the brightest supposedly make it to the top, that there is something inherently wrong with them. And so, what my book does is try to flip that notion. And think about students as being at potential. So specifically, studying the sample of people that I have who have overcome the odds against them. The point is not to say that. Look at this group of people, if they made it. Anyone can make it, but it’s exactly the opposite. It’s to say that this group of exceptional individuals had a holistic support system that allowed them to be successful. And if we could then apply those kinds of supports to other students and challenged backgrounds, we could potentially have more stories success and you’re right this moment is really important, as you alluded to. It’s almost like we have two pandemics. We have the one that causes us to cover our face and be socially distant from our friends and loved ones, but we also have the one that we’re now having another moment of reckoning with it’s the one that’s been here since America’s foundation. Racist, racial, and structural rampant in equality and sometimes that comes to light, maybe because we have better technology right now, we have better ability to capture injustices with cell phone cameras. But it’s, it’s an undercurrent that’s existed in this country for a long time that people are reluctant to call to question because it doesn’t harm them and if anything, it might benefit them. It’s like there’s an invisible poison in the water and some people have the antibodies but we need those people on the side of those who do not—and that sounds like an abstract metaphor—but just saying that aloud you know that reminds me of Flint, Michigan. These are real structural issues. And so my book tries to really bring the dialogue together of structural issues and what are also the workarounds that can help communities build agency, because as Pedro can you know, elaborate on agency is not just an individual trait. It’s also a collective trait. Schools, communities, the country, can build a culture of agency to improve systems for the future. And in order to foster equity.

Angela Duckworth:

If I may just have to jump in on that and like there’s a new study that I didn’t do so I won’t take credit for it, but I think this this idea that Anindya has been teaching me about, which is like when you think about, for example, resilience, etc. You’re not only thinking about the individual characteristics of the girl or boy who grows up and does okay but very importantly, you’re thinking about the social, cultural resources that enabled them to do that. So thinking more like a sociologist honestly than thinking like a psychologist. There’s a new study of the marshmallow test. It’s this task. That’s kind of widely known now publicly. Four-year-olds sit and they wait for a marshmallow. They count how many seconds you can delay gratification, and this ends up predicting a lot of your life outcomes. So, the original design of the marshmallow task was to assess individual capability of self-control. How long can you hold out for something better and resist something that’s immediately tempting?

But in a very recently published paper, they looked at data from a really big sample like about 1000 kids and they were all over the country and they actually had measures of social support. That’s more I think of a, you know, social and cultural likely not like the personal characteristic of the four-year-old, but more like what’s in the four-year-old’s life? And that ends up accounting for a lot of the variation in scores and you know the long-term outcomes. So you know I am trained as a psychologist, but I’m like desperately trying to like think more like a sociologist, because you know we just think like what’s between the ears like, how does the prefrontal cortex work, etc. And I really feel like if you’re serious about any of these things like at some point you grow up to be more like a sociologist and hopefully keep your psychological skills, but I think that’s, you know, the direction I hope to keep growing.

Pedro Noguera:

So if I could jump in too. I mean, one of the things we know is that schools are implicated in the reproduction of inequality in our society. The strongest predictors for how well kids will do in school are family income and parent education. So not surprisingly, kids who come from wealthy families with college educated parents do better in school.

Then kids with less income and less education in their families. Now, on top of that, they tend to go to better schools that have more resources, right, and have more qualified teachers.

We have a conversation in this country about meritocracy, but don’t talk about context, don’t talk about how the opportunities available to us, shake later patterns. So I think that Anindya has done here is try to unwrap that and expose okay what are the obstacle to structural obstacles that get in the way of so many kids and to speak further and elaborate on his point about collective agency. We’re at a moment of collective agency now, right, we’re seeing these social movements spring up around the country to call attention to systemic and structural racism. And what’s amazing about that is when you see communities move together to address these obstructions to opportunity. You can make rapid progress, right. So, we saw that in the civil rights movement, we saw that with women’s movement. We saw that with disabled rights.

That is when you call attention to a problem, identify the barriers, you can start to see groups move forward. We need to do the same things with respect to race and racism in America. And so, for example, the calls to get police out of schools. Which schools have police in there? In inner city schools. Which kids are being arrested the most? Inner city kids. Why are we responding to kids needs with police rather than counselors and social workers? You know that, ask how often do you hear about affluent kids getting arrested in school for marijuana? There’s a lot of evidence that affluent kids use more drugs than poor kids.

Pedro Noguera:

So, but we don’t question these things and I think Anindya’s helping to remind us through his work, why it’s so important to put and create a context with this discussion about individual attributes that are this one last thing. Motivation and thinking about motivation are critical and then so much of our discussion about student achievement. We totally overlooked motivation and what it takes to get kids to be motivated as learners and I think Angela’s work has really helped us in that regard.

Cyndi Stivers:

Okay, great. So what would you, what advice would you guys give for schools and teachers who are seeing this moment now and want to get moving in some way? I mean, besides they can tell everybody to tell all the parents to vote to defund the police and put that money in the schools. What else?

Angela Duckworth:

I was going to ask Anindya and Pedro that exact question like what is your magic wand wish list at this moment in time because it feels to me like the future either could change or we can just go back to the way were, you know, six months ago.

Anindya Kundu:

Yeah, I’ll start. And hopefully, Pedro can jump in. Exactly what you just said. Angela, I mean in the conclusion of my book, I talk about going to the Eric Garner protest in 2014—Thinking that you know black lives matter. It has this potential to make large societal changes only if we keep up the momentum. And so, I kind of pose this question, the extent to which we’ll see structural changes as a result of Black Lives Matter is still to be seen. And here we are in 2020 and we’re seeing the same thing again. And so, the question is, how much have we really been able to keep that momentum?

And honestly I hope this time around, given that we’re in this moment that is so historical for a number of reasons, ideally allows us this opportunity to really have this moment of reckoning and then you know, use it as an opportunity to create better systems. Agency again being collective. I think those moments those social protests, social unrest, they’re also displays of collective agency and then they have to trickle down from people’s day to day actions to make real legislative change. And so, I think it was just this week that the three males who killed Ahmaud Arbary, they were actually convicted and charged and so those are little changes and there are signs of progress.

And then to tie that to education, we have to understand that it’s not just us adults witnessing this moment in time, but that our students and our children are also very much at the table and have a lot of opinions and perspectives and they should be invited to the dialogue, these are, you know, moments of teaching and learning and their opinions matter because in a few generations, they will be the ones who will be the ones making the decisions about how to create better equity. So, we have to ask, how can we include their voice and their perspectives and really treat them as stakeholders? Because if we are able to better educate all of our students, education isn’t a zero sum game. There are many studies that show that, you know, after a recession more educated communities bounce back quickly. So, if we spread that to a country level, we can create a better, more resilient country together if we just put more resources into education.

Cyndi Stivers:

One point of clarification. The three guys were charged for Ahmaud Arbery, they could not have been convicted yet.

Pedro Noguera:

Right, they’re just charged.

Anindya Kundu:

Are just one step in the right direction. We’re still waiting on

Cyndi Stivers:

Yeah Anindya, sorry.

Pedro Noguera:

Yeah, I mean, there are a lot of changes that we need to make. But I think that the point that we need to not go back to what we know, but use this reset. It’s an opportunity to start to change some things. It’s really important. We, you know, ideally, we should be making investments in schools serving poor kids because the gaps and opportunities are so wide and vast. This may not be the time for that because we’re going to, we’re going to be entering a depression right now and the resources for that. But what if we simply would shift the focus right now? I would say in many schools we rely on fear of failure as a motivator for kids. You know, we tell them “you don’t pass that test you’re going to fail” “you don’t do these courses you’re going to fail”. Fear of failure as a motivator doesn’t work for a lot of kids especially for kids who already have experienced lots of failure around them. What we need to do is to tap into their critical thinking and motivate by showing kids how they can use education to help themselves, help their families, help their communities. That kind of education forces us to think, okay, well how do kids take what they’re learning in school and apply it to their lives? How can our kids become better problem solvers with their education? That changes the curriculum. It changes the way we engage kids. We focus more on empowering kids as learners, rather than rewarding compliant behavior in school. So, there’s a lot of changes that we need to make in that direction, but I would say, all you have to do is look at affluent schools and the way they treat kids and that we see it right there. You know, if you go to Montessori schools, for example, they’ve been developing the intrinsic motivation of kids for hundreds, you know, over 100 years, right, because they understand that when kids are intrinsically motivated to learn, you don’t have to threaten them. You don’t have to rely on tests, they want to learn. They read on their own. That’s what we should be focused on: how do we create schools that nurture that love of learning and kids and not threaten them with tests?

Anindya Kundu:

I’d love to add an example to what Pedro just said. There’s a school in New York called Medgar Evers College Prep. Pedro actually took me there. When I was a teaching assistant and we took a group of educators from Alabama to come see, you know, a vibrant learning environment. And so what’s really special about the school is that it’s a title one school. All students qualify for free and reduced lunch and the school is pretty much 100% Black and Brown students. Yet they consistently have a higher than 90% graduation rate and send most all of those graduates to college. And it took about 10 years to create this culture of success and agency and belief in all students’ potential, but there are things that are possible to do. You know, until we wait for the rest of the country to catch up to us and make the structural changes. We want to see there are things that are possible to do so, you know, they extended the school day for students who have larger needs that would benefit the parents from a little bit of extra care. There’s a feeder program from eighth grade that keeps the same students so that they can kind of, you know, be with the same students and help them mature and develop into, you know, competent young adults. A lot of the middle school students are already practicing for the region’s exam so it doesn’t hit them in the face when they finally have to do it there. Tons of AP classes offered at this school. There’s also a connection they have to Medgar Evers College. There’s a direct relationship between the two where mentors from the College come in and teach curriculum at the high school including, you know, magazine production and, you know, machine shop and these are ways in which students are able to make the connection and see the relevance of their learning. They’re able to have access to mentors who they can relate to who they, you know, can see themselves in. And so then their perceptions of the world and themselves are increasing and becoming more positive. And so you know that school took about 10 years to turn around. It wasn’t always, you know, achieving at such a high level, but it took one principal with a visionary leadership who is able to get unified staff to say, you know, that mantra of “not those kids” “that’s not going to fly here”, all kids deserve a chance to have a vibrant learning opportunity. And if we provide them with that and believe in their potential, they will thrive, and they were able to prove that. And so that’s one of the few high schools that I profile and the conclusion of my book, ideally provides some hope that this is possible.

Pedro Noguera:

Can we add a brief addition to the story because the backdrop of the story was? I had gone to Alabama to Tuscaloosa, Alabama university town home to the great Crimson Tide. Visited Bear Bryant high school, an all-black school. And I could tell when I was speaking to the educators there, just by their expressions. They had never seen black students who excel.

So I asked him, I said, you actually believe you can educate these kids to be high achievers? And they said, no. I said, have you ever seen black kids who excel in school? They said no. I said, well, let me take you to Brooklyn, I can take you to schools where you can see black kids who excel in education. And to their credit they came, and they were blown away by what they saw in the kids. And this is the sad thing because if you’ve never seen it, and there are too many educators, you’ve never seen it, then after a while you start blaming the kids. It reinforces racist ideas that somehow these kids that are so broken, they come from a culture so pathological that they can’t learn. Well, it just because of the way you treat the kids and how little you expected of the kids. And seeing a school like Medgar Evers shifts the whole frame of reference and that’s why I think an idiot example is so important.

Angela Duckworth:

If it breaks the like self-fulfilling prophecy of “I don’t think you’re going to be much”. So then in a million ways, right, some of them explicit, a lot of them implicit like you just create that future right. I have my own wish list if I, if I might like tag on to Anindya, Pedro is that okay? Like early childhood education. So as a developmental psychologist, I would say that when we see the opportunity and achievement gap, sometimes you just make it like it opens up when you can measure it. And in fact, you know, as early as anybody’s able to measure anything you can find evidence of that opportunity and hence achievement gap so early childhood education. I think funding across, you know. I moved from the suburbs, actually, like, six years ago with my two daughters to the Philadelphia public schools. So I think I got to experience like you know, four miles apart. But like, it’s like triple the amount of funding in the suburban schools compared to the Philadelphia schools. And it’s just amazing that we happen to have this funding system that’s well accepted in this country that just exacerbates the opportunity gap as if we needed more to do that. As a psychologist, I would agree with Pedro in terms of motivation. I think we need to think about, like, when any human being does anything or fails to do something like their homework. There is a reason why, and we should assume that they have some, like, more or less, rational explanation and therefore the schools that can make it a rational thing to work on this purposeful meaningful activity where you have a shot of succeeding. I think, like, in addition to the schools that are profiled in you know, in use broker that touched on an expeditionary learning schools. I think are terrific role model of that.

I think there are ways that I think that classroom teachers and school leaders like principles could get more educated about the modern sociological and psychological science.

For example, Jason Flom who’s a brilliant professor at Berkeley has done research published in the top journals, by the way, on how when you shift to a more empathy-based approach of school discipline from the traditional punitive approach like everyone wins. Like, it’s just there are no losers and this is the like, the behavior incidents go down the students do better, or the teachers feel better. It’s great. I think in terms of assessment because I mentioned or Pedro mentioned standardized tests, I would say that I’m not somebody who wants to take away assessments. I think I have a “more is more” approach to assessment.

I do worry that if we take away standardized tests all together, then it will, you know, sometimes hide inequities that like need to be in the light. But I think “more is more”. So if a kid is more than there, you know, for our performance on a multiple choice test at the end of the year, you know, like, it requires researchers and educational leaders to be more creative and holistic on how we’re tracking how students are doing. And then finally, I completely agree with some things that Anindya, Pedro mentioned about like extending the school day and extending the school year. Particularly because the, you know, not having those resources disproportionately affects, you know, groups of students.

And okay, last thing is I want universal tutoring and personalized instruction for everyone because when a child is born, they are intrinsically curious and they’re very smart.

And then we by mis fitting things over and over again and failing them like they lose that spark of learning and I think universal tutoring and personalized instruction are one of several ways that we can keep that spark going

Anindya Kundu:

One thing. One thing I’ll also add to that is Angela mentioned early childhood education. And I think that’s a part of broadening our perception of education in general, I want to go from pre-K to not just college but also career if we can expand our notion of pathways, we can offer you know internships to high school students who may not have direct entry way into the world of work. If we can build on each pathway and not think of them as isolated, I think that’s a way in which we can, you know, help students become the people who will then contribute back to society in a meaningful way.

Cyndi Stivers:

Mm hmm. Okay, so we have questions from the audience which we weren’t expecting, but there’s one that I cannot resist sharing with the three of you. And Anindya, we’re going to give you the last word. Because I mean time has flown. We have eight minutes to go. So let me pass on this question from Sharon Walter who’s in the audience.

And as I give it to you, Pedro and Angela, maybe you’ll throw in any last thoughts you want to have. And then we’ll leave it with Anindya to wrap it up.

So Sharon Walder asks, “how do we do a mass reeducation of teachers who are committed to using fear as a motivator and how committed are teacher prep programs across the nation to shifting how they prepare educators?”

Angela Duckworth:

You go first. Pedro.

Pedro Noguera:

You know, this is the hard work. What I found to be the most effective is the kind of example that Anindya cited. You got to give people a chance to see the alternative to see what it looks like when we treat kids, tap into their curiosity, empower them as learners. They need to see schools that are doing that because those schools exist right now. They need to see that in poor communities with black, Latino kids, around the country because those schools exist because seeing that lets them know. Oh, there’s another way: we don’t have to threaten these kids. We don’t have to beat them into submission. We don’t have to focus on control and compliance. We don’t have to be afraid of them. And that is, I think the important message. And if we can show them examples like that, then perhaps more will realize there’s another way that’s far more effective.

Angela Duckworth:

I completely agree with that and modeling and like showing what’s possible. It’s like human beings are not very good at imagining what’s possible. Like they kind of need. A very vivid example and then they’re very, very good at like following that example so it couldn’t agree more, Pedro. And then I would just add as a psychologist, that there are two ways to motivate behavior. There’s approach and praise and positive reinforcement, and then there’s the opposite, which is like fear and punishment, etc. And it’s a very well-established finding in animal psychology and clinical psychology that they both work, but the much better one, especially for long term outcomes as well as ethically is the positive and not the negative. So I completely agree that there needs to be a mastery education. I mean, these are scientific findings that are not even new like old but they are not necessarily intuitive and every parent probably listening to this could also maybe empathize a little bit because, you know, I nagged and I schooled and I, you know, say “you didn’t do this right, you did that right” with my own kids and I should be—if I’m psychologically wise—actually catching them when they’re doing a great thing catching them when they’re being kind, catching them when, you know God help us, they unload the dishwasher. So like this positive asset based approach that I think you know both Pedro and Anindya really advocating for as opposed to the, you know, negative punishment oriented one I think is a sea change ready to happen.

Cyndi Stivers:

Great. So, Anindya, I’m going to give you the last word, but a lot. I wanted to ask you, are we able to send a follow up to the people who registered for this that has, you know, Pedro’s articles?

Anindya Kundu:

Will put that together. Definitely.

Cyndi Stivers:

Great. Okay. So, so take us out please.

Anindya Kundu:

I think it’s important to try to end with a note about hope and optimism that Angela was was getting at. I think, you know, it’s important to remember why teachers get into the work in the first place and it’s true that the system can start to bog them down. But at the fundamental level it’s respect for humanity and potential and belief in in children that gets them into the work. And so I do think that positive examples are sometimes the most powerful things that we have to change the system. And so, my book again profiles individuals who’ve been able to do it schools who have been able to do it. Households who have been able to nurture and value educations with limited resources. Another example I would just say is, you know, with that motivation that gets people into teaching we also have to respect the agency of teachers. We have to allow them a little bit of flexibility to bring in themselves into what they teach. And so one example is another school I profile, James Baldwin high school to transfer High School in New York in Manhattan and teachers there get to teach classes called Islamic art.

Islamic art and mathematics, the abolition of racial slavery and they even have one called Dracula and gender identity. So these are classes that teachers want to teach and students wants to take and they’re able to see the relevance of the education in their lives and teachers and students both get excited to show up every day and so those kinds of examples I think are sometimes the best tool we can elevate these narratives to ideally spread hope.

And so, you know, I’ll just kind of close by saying thank you all for your time today.

You know, each of you are a very dear mentor to me and I know how busy you are, Cindy, with taking Ted online and Angela and Pedro with the million things you juggle. Thank you for making it to this Fireside Chat.

I don’t know why I use the word fireside. It’s summer, and it’s the morning.

I’ve just always wanted to. And to extend a poor, a seasonally irrelevant metaphor: if you want to get it, get a stocking stuffer this summer for someone you enjoy, the link to the book is below.

And to end on a word, a word of hope is that we’re in this moment right now that’s challenging and trying in ways that we haven’t seen before, but it also presents us an opportunity to think of education as not just something that happens within school walls but extends throughout environments and requires a community approach. And those are the things that I try to surface in my book to make the case that the education of all people’s children is something that we should all care about because it will help us create a future where we can be better prepared for some of the kinds of problems where we’re seeing today.

Pedro Noguera:

Can I just say one thing very quickly to end here? First I want to commend Anindya and the book and the work. And so really proud of you and pleased to see you getting this out there, you’ve done great work. I also want to just commend you, Angela, because, you know, you could have taken this as a criticism of your work instead you know you embraced it and you responded to it and I think that’s what we’re modeling here today is, it’s possible to have this force over these complex issues and even disagree slightly, but not make each other enemies and you know, at a time when we’re so quick to become polarized and just attack and not listen and not think through things together. I think you’ve demonstrated I think the best way to approach that so thank you for modeling that kind of leadership.

Angela Duckworth:

Thank you. Don’t. Don’t give up, don’t, don’t stop teaching me I have a lot to learn but we talked a lot. It’s good.

Anindya Kundu:

I’m not done emailing you in return.

Cyndi Stivers:

Well, we all have a lot to learn. And I have learned a lot from the three of you and thank you for your continuing work and I will continue to learn from you.

And thank you to this audience, many of whom have posted many, you know, encouraging statements which you can all read and I apologize to those whose questions, we didn’t get to, but these guys were just too smart, too much to say.

Thank you.

Pedro Noguera:

Thank you everyone.

Anindya Kundu:

Good to see you all. Stay safe. Thank you.

Book Tour Event #2

Student Agency Book
Jeff Duncan-Andrade, Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, Glenda Macatangay and Anindya Kundu discuss student agency

7-03-2020: Collective Healing in Socially Turbulent Times

The following is a transcript from the 7-03 Zoom Virtual Book Tour event with Dr.’s Jeff Duncan-Andrade, Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales, Glenda Macatangay and Anindya Kundu for The Power of Student Agency.

Anindya Kundu:

Okay, great. I guess we’ll just get the show started. I know we’re ending a little bit before two o’clock, so I’ll just start by saying hello and welcome everybody. It’s an honor to have you all join us. Good morning, if you’re out on the West Coast. Good afternoon. If you’re out on the East Coast. We have about almost 200 people who’ve registered for this event, which is really exciting because it really takes a community to do the kinds of work that we’ll be talking about today. Anything, everything counts, especially listening. And so, our event is called Collective Healing in Socially Turbulent Times. And I think that’s just to say that this moment that we’re in requires an acknowledgement of the moment, but we also need an action plan rooted in humanity to kind of make the progress that this moment is calling for. And so, I will quickly introduce myself. And then I will pass the metaphorical mic to my wonderful co panelists and have them introduce themselves. My name is Anindya Kundu. I’m a sociologist of education. I have been studying in the context of youth student success for many years. Right now, I have been involved in education for almost a decade. From a detention center in Chicago, where I did a research project to working at the New York City Department of Education. Currently I’m a senior fellow at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Working at LMIS where we do workforce development and Higher Education Research permission-based organizations. I’m also a member of the city-wide Advisory Committee for the New York City Department of Education career and technical education. My work has appeared in academic journals and broad outlets. Such as op-eds and TED Talks, of which I have to add have a few millions of views so after the talk, please take a look at some of the free resources we offer. My co panelists and I will also send out an email with resources for you to follow up and do some more further learning. And this event today is one stop along my virtual book tour. So I’m incredibly humbled to have such a powerhouse of Co-panelists. The book is called The Power of Student Agency. And it’s simply about acknowledging the potential of our young people in order to improve our educational systems with an equity lens. And a large part of that is rooted in wellness and understanding the humanity of all people and the role that community can play in that. And so with that I’m excited to introduce my co panelists.

Quick word I will just say is that they are members of community responsive education, each of them are renowned and coveted changemaker scholar, activists, artists who are making positive change in our world through positivity and creativity but with a deep understanding of the inequities and injustices that we face today in order to adequately address them. And so, with that to do yourself justice, my co panelists, would you please introduce yourselves? Please brag a little. Talk about the work that you do and we can start with Glenda, please.

Glenda Macatangay:

Hi everybody I’m Glenda McKesson. I’m originally from the Bay Area, but I live in Sacramento, my home. I do a great deal of my work in Oakland, California. I’m a mother of four. You’ll hear some of them in the background and they might make an appearance. So I hope that’s okay. I’m a psychotherapist by education and experience and I’m a community activist by nature and social justice entrepreneur. So I build social justice, social impact businesses and healing organizations as you know, as core to my purpose. So that’s me. Thank you. Wonderful. Thank you.

Anindya Kundu:

And then Jeff, do you mind introducing yourself.

Jeff Duncan-Andrade:

Sure. My name is Jeff Duncan and I am professor of ethnic studies at San Francisco State University. I’m also one of three co-founders of community responsive education, along with Glenda and Allison and also one of the co-founders of the roses and concrete community school.

Anindya Kundu:

Wonderful and Allison? Thank you so much. It’s great to see you on screen, so happy. You’ve rounded us out. Can you please introduce yourself as well?

Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales (she/her/siya):

Hey everybody. Nice to see you all. Thank you for inviting us. My name is Allison Tintiangco-Cubales and my pronouns are she, her and she. I come to you from a lonely or occupied a lonely land, aka San Francisco and my mom is from Batangas and my father’s from Tarlac in the Philippines. I teach in the College of ethnic studies at San Francisco State University. I’m also the founder and one of the directors of Pinoy and Pinai educational partnerships. It’s an ethnic studies pipeline. And then I’m also one of the founders of the other two on this call of community responsive education. I’ve been teaching for over 25 years

Anindya Kundu:

Awesome. Wonderful. It’s such an honor to have you all join me. I’ve heard of the amazing work you guys are doing out in California and so when I connected with Brother Jeff, he mentioned that you guys might be able to join me and I’ve been so excited for this conversation.

So I think it makes sense for our audience to start with some of the basics. I’ll kind of preface this by saying I think this moment in history is a really, really important one where we’re kind of grappling with this idea that we are facing, maybe two pandemics, you know. The first one is the one that causes us to wear masks when we go outside and social distance from our loved ones. And yet, even that one rooted in disproportionality communities of color that are low income are dying at higher rates. They are deemed essential workers. They’re not the ones getting the tax breaks that other large corporations are getting. And that is rooted in the second pandemic which has been a part of America’s history. Systemic and racial inequality that, you know, has continued on in the history of this country and sometimes rears its face through things like cell phone videos that capture police brutality, but that is just the tip of the iceberg here. And so with that preface, I would like to ask Jeff to kind of start us off here. And the question is: what is community responsive education, how can it help us to address these kinds of large opportunity gaps, and how can it help us think about the moment that we’re in right now? What does it mean to be “community responsive”?

Jeff Duncan-Andrade:

So, for this is, you know, a conversation that the three of us, Glenda, Allison and myself have been having for quite some time, along with, you know, our community. And so where we’re at in our thinking now is that community responsive education is education that is responsive to the current material conditions of the children and families being served in a way that reflects an understanding of the realities and the most pressing needs created by those material conditions and the history that led to those conditions and ancestral histories that preceded them. Right. So there’s sort of three tiers to it. And it begins with a situated community-based educational response to the material conditions of people’s lives while understanding that those didn’t just pop up out of nowhere and that we weren’t always in this situation. And it addresses the opportunity gap by locating the need for change. Thus, the word responsiveness. In the persons and institutions with the most power in the relationship what has created these gaps that you’re discussing, as part of this kind of double pandemic, is the lack of responsiveness to the realities of white supremacy, class supremacy, hetero-normativity, patriarchy, language supremacy and a rampant xenophobia against anything and anyone that that does not code neatly in as Anglo white male middle class English speaking and heterosexual. So Cree takes the position that it is not the children that are broken. It’s our society and the systems that govern that are broken. And, you know, as all of our mothers probably said in some way, shape, or form that if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. Our children are not broken. They’re simply mirroring back to us the society that we have built so for us, trying to fix children makes no sense, right. But, but instead to turn the lens on to what is happening in these systems that is creating all this pain and suffering. And how do we transform those systems to be focused on? Wellness and schools are a great place to start because if you get it right with children, you have a fixed a strategy and a mindset that stands to create lasting multi-generational justice, freedom and true democracy. Right, so it makes all the sense in the world that you’ve got a long game strategy to begin with schools, to begin with children, to begin with families. Otherwise, it’s not going to be multi-generational. So, this commitment is about having an education that is frankly about truth telling and that telling of truth likely always includes an honesty with our children that this is how we got here. And it is not your fault that we are here, but it is your responsibility to take us someplace better and we may not know how to get us there, or even where that place is that we’re asking you to take us, but our commitment to you is to create an educational system that will prepare you to ask the questions that most need asking and to relentlessly seek the solutions we have not yet found. That’s the difference in our framework between schooling our children and educating them because schooling children is preparing them to accept their station in life but educating them is preparing them to transform it. So what we’re pushing, cajoling, challenging our communities, our societies to do is to do a fundamental repurposing of the educational project such that the core and primary goal every single day in every single way is to build, sustain, and protect the wellness of our children. And in so doing, the wellness of our society, our planet, our future. And it’s our position in care and has been for as long as we’ve been doing the work that there is no other option and we are perhaps now in a moment where society and even the globe is beginning to come to terms with the fact that we can’t tinker our way to utopia. That we are going to have to fundamentally rethink some of our most basic premises and practices as societies and as communities and there is no better place, and no better time than during a double pandemic to fundamentally challenge and revisit the purpose of how we spend our time institutionally with our children that’s community responsive education.

Anindya Kundu:

Great. If any co panelists want to chime in. Just put a finger up in the air and I’ll call you.

And I really enjoy what you say there because underpinning all of that, underpinning on understanding the deep rooted issues we have is a sense of hope. The system is not just and therefore we cannot just simply reflect it. And so I think one of the interesting things is that tied to, you know, helping our children grow into thriving adults is this idea that if you grow up in one of these communities that the idea of success is leaving and turning your back on the community in which you came from. And to me, that’s not student agency. As you mentioned, it’s understanding that all of our children or students are brilliant and looking for ways to foster that. And so in my research, I think of one example of this guy who his alias is J Stud.

And he identifies as an MC and he was disproportionately tracked into special education through high school until one English teacher of his recognized that, you know, he spent all this time scribbling in a notebook and that the notebook was filled with beautiful, eloquent rap lyrics and so she provided an opportunity for him to showcase what he’s learning in different ways as a way to motivate him. And so quickly I’ll say that started a chain reaction in J Stud’s life that brought him to work today in finance in New York. But he still chooses to live in Jamaica, Queens. One of the more lower income neighborhoods in New York and commute extra into work so that he can serve as an example for the young people in his community. And so to me that’s what student agency is. Not all of our young people are necessarily afforded wonderful mentors and schools that are looking out for them. And they may come from challenging circumstances and we have to also understand that a lot of what they are experiencing can and should be recognized as trauma. So I’d like to shift the focus a little bit to talk about trauma and I would like to invite Glenda to kind of help to answer this question is how can we address different kinds of trauma, generational trauma, like the kind Jeff mentioned persistent trauma that may happen with being, you know left behind, or post trauma and what can schools and educators do for people who are likely already overwhelmed to fit the addressing of trauma into their daily work?

Glenda Macatangay:

It’s a, it’s a big question. And it’s super critical and relevant and I think even with CRE, our small but mighty leadership team during this pandemic and during the last several weeks and maybe actually in the last six months or so we’ve really tackled our own personal traumas within this. And I think that is precisely where the work needs to begin on all fronts is where the leaders really step into their vulnerability and start shaping for themselves what feels safe. You know what things are healthy, what brings them joy. We had a conversation, you know, several weeks ago with Karega Bailey, which is one of the educators from roses in concrete and he was the one encouraging us to really take emotional inventory of what’s in place in our lives and our inner bodies and in our rituals that support healing and support strengthening so we can show up for ourselves in our communities and our youth and our children in a responsible way. And so I think what has been prioritized in our work is really building containers that promote curiosity.

You can’t be compassionate if you’re not curious and you can’t be compassionate without enabling communication to be at the forefront of that compassion and so I’m really understanding that it’s important for us leaders as teachers, educators, social service providers to build in those containers where curiosity can be cultivated or communication skills can be enhanced and where compassion can really thrive. And I think once you have some of those key pieces and variables in place you can encourage folks to really step into their own journey around understanding their own trauma. On a historical level, on a cultural level like the things that, you know, culturally, they practice that they gravitate towards whether it’s unhealthy or healthy and start really being like critical. And then start with interrogating their cultural relationships and rituals and I think the other component is that the real work shows up in our health, emotional, spiritual, physical health. If we are experiencing sickness, tiredness, burnout, frustration, stress, body changes, hormonal moodiness, all those things, those are indicators that we need to start really honoring and paying attention to the rituals that we have built, you know, within ourselves and the systems that we are engaging in. And so when we talk about

how to add some of these wellness components and rituals to people’s already overwhelming and busy lives, that’s the work itself like nothing else matters, to be honest. And so if you create those containers for us to really take people along on those personal journeys, I think we’ll get much further and much deeper into promoting usefulness on a sustainable level.

Anindya Kundu:

Great. I read recently that a few years ago it was estimated by the National Survey of Children’s Health that over half of the children in America have experienced at least one form of serious childhood trauma. And so thinking about the educational sphere, the classroom, children being children, sometimes trauma might manifest outwardly in some way that we’ve been conditioned to think is not attuned to achievement. So we’re quick to label a student without recognizing their humanity. So I appreciate your answer because I think that’s the work as you’re alluding to. Any of Glenda’s colleagues want to chime in and add a little bit to this discussion of addressing trauma? Yes, Allison.

Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales (she/her/siya):

Thank you, Glenda. For that, I think, Glenda oftentimes brings the humaneness to these answers because we really have to be able to look at trauma, but our students are not only their trauma. And I think that’s really important. And I kind of want to go into this. The second question you had, how can educators and schools who are already overwhelmed fit it into their daily work this question comes up so much in our work, especially when we are doing teacher development or professional development in schools across the nation. This comes up so much and the notion of self care comes up, like how do I do self care in the middle of giving care to all these people? And I think it’s so interesting because I feel like this is the question around “should I address trauma”? But addressing trauma might, you know, be difficult for me. I think that actually, if you don’t address trauma, it’ll be even more difficult.

How can we afford not to address trauma when students bring it into our classrooms? Yesterday I was honored to be the witness to a beautiful dissertation defense by our colleague who’s part of care. Her name is Dr. Sherry Hannigan Martinez. And she did her dissertation on that literacy is of love. So I call her Dr. Love right. The question of sustainability came up just similar to the question that you’re asking here. How do teachers who are already overwhelmed sustain love without burning out? And everyone feels that you can feel when someone asked that question everyone goes “aha”. But I think when I was hearing those kinds of questions, or when I hear those kinds of questions when I work with teachers. I feel like the question has to be reframed. I don’t know if it’s about sustaining love without burning out. I think the real question needs to be, how do we use love to sustain ourselves as educators? Like without love like what do you, how can we do this work? It’s like the need to have love, the need to be able to address trauma with love, is how we’re going to sustain ourselves as educators.

I think it’s really an interesting reframe so Dr. Hannigan Martinez shared stories about how not only the love she gave students but also the love that they gave her back. This love was central to her sustainability as much as it was to her students. And I think it’s really important to kind of pause when we’re asking that kind of question because we cannot afford not to. We cannot afford not to address trauma right now. We cannot afford not to love our students right now. We cannot afford not to focus on wellness in the middle of a pandemic. All right. I’m sorry two pandemics we are in and maybe more. We are not, we cannot afford not to address those things. I think that the concept of restorative justice has become put into question, what are we, restoring our young people to? Are we creating a process of assimilation into schools or are we really talking about what Jeff was talking about this notion of education? It’s going to be transformative. The only way to do that is if you actually address what’s going on, not to ignore it. It’s simply about history, you can’t ignore history, you have to be able to address history to understand where we’re going to I’ll stop there. I can go on and on.

Anindya Kundu:

Jeff, I saw you unmute, did you want to add something?

Jeff Duncan-Andrade:

Yeah, I just want to build a little bit off of that and also double down on the acknowledgement of assurance work. Shereen was my student starting in undergrad. And so, you know, yesterday was particularly moving for me as a teacher and she also apprenticed in my high school classroom and then became a teacher in Oakland which, you know, gave then birth to this research that she’s doing. And it was just, I felt listening to her like oh my god like I’m becoming irrelevant, like her work is past mine. And we have a couple of our students as members of the creek team and I feel like their work like it’s so amazingly beautiful to see not just their genius, but how they’ve peeled back and uncovered elements of our work that we didn’t see.

And that that was really beautiful to me and I think that what emerged in that conversation that I heard Allison saying that I want to kind of put my thumb on a little bit for the audience is this idea of addressing trauma or addressing history. Okay, I think that, you know, there’s an increasing perhaps at the highest, you know, level of elevated consciousness at least in my lifetime that yeah you’re right, like we do, right. But I don’t think people really get what that means they don’t really understand what Allison is saying, right, and so they say, yeah, we’re going to address that. And what ends up happening, right, and this is our big fear and this is where we’re really pushing policymakers and school leaders is to say, no, no, no.

Let me tell you first what we’re saying and what we’re not saying. We’re not saying when we say “address trauma or address history or addressing justice” to take the existing plate of things that you are asking schools to do and add that on. Let’s have a restorative justice program. Let’s have a trauma responsiveness program. No, that’s not what we’re saying. What we are saying is that in this moment, step one is to clear the plate. Everything is off the table. And at the center is wellness. And that takes up as much room as it needs to for our children and for the people that serve our children. And then if there’s some extra room on the plate, then you can start adding on other things. But when you talk to me about a literacy program the only thing I want to hear you talking about, I don’t want to hear you talking about how this is going to elevate my sons who are in first grade right to a fourth grade reading level. I want to hear about how the literacy program is going to make them more well. Not just long game but I mean that every time they come home, you had them for eight hours. They need to be more well than when they went to you. Every day. Okay. And we don’t say that that is the essence of what it means to educate children in our society, then it will become a program, right, and wellness will become subordinated to the larger interests and visions about what it means to educate children, particularly vulnerable and wounded children in our society, right. So this is the moment where we have to be really clear about what we mean when we use verbs like address. Okay. And so I just want to double down on what Allison said but also be really clear with the audience about what we mean when we say address trauma, address history, addressing justice. Thank you.

Anindya Kundu:

Some of the key words that I’m picking up on that I’m gonna have to work to use in my own work is this idea of holistic wellness and respect for each other, but also this idea of love. It sounds so simple but it’s at the root of what it means to be human. And when I’m thinking about, you know, teacher burnout and conversations like that we have to understand that love can address that. Love of each other and love of the work. The reason that teachers get into this. And so I think examples can serve as a tool for us to be motivated and to do this work.

One example that I talked about in my research is the James Baldwin trap transfer High School in Chelsea, New York, where students are aging out of the traditional DOE age model. But they come here to be respected as adult learners and teachers at the school teach classes that they love teaching: the abolition of racial slavery, Islamic art and mathematics. Even Dracula and gender identity. So the teachers are excited to teach, the students are excited to learn and you have to understand that love must be at the, you know, foundation of that recipe and also love of each other. And so one participant of my research we’ll quickly talk about her. Her name, her alias is Rose. And so Rose was kicked out of her house when she was a teenager. Her father was violently abusive and that’s a layered thing to say because hurt people hurt people. But her mother took her father’s side they kicked out Rose and she was homeless. This girl eventually while sleeping on couches of friends and having housing instability was able to enroll in a GED program and then go to community college, while also trying to pay for her basic needs by working as an assistant at a dentist’s office because she wanted to be a doctor. And

It’s interesting because the systems are so unjust, we can forget to love. And so, as she was an assistant for this dentist, she overheard him one day talking on the phone about her saying

“You know, it’s so funny. I have this new assistant and she thinks she’s going to be a doctor.

 There’s no way that’s going to happen”. And so that was almost a re-traumatization hearing this person who should be her mentor speaking this way about her. And so, you know, in our interview, I was pretty moved by this because she is now after her Associate’s Degree in a four year college and she said that that instance really set her back further in not being able to trust others or love others, and it took her a long time to be able to kind of form a relationship with her new mentor, a biologist in a lab and who she finally opened up to, to tell her story.

And so I asked her if she ever, you know, kind of, was able to address the injustice done to her at the dentist’s office and she said, you know, “I did this small thing, I sent him my college acceptance letter. When I got in”. And so, you know, that’s, that’s, you know, a really positive story that motivated me, you know, in understanding again that our young people, even if they are hurt or damaged or full of potential and we have to work together to foster that. So I want to also bring in all of your expertise, you know, as scholars and activists and talk about the role of ethnic studies. So I’d like to kind of hand the mic back to Allison and ask what is the role of ethnic studies in this work? About humanity and community responsive programming. And how does attention to ethnic studies in that lens promote wellness and also how can we use those lenses to think about the moment we find ourselves in today?

Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales (she/her/siya):

Thank you for bringing it back to me and maybe before we do that, maybe we should define wellness, because I know that it comes up and then I’ll then I’ll go into ethnic studies. I dropped it here in the chat and Glenda is going to talk a little bit about our specific, very much rooted in ethnic studies definition of wellness.

Glenda Macatangay:

Okay, so go ahead and read this: wellness is the harmonizing of mind, body, emotion, and spirit. It is cultivated and sustained through healthy relationships that are responsive to the lived experience and the historical and material conditions that shape them. Community responsive wellness strengthens the sacred link between self-actualization and community-actualization in three domains. The inner self: a strong sense of culture, identity and agency. Inter-personal: a rootedness and commitment to showing empathy toward family, community, and peers.

And interconnectedness: positive in our relatedness to ancestors, place, land and the natural world. Wellness grows ecosystems where people and communities experienced place, power, purpose, awareness, resilience, empathy, hope, love and joy.

Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales (she/her/siya):

Thank you. Glenda. I appreciate that pause because I think it’s important. We throw that word around quite a bit and just to pause to define it for people who are on this call. This is our specific way to define it. And we know that wellness. You know, like a lot of people are using the word in different ways, or you know, and we want to just make sure that we state how we use it. So what I said earlier is it’s rooted in ethnic studies. You can see the different ways in which ethnic studies has shaped this definition in this current moment it is clear to many of us that we are fighting for humanity. Black humanity, and that includes liberation, power, and joy.

And you can see that in our definition of wellness this humanity is about the freedom to be well in the current moment whether we’re talking about the pandemic of covid-19 or the pandemic of white supremacy. The fight is about the freedom to be well, the freedom to be humanized and all of this. Many, many of us have used this statement. I’ve seen it on placards and people are posting it quite a bit, the statement that “when black people are free, when black lives are free, we will all be free” I’m sure we’ve all heard that. I think it’s very important to really talk about what that means for us, especially those of us who are not black. I think the notion of solidarity is an act that goes way beyond the act of survival or transaction. So solidarity is something that comes up in ethnic studies all the time. It’s really an act of liberation, a collective liberation. Solidarity is an act of empathy. It’s an act of humanization and of course, inspired by Dr. Hannigan Martinez, solidarity is an act of love. This is not new. So I want to be mindful that this is not new. This is important, but it’s not new. This requires systems change.

And you know that the idea that Jeff talked about earlier was, you know, we’re not trying to fix broken children. We’re trying to look at broken systems. And so it requires systems change, which means ideological, institutional, interpersonal, internal, change. And you can also see that in our definition now. Well, what is the role of ethnic studies and community responsive pedagogy in this current moment that we’re trying to achieve that particular change systems change? If I’m going to do a little moment of education for those people who are maybe not as familiar with ethnic studies and the history of ethnic studies, I’ll quickly say that last year in 2019 we celebrated the 50th anniversary of ethnic studies. And the root of that isn’t the late 1960s. After the longest student strike in the nation, led by and this is very important, led by the Black Student Union in coalition with the Third World Liberation Front, Ethnic Studies was established at San Francisco State. It was called college at that time. Now it’s a university.

Some of you actually might know Dr. Molina Abdullah she’s a professor at Cal State LA. And one of the founders of the LA chapter of Black Lives Matter and one of our warriors fighting for AB 1460 which is a bill to get California State University system wide ethnic studies requirement.

Dr. Abdullah makes the statement that I think is very important to note at this particular time: ethnic studies is the most enduring victory of the black power movement. It’s the one thing that has sustained institutionally in terms of systems change.

Black, indigenous, people of color have benefited from the establishment of ethnic studies, not only because it requires colleges and schools to have representative curriculum that looks like us, but the victory of ethnic studies is rooted in the enduring core values of ethnic studies and those core values—I’m going to state them—and they’re very much in our definition of wellness, but I’ll restate them the core values of ethnic studies are: respect, solidarity and unity self-determination and critical consciousness, self-actualization and community actualization and hope. So prior to the development of what people say in education now, cultural relevance or cultural relevant pedagogy or cultural responsiveness, or even Jeff’s critical hope Ethnic Studies activists students, teachers and scholars have been practicing these values for decades.

Indigenous communities and communities of color have been practicing these values for generations, long before the institutionalization of ethnic studies. But what ethnic studies does, and this is really important when we’re talking about system change, is ethnic studies provides a home for these values to live and shape in educational institutions. And what I mean by that is there’s an argument about should we have ethnic studies as a course or set of courses or should we have it in history? And it’s not for me, it’s not you know, it’s not an “or”, it’s an “and”. Because there needs to be a home for those values to be held to then impact to the rest of the institutions. So the central purpose of ethnic studies is to eliminate racism and intersection all forms of oppression and you’ve already mentioned that Ethnic Studies centralizing the narratives of black indigenous peoples and community color in the first person.

Not other people telling our stories that we’re actually getting to tell our own stories within a critical discussion of power systems, identity formation, reflection and I’ll say this because we’re here for this specific moment in this your book. It’s also about agency and action.

Ethnic Studies is a movement that is community responsive like there’s no other way looking at it, right we still have so much to learn from ethnic studies, but it’s really important to note that community responsiveness, the way we describe it is culturally rooted in ethnic studies.

And we think ethnic studies courses to be ethnic studies, you need to be community responsive. But I also want to point out that we should not have courses be community responsive? If community responsive is about centering youth wellness. Shouldn’t all courses be community responsive to center wellness? I think it’s really important to note and go back to what Jeff was saying that we really have to think about the purpose of education as being responsive and that means that wellness is at its center. If we haven’t learned anything from this national uprising to prioritize black humanity, we need to really think about like what we are learning about this notion of freedom, like what does freedom really look like?

Not just freedom in policy. Yes, we do need policy, and I’m very much for pushing for policy, but we also need to know that when a person walks down the street that their humanity is valued. And their humanity is tied to freedom, their freedom to be well. And so I think it’s really important and Jeff and I had just finished an article. I’m gonna read the last sentence of the article because I think it’s really important. That this fight is not a new fight. These are generational fights that we must embrace and when, if we are to build an educational system worthy of our ancestors and the children that will inherit it. Mm hmm.

Anindya Kundu:

Wonderful. I think we have maybe about 10 minutes left together and as I’m hearing you speak and trying to connect some of the dots. One of the thoughts that I have is that this is incredibly important work yet this opportunity gap that we have there is something to be said about it being a status quo where some people benefit from the existence of the opportunity gap. And there’s a reframing here to celebrate ethnic studies and curricular revamp meant in order to give voice and elevate the voices of those that often go without. And so I’m wondering in each of the work that you all do, how do we try our best to bring allies to our side? How do we start the conversation, like the one that Jeff said about you know it has to start with wellness. How is literacy of my twins tied to wellness? Not everyone is willing to have those conversations and it may be the people who are championing all lives matter, instead of black lives matter. We can see this, you know, clashing of these mindsets in every facet of our lives. And I’m wondering how do you start engaging people in a dialogue that maybe have them eventually be willing to listen about the importance of ethnic studies, the importance of wellness and understanding that we have to bring humanity back to education? And this is a question for everyone. I’m opening it up.

Glenda Macatangay:

I’m going to hand that off to Jeff. We kind of we went back and forth. And we were really enjoying this question in particular, and I want to kind of, I would love for you to chime in on this one. Yeah.

Jeff Duncan-Andrade:

I mean, let’s be frank, I’m not really in a particularly different moment right now on my life then I was even 10 years ago. Because I live on a 3400 block of East Oakland. And, you know, we’ve been peeling bodies up off our street for as long as I’ve been teaching here which is 30 years.

So this idea of us reaching out and building allies and allegiances with people who have shown in every way, shape, form and fashion that they don’t see my humanity, they don’t see my cousin’s humanity, they don’t see my brother’s humanity and so by definition, they don’t see my sister’s humanity and they don’t see my mother’s humanity and they don’t see my abilities humanity. And so then, by definition, they don’t see my son’s humanity. And I’m out of energy to try to convince those people about my humanity. My energy is turning inward to my people and to the people that are standing shoulder to shoulder with us and have been. Not Johnny-come-lately. Johnny-come-lately can stand behind and listen and learn. But for the people who have been standing shoulder to shoulder with black folks, with indigenous folks, with Raza folks, with immigrants, with the poor. They are leading now. And this idea that some people are benefiting from the inequality. I challenge that they’re not benefiting, they’re dehumanizing themselves and they don’t even know it. And that comes out of the very basis of the ways in which we’ve defined what it means to be successful in this society. So I’m alluding back to something that you said that I’ve said that many people have said that if we don’t redefine the definition of what it means to be successful, then we’re going to stay on this train to nowhere. And this train is headed full tilt and not clear if we can get the brakes pump hard enough to stop it towards the cliff. All of the data. We are a society in crisis, not because we have a health pandemic. We’ve been a society in crisis. All of our health data suggests that this center can’t hold, we’re coming apart. We were coming apart before we got quarantined and people from our communities have been doing this. So maybe finally they will turn to the people.

Who have been surviving pandemics from the onset of this nation to look for answers about how to actually build a truly pluralistic multi-racial democracy and the truth is that the depth of humanity that you see in black people for not just killing folks is instructive for this nation. And it’s instructive for when we think about curriculum and assessment and what it means to have rigor. The rigorous humanity of black folks. The even in all this, police are still killing them. Still killing brown boys. That’s where I want to put our energy and if folks that are sitting outside of that humanity cannot come along, then they’ll just have to find their way. Because there is no other way. This society won’t make it. We can’t last another generation playing games. And that’s the moment we’re in right now. And so I want to, I want to spend our energy, our spirit, our morality, focused on the true north that our ancestors give us.

And that true north is one that doesn’t discard those people’s humanity. You never catch me saying that I cannot build an ally ship with somebody who sees me as less than human.

It is a poor use of my time. It is a poor use of my energy, is a poor use of my spirit, and that is what I will teach my children. You will never dehumanize those people in the way that they have dehumanized you but you must spend your energy wrapping your arms around the humanity of yourself and your people for those people to have any fighting chance to find their own humanity and they will find their way. But it’s not our responsibility to draw the map for them.

Anindya Kundu:

I’m processing that was very powerful. And so we’re running short on time. I don’t think we need to elaborate on that because I think that’s the charge. Understand that your oppression is rooted in dehumanizing others. And if you don’t understand then get the hell out of the way.

One thing that I think we can try to end on is positivity. Positivity and love is what brings you to this work. And so the, the question that we can all take a minute to answer is “what drives you to do this work and what gives you hope”? And let’s say goodbye to our audience with that. So if everyone could just take a minute to say what gives you hope. I think we’ll be feeling extra motivated to take on the charges of our conversation today. I feel like I’m ahead of the class. I’m gonna have to cold call, could we start with Allison? What gives you hope to continue doing this work and you know it doesn’t have to just be a minute we have seven minutes together.

Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales (she/her/siya):

I’m gonna try not to take all that time. Um, I’ll pause to say that in response to what Jeff was saying, it’s not spending so much time trying to worry about like how the ally is gonna, you know, be part of this. I will say that even the language has been shifting, certainly these last like several months from this notion of ally ship and it has been shifting over years to more thinking about accomplices and co conspirators and people taking responsibility for themselves and in their communities in response to what’s happening in the world. I’ll say that gives me hope.

That notion that people are picking up the work and doing it. I’ve seen some amazing things happen in the last couple of weeks and months on communities just taking a stand. Um, I will say that, you know, there has been some discussion around the notion of decentering, you know, decentering ourselves if you are not black, decentering I think it’s extremely important to talk about what that looks like. Decentering does not mean don’t look at yourself. There’s a need to really look at yourself and see how you’re operating and then trying to figure out ways in which you’ve been complicit to the things that have been happening in the world. And then thinking about how to change that and transform it, so I know I mentioned earlier that that solidarity is not just about survival and transaction. It really is about the notion of transformation like what are you going to do in terms of creating transformative change in the world. I will also add and I don’t want to take up too much more of the time, but I will say that I’m a mother of a 16 year old young, young amazing, amazing woman of color. Who is pushing me every day, pushing me to rethink things. Sometimes it will be because she saw a post and she wants to have a conversation about it or she wants to figure out what are the best ways that she can be in solidarity. And to me, that is giving me hope and Jeff mentioned it when you see your students surpassing you or saying things that teach you things. Like even just in the last, and I mentioned this, the article that Jeff and I wrote, I had a student like look over it and he gave me all kinds of feedback. And to me, that gives me hope because that meant that at some point I was able to support that young person, not so young person, like to become who they can become so that they can come back and as Shareem has mentioned, show us the love too. And so I feel like there’s so much there about the next generation and the hopefulness. I’ll pass it over to Glenda.

Glenda Macatangay:

What brings me hope? Um, is that the movement is very intergenerational and intersectional so I’m raising, you know, black boys and for my parents to be really activated to show up and protect and defend and speak out, that was a really beautiful awakening for me. To use whatever platform they wanted and to continue having conversations around how these issues impact our lives and our grandchildren’s lives really uniquely. That has been really powerful. And so seeing the generations, the older folks supporting the young voices to emerge and the young folks encouraging the older folks’ voices to emerge and having these really good conversations about how to move through these really tough times and tough feelings with urgency. On the daily I get texts about how we need to kind of show up for my parents. And so that’s taught me a lot about how we all need to mobilize on all levels, all fronts.

Anindya Kundu:

And Brother Jeff really quickly out. Do you mind chiming in? What gives you hope?

Jeff Duncan-Andrade:

Yeah, I would say, um, you know, my two co conspirators: Glenda and Allison give me a lot of hope. And I think most consistently I’ve drawn hope from two places. One is children—and it’s why I’ve never left schools. I’ve never, I never stopped being in in the K-12 system. Because they have every reason to not believe in us anymore. And if you spend time in schools, you see this incredible hopefulness in young people that have every right to be dubious about the future of this society and they’re not. And so I want to match as a grownup, as a father, as a researcher, as a writer, as a community member, as a teacher, I want to match the hope levels of my students. Least I can do is to show up every day and put my bitterness away and be present. Hopefully with them to honor the way that they show up, hoping that things will get better. Even though all the evidence suggests that it might not. And I come from ancestors that have endured, overcome, transformed using hope—things that make our current situation look miniscule. And we are a profoundly a historical society. We lose track of who we come from. And it’s that detached desensitized disconnectedness from our ancestral traditions and the strength and power and hope that resides there that drives us into hopelessness. And if we look back at who we really come from, we have no choice but to be hopeful and that is what we see in the babies. That’s where children’s hope is coming from. It’s coded into their DNA by virtue of who their ancestors are and if we can tap into that as educators, as parents, as community members, as friends, as partners, then there’s no way that we can’t find the hole to thread our way through the eyes of this needle that we’re staring at right now. That’s right.

Anindya Kundu:

I’ll kind of join in on that one, as I close this out. As the only non-parent panelist on here, I too get hope from young people. My wife is Mexican and we deeply hope to be parents and you know, many people might say, “isn’t that daunting at this point in time”? But I think we owe it to ourselves. With our love for this world to have children and as, as Jeff said to educate them and not school them about all of these deep histories and you should also equally care about the education of other people’s children because, as a society, we’re going to be so much better off because those are the people who will have to look out for us as the future continues.

And so I will just end by saying it was such a pleasure to have you all today. I have so much to sit with and process and learn. And I will do so after this conversation. It was my honor to ask brother Jeff for his endorsement of my book and he said, which graces now my back cover, that agency is the antidote to helplessness and despair. That exploration of that essential element of our humanity must be attended to, if we hope to build schools that support the wellness of our children, and that is something that takes a community. And we can all do it together. So thank you so much to my co panelists. I’m so humbled for your time. I’m really also humbled for everyone who tuned in today, we will be sending out an email and the video of today’s recording. We will send out further resources, so we can all dig in deeper and continue to learn and keep up the charge to live with hope and create a better future for everyone. So thank you everyone. Happy Friday and have a great weekend.

Book Tour Event #3

7-24-20: Educational Leadership and Inspiring Agency in Disruptive Times with Lisette Nieves, Scott MacLeod, and Maurice Swinney.

Scott McLeod:

Okay, time to start. Awesome. So welcome everybody. My name is Scott McCloud. I’m an associate professor of educational leadership at the University of Colorado. Denver not Boulder. We are not the buffaloes. We’re in downtown Denver, because that’s where the leadership program is. All those policy folks are from Boulder. I’m absolutely delighted to get the opportunity to play host and moderator today for this wonderful conversation. We have some phenomenal experts who are going to introduce themselves, real quickly here and then we’ll just kind of launch right into our discussion. So welcome to inspiring agency in disruptive times. So Anindya, why don’t you start?

Anindya Kundu:

Sure. My name is Anindya Kundu. I’m a sociologist of education. I’m currently a fellow of research at the City University of New York at LMIS where we assist mission-based organizations who work in the workforce or higher education environment to help vulnerable and underserved populations strive for social mobility. My own research is around the context for student achievement, social and cultural supports that help underserved students from disadvantaged backgrounds thrive. And so that’s kind of what this whole book is about is to think about how the agency of students who come from challenging backgrounds can be fostered in educational environments and the collective role we can all play in helping that happen. So I’m really excited to talk to this amazing panel of experts around it who I believe have read the book and are happy with it so far. So that just means a lot to me so. So thank you all for joining me today.

Scott McLeod:

Maurice, you’re up.

Maurice Swinney:

Hi everyone. Maurice Sweeney: chief equity officer for Chicago Public Schools. Former high school principal, assistant principal, instructional coach, and teacher. I’m entering my 20th year in education. It’s all about equity for me, in particular, racial equity. How do we ensure that those who are least served, or underserved are getting the right access to resources and opportunities? I’m definitely glad to share space with these great people.

Scott McLeod:

Awesome, thank you so much. Lisette?

Lisette Nieves:

Hi, how are you? First, my name is Lisette Nieves. I’m the director of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies at NYU and recently published a book on workforce and looking at college and career pathways and disrupting the kinds of divides that we often think about so agency is essential to that as well. Another thing is that my passion and interest is really looking at equity but making sure that we really include a strong class lens around that as well as an intersectional level of class with that. So I’m excited to be here, Anindya.

Anindya Kundu:

Thanks, Lisette. Go NYU!

Scott McLeod:

I’m know we mentioned a couple books here, we should probably mention that our discussion today is centered on Anindya’s new book: The Power of Student Agency and somebody at some point will throw a link in the chat space for that. And if you can get Lisa’s book in there too that would be awesome so that you all can track those down and investigate further. That would be great. I’m gonna guess I didn’t mention sort of my own intersection with this concept of agency.

Although I’m a professor of school leadership, I spent an awful lot of time with instructional coaches and classroom teachers and principals and anybody else who wants to be an instructional leader thinking a lot about learner agency within systems and how do we hand over teacher directed and system directed classrooms and give kids the opportunity to really self-direct and control and own their own learning pathways in ways that allow them to, you know, thrive? So that’s kind of where my piece of all this is so, uh, since I get to lead us off, Anindya, I’m gonna twist our first question a little bit. So on page 64 of your book, you have this wonderful quote from Tyreek I think his name is right? And he says that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. What’s scarier is when you lead a horse to water, and they say what water? I was the horse who didn’t see the ocean in front of me. Not a conscious decision, I was ignorant to the fact that what is in front of me was water. I used to be a middle school teacher in a high poverty Middle School in Charlotte, North Carolina. Charlotte had this wonderful program in the city where they would bus kids from subsidized housing neighborhoods to the ocean. A few hours away and even though it was just a few hours away most of the kids that never left the city and I always marveled how excited my kids were to come back and talk to me about what the ocean was really like because they had read about the ocean, they’ve seen pictures of the ocean. They had maybe even heard and seen videos or movies of the ocean, but they hadn’t experienced the ocean. So that quote really resonated with me quite a bit. And I wonder if we can attach that quote to your concepts of student agency? When you talk about agency and you think about this cool entire week, how did those come together?

Anindya Kundu:

Awesome. Thank you, Scott. I knew I picked an amazing moderator making me think on my feet here and you also found one of my favorite quotes from the book that I think really highlights that we want education to be a personalized learning experience for all of our students for them to be able to demonstrate their agency and that implies really understanding who they are as a person. It implies respect for their humanity, but most importantly in this context where educational disparities are so polarized, that implies acknowledging their background.

To be able to think about how to scaffold opportunities for them to then notice that this is water. This is an ocean and that ocean is also equally belonging to me to drink at. And so, you know, I’ll try to build on that by saying my basic premise definition of agency is that it’s a person’s capacity to leverage resources, mentorship or tap into a network. Those kinds of resources to navigate obstacles and create positive change in their lives. For our students, I think this is important because it implies, there’s this social element to success that there’s structural and systematic obstacles that can sometimes be in the way of students’ abilities to thrive in academic settings that it’s not just about individual effort or talent. And thinking about, you know, thinking that education is where the best and the brightest succeed, sometimes those kinds of thoughts, put the onus of success on the individual. That’s kind of the trap that concepts like grit and resilience often fall into is that they take the social context out of the formula for education and what, as a sociologist, I know is fundamental to what it takes to succeed is implying that the environment is just as important as nature. And so related educational leadership or educational justice topics that are dear to all of us, the belief that all students are deserving of a quality education and then working to create the systems and cultures that can allow for that. I think those ideas benefit from a more holistic view of success in order to foster equity and so agency implicitly acknowledges the opportunity gap, it almost encourages us to not use the achievement gap. Something that we’ve all been culturally conditioned to use but the achievement gap kind of furthers our own thinking that the onus of success falls on the individual. Thinking about an opportunity gap makes us realize that things like a student’s birth zip code or their parents’ level of education are incredibly important, if not more important than the school student even attends. During covid-19 we see this because we know that not all students have access to internet and internet access which is keeping them from doing vibrant distance learning that more privileged young people are able to partake in. And so thinking about the opportunity gap, I think, is crucial and helping us realize that there are limits to education, but that there are also possibilities. And so agency is thinking about the potential that students have to succeed. It forces us to think away from implicit deficit perspectives of, you know, “not those kids” mentalities of education are, you know, a product of a school or teachers being strapped for resources. And those ideas can sometimes be normalized, so to flip that, to kind of help uncover that all students are brilliant like Tyreek. Tyreek is the quote you read; he was a student who was incarcerated. And it wasn’t until his prison experience that he tapped into education because someone took him under his wing and was like, listen, you’d be a great mentor for these younger prison detainees who are coming in because they look up to you. So you should be a mentor and in mentoring them, I realized, you know what I should also take more classes. I should take these college level classes. And that’s how he started to see the water and it really came from this cultural competency of that mentor noticing a hidden form of giftedness in him and encouraging him. And so those are the kinds of participants that I profile on my book, The Power of Student Agency. 50 people who have come from extremely difficult, challenging backgrounds, but become professionally and academically successful to make the case that success is possible and we should all believe in the success of all students, but that there is a collective role that we all can play in helping to create the systems to allow that to happen.

Scott McLeod:

Cool. Lisette, Maurice thoughts, comments, reaction at this stage? What’s in your head?

Lisette Nieves:

Go for it Maurice, I’ll go right after.

Maurice Swinney:

I immediately thought, you know, I’m only about a year and a half, almost two years out of the principalship and what was coming up for me just now was there are so many things that young people have to do. Somewhere in the book, you talk about happiness as being dynamic and how young people will wrestle with like, “what does that mean and what is that” and all that, to think about what has happened to our young people that those sort of natural human elements of who we are, are so hidden and space has to be created for young people to see.

Actually the mentorship quality or the leadership quality, that Tyreek had was already in him. And that there were people to support what that evolution is and was. And so now he gets to start to thrive and then he finds happiness and joy in that and it creates, I’m glad you pointed out, like the sort of shift from grit to, you know, really agency. Recognizing that sometimes good can be associated with assimilating into a particular culture like how do I continue to just do well in this structure and not recognize that racism, racial discrimination, sexism, xenophobia, all of those things can be contributing to what’s causing young people not to thrive.

Lisette Nieves:

Hi. I think what excited me about the book and some of it was a bit nuanced was this idea of agency being something that for me, includes the definition of dignity. And the definition of what someone is bringing to the table. So often in adult learning concepts we understand and accept this level of identity and what they bring to the table. It’s a dual learning. We really do that with high school, junior high school, early and so agency to me implies this kind of visibility of dignity and implies this kind of asset piece. And so I appreciate that. I love your definition, what I would say is so important is that we also use an equity lens and deconstructing how we talk about resources. So often and you bring this out, with Tyreek and with others. When we think about resources they have to be seen as assets in our young people. That includes if they work outside of school, that’s an asset, right. That includes if they have responsibilities with their families. That’s an asset and so often through these other lenses that’s where our young people become invisible and feel like they can’t exhibit their agency. So that’s why I wanted to bring those forth because that’s a greater expansion in a way. But what inspires me about the work you’re doing too.

Scott McLeod:

So Maurice and Lisette we’re going to get to some of our primary questions for you that we have on our show notes. But I want to circle back around to this idea of opportunity gaps and systems. You know, I’m also a systems guy. And so you know it’s one thing to think about this idea of student agency and opportunity gaps within the context of, you know, a soulless, heartless, faceless society right? And we throw you out into the world and you have to navigate your way. That’s a whole other thing to think about that, but then the context of schools and universities which you know, get offended if we said that you know they’re not all about student agency and empowering kids. We have hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of k-12 educators and university educators like what are you talking about, of course, what about student agency, of course, what about student empowerment? Our whole function of our university system or our school district or school is about giving kids agency and empowering them to be successful in life. And yet, it doesn’t feel like it’s quite happening. So what’s going on there?

Lisette Nieves:

I’m going to jump in on that one. What’s happening there is that it’s still done within an institutional paradigm where one is seen as the expert and the person who is distributing the power of intellect and knowledge to one who’s the recipient. And so when I use the term “dignity” and what I love about Anindya’s work is there’s this implicit kind of true power sharing that happens in order to see the young person for who they are and what they bring to the table. And I think this even happens not even consciously with a lot of teachers. I think the other piece is, I will say this, when you are a new teacher so many are obsessed with and I’m dying to hear from Maurice on this too: classroom management. The idea of control, the idea of having people in their place. Tons is spent on that. And so it’s hard to have a paradigm of that, have a frame of that, while having policing in schools. I’m just saying these are things that send multiple mixed messages and what I do love about young people is they do know how to navigate multiple contexts as we see it in Anindya’s book. And when they navigate them, they know which context and how they have to show up in and they show up in as the passive recipient and context where they know they cannot be truly seen for who they are.

Maurice Swinney:

Yeah. Um, yes to all of that one. What’s coming up for me too is first of all if all of that were true around believing that we do these things in schools, we would have better outcomes. So that’s a lie to us in the CPS equity framework we call out laboratory thinking as a way to disrupt our own consciousness about what we believe about other people. What we believe about ourselves because we always like to believe that we’re the nice, good, superhero doing this work when, at times, you know, we can actually be causing harm. And I think that we have to continually disrupt that. What’s coming up for me, I think, is that there has to be some interrogation of what we think we’re doing for young people and really to take a pause and do what I see happening in Anindya’s book is that there’s a collaboration. Like Lisette said, talked about the power sharing like you have to do that in order to actually serve people better. When we go to restaurants, they’re like, what are your food allergies? Um, you know, what do you like to drink? What do you like to eat? When we go to the doctor, they’re like, what are the pains? So there is this cooperation happening between people. And then we get to talk about what are some potential solutions? And I think we have to apply that same lens to education, so that when I leave these places, I have my agency and I’m clear about some of the talents that are already had, like, Lisette talked about “I have seen as an asset” like I’m actually coming to this place with goodness with power with strength and these institutions should be cultivating that and when they’re not young people have a right to push back on us to disrupt those systems as well.

Anindya Kundu:

And I’ll lastly just chime in. It sounds like a lot of what this power dynamic question is about. Is about dialogue and we should always remember that it’s great when we can invite students to the table and elevate their voices and sometimes that can even be missed. Even though there is a good intention to try to do that. And so I keep on thinking about one example in my book that everyone probably also knows, is about Joe who was homeless. He was homeless with his mom and then his aunt took him into live with her in Edison, New Jersey. So all of a sudden he had access to the suburban public school and within his first few weeks of going to this new middle school anytime the topic of Hispanic culture came up, the teacher would now point to Joe to be the representative of Hispanic culture so all of a sudden, in trying to include him, she tokenizes him and isolated him which could have been avoided if she had actually gotten to know him as a person. She might have realized the challenging background he had come from. That maybe he wasn’t used to having family dinner time all the time. And so, you know, it’s important to again bring humanity and dignity back into these conversations and starting with a place of just acknowledging who your students are can help us get there, I think.

Scott McLeod:

Awesome, thank you everyone. Um, so one of the scholars that has been very impactful on me is Dr. Richard Elmore at Harvard. And one of his key concepts from one of his books is this idea of internal accountability. This notion that we don’t have our act together inside our school system, university, whatever, like it actually doesn’t matter what those external accountability mandates are because we aren’t able to come together and say “this is what we stand for”. And these are the mechanisms we have for making sure they happen. Here are monitoring and accountability mechanisms internally to make sure that we’re living up to the ideals or beliefs that we say, we espouse and are trying to enact. And it feels to me like in many ways what we’re talking about here is that schools and universities, although they talk a good game may have some weak internal accountability in terms of ensuring that they actually happen.

Sort of the institutional approaches, right, or lack of appropriate dialogues and training and support systems within school districts and universities that really allow us to achieve the outcomes that we say we want. So I think this is sort of a nice transition to our big question that we’re going to ask Maurice which is what does internal accountability look like within the Chicago Public Schools as you think about equity driven student agency and student voice work? What are you trying to make happen? What are those structures that you have in place to try and make them happen? And maybe most importantly through the Office of Equity and whatever other avenues within the district. How do you make sure they happen?

Maurice Swinney:

Yeah, I think, first as an office of equity we have young people involved in the writing of our continuous improvement plans and one of the reasons why we did that was, we have to model the behaviors we want to see and we can’t talk about transforming and advancing equity or disrupting the system if we are not living out those values. In the CPS equity framework, we call for inclusive partnerships, which says that if you really want change to happen, you have to have those who are most impacted by inequity at the table, and that usually in educational settings includes young people. So we do that, they push back on us in such a good way that it actually disrupts even sometimes the way in which we’re working to do better work, not just in service of them, but to do collaborative work with them. We’ve created some district wide tools. We have an office of social science and civic engagement and they have what’s called a toolkit, which is about helping us as an organization make sure we have student voices in all elements of schools, classrooms and within the district. And that is helping us to actualize like what does a principal do? What does a teacher do? To cause that in schools. We have student voice community throughout the district. Dr. Jackson, our CEO has a student voice community as well. But I think one of the accountability pieces, um, you know, the framework is still relatively new and what we recognize is this co design process is going to have to be ongoing. And we’re going to have to learn and iterate with young people together. I’m actually reading a book or workbook called Fumbling Toward Repair. And it’s really helping us to think about like what ways we cause missteps and cause harm and be able to heal from that rather quickly so that students are not only engaged in the process, but the things that are designed to be working for them are actually going to help to work for them. So I think those are some of the like broad strokes for the work, but our students right now in the district are asking for big demands and we’re still wrestling with you know, how do we do the right transformative work in a district to do that? So to your question around institutions, assuming I don’t want to paint us as perfect, but I do think we’re making progress on that overall.

Scott McLeod:

Cool. So let’s open that up more broadly and say, I mean, the key word that I think you mentioned: memories is taking out there right and it feels to me that most school systems and often universities are pretty resistant to this idea of together. Why are we so hesitant to give kids, young people and post-secondary students more voice in their own learning?

Lisette Nieves:

You know, Scott, that’s always such a simple question. I think that’s one of the big things. And first of all, just the fact that Maurice is on this panel, the role that he has, says something about a vision and commitment to see this right. The other things are that so often our young people who have the least power in the system are the ones who experience what I call “the trickling down” piece of feeling like they’re not connected. If you don’t inherently have a collaborative structure, how can you assume that every level is gonna recognize the dignity in the other level if there’s a power structure? So I think we can’t ignore that.

And so that’s an important one, too. So how often are teachers feeling that they’re working collaboratively with principals and superintendents and those kinds of things? Right. And so, you know, we can’t ignore how that fits in here. I would say that the other piece about it is that the fumbling through change, I haven’t read that book, but doing a lot on org theory is that I was just talking to a principal who was one of my top students. And he said, when I moved forward, when we have to rethink a school, was when we had to collectively mourn the harm that we’ve perpetuated not even consciously. That is very deep. We cannot dismiss that. How many people have the trust and vulnerability in a collegial and work environment to do that to then expand? So I just push that forward, which I think that doesn’t mean we cannot have that. But there are things that have to happen before then.

Scott McLeod:

So, Lisette, I really like your conception of this idea of vulnerability right. Anindya I was struck in your book that you talk multiple times about how even students with agency have to exhibit that vulnerability in terms of help seeking behavior. And it feels to me like the same kind of help seeking behavior we want from students with agency, we also need from organizations in the sense of, say, here’s what we need, or where we want to go. And we’re going to need help with that.

Anindya Kundu:

You nailed it. And I think that question of help seeking behavior, especially going both ways, now is the moment to really acknowledge that in all of the different things going on.

In the world, we are now invited at a time, particularly unique in the historical context to reimagine education. To rethink that. It’s not this power dynamic of like, what’s that saying like the jug in the mug? The teacher is, the jug and all the students are the mugs being filled up with the same kinds of content and competencies and expect that to somehow work. And in this new environment, especially with social unrest going on, we have to understand again that students and young people are there at the table too. They’re perceiving everything going on and they have very important valued experiences and perspectives, and these are teachable moments, but they’re also learning moments for them. So how can we create dialogue that allows them to have a seat at the table because you know soon, we’re going to be in our, you know, older years and they will be the ones in these positions to make and push forward policy changes. So why not invite them to the table now?

Scott McLeod:

Awesome. Thank you. Um, Lisette, we’ve been talking a lot about sort of schools and universities so far. That’s kind of the way I framed it but I know you also have been thinking about this concept student agency within the broader sort of workforce and workforce education preparation lens. How does this play out in that arena?

Lisette Nieves:

Well I how it plays out is that so often because there may not be collaborative structures in schools, it’s actually through working where young people experience their first sense of agency. Because what it says, is “I’m getting paid the same way as someone else is getting paid”. And there is something, this kind of pride that can only be built through work.

That, I believe, is part of a developmental identity for young people. Which is why when we don’t acknowledge that work is central to so many young people’s lives and we see it as a distraction, we’re really missing that they have always been managing multiple contexts and we should be championing them for that. And so that’s how it fits in here. And I would say with Anindya’s book. And I think one of the things that I love is that his notion of agency challenges this piece of the charity engagement with young people. This is a moment in that young person’s time. This is not everything about that young person. It is a call to stop, to check yourself, to deal with this as a minute. Even uses the example of if so-and-so needs more resources and they’re working, it’s not seen as a negative, right. So, so for me and thinking about that and I say the same thing happens with college students. I have seen people say, oh my goodness, you have to help support your family, you’re contributing to a family wage, which I do not think is a bad thing. We need to make sure you stay at a community college right. So there are ways that we have undermined and made assumptions that are that overlap with class and race where we actually strip people of their agency. So that’s how.

Maurice Swinney:

Yeah, I thank you for bringing that up because what I like in the book. It talks about like

youth networking and this actually triggered my thinking around, you know, people talk about young people in games. But I say, you know, games are families in their networks and if we want young people to have different types of networks and experiences, we need to be providing that and if young people have to lean on other networks, then what does that say about us as institutions and how do we need to also reframe what we think about young people? And so they’re like I just appreciate the connection between class as well.

Because they are working that shows us there is already a lot of grit, resilience, and agency already happening. And how do we acknowledge that and then continue to build on that and even support you know if there are opportunities where they could work less if there are some

economic capital ways in which you know we can invest in young people while they’re going to school that would definitely be a plus.

Lisette Nieves:

Anindya, I want to say one more thing about you before you jump in. One thing that I do appreciate, Maurice you made me think about this too, is that Anindya, when you go into this notion that so often what’s framed in workforce development is that we have to give Latinx and African American young people, a social network so that they can do x. You disrupt that paradigm, you actually say no, wait a minute. This isn’t about giving someone something because they don’t have it. It’s about they already have that and then building on that. And I think that’s radical in the literature. I will tell you that right now for so many people right now all the workforce discussions are about assuming that, particularly people of color don’t have their own networks and they do, that’s a false assumption. And so you also go as far say young people to also have that.

Anindya Kundu:

You know I am nodding, so much my neck is gonna hurt after this, after any of you talk.

But Lisette, what you said was, was brilliant. In an ideal world, what would education look like? Well, it wouldn’t be separate from workforce. We wouldn’t have a K through 12 pipeline, we would think more towards K 16, K 20 and workforce. We don’t, if we think about these pathways as separate then they become isolated and they only work for those who have the networks that the dominant culture rewards. And so I think we also have to change this idea of vocational education, you know. It’s always had this weird, wrong, negative stigma, but there’s nothing more important than being able to work with your hands. And most of the participants of my sample went to an associate’s degree as a pathway to a traditional four year college. Another whole conversation for another day is whether or not four-year college is necessary for everyone. But there’s something to be said about understanding that people’s educational trajectories can look different, and how can we acknowledge that each of those allow someone to bring something new to the table, especially when they’re going to be working someday. Now that I do a little bit of workforce research, the biggest irony that I’m finding in the research is that employers always have all of these requirements for entry level work. But only through working do sometimes people pick up those competencies. So it really requires them to come to the table and be willing to take a young person and train them and understand where they’re coming from and do a lot of internal work. Do a lot of cultural reframing to become more inclusive, you know, giving someone a job is not supposed to be a handout. It’s more of a hand up, but it’s also an acknowledgement that you’re now joining our organization. This is going to be a collective culture. So how can we do this work together and those reframes are things that we need to now start doing together. We have to realize that it’s not just education, but it’s education and work force and I love the thing that you and Maurice both said is that there are so many ways in which participants of the book showed gifts and competencies like Joe who I was talking about was taking care of his sick sister, going to school, trying to find housing for him and his mom that night. Those things aren’t showing up at class when he’s in class and the teacher is about to call on him. So, you know, how can we understand that giftedness shows up in multiple ways? I think that’s a question we can keep asking ourselves to build more inclusive learning environments.

Scott McLeod:

Y’all we’re doing an awesome job in this conversation. I’m just saying it right now. So, um, we got about 10 minutes left. Um, and so I’m going to ask each of you to describe maybe one of your favorite examples of student agency and practice and why you think about that. I’m going to yammer, a little bit myself and give you some lead time. Anindya, I loved the focus in the book about the positive approach that you’re taking here like let’s get away from these deficit mindsets and as you said on page 110 let’s talk about possibilities, but instead of wondering about all the reasons why students with fewer resources can fail, why don’t we look at the many ways in which they can learn to thrive and how do we best reach them? Even if you know as institutions or systems, our capacities may be limited so much. And I think one of the things that has been most inspiring to me in K- 12 education over the last decade and a half, has been the rise of these projects and inquiry-based schools and networks of schools. And, you know, we’re finding some really phenomenal ways to give kids agency and voice and connect them with their communities and workforce and so on. And, you know, whether that’s passion and increased projects within the school day, whether that’s some kind of capstone experience, whether that’s community-based service learning, you know, whatever. Like there’s all kinds of possibilities, and I think about a network like the Big Picture Learning network where they explicitly build into their model, this idea of student internship. So, you know, every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon, for instance, a student who was provided a free transportation pass you know maybe in the city hops on the bus, train, subway you know hoofs it on their bike or whatever and gets to their local internship. And they have a chance to choose as many as eight of those over the course of their high school career because they can do a new one each semester. And what I love about their approach in the schools that I visited is that they’ve all sent the students out to the internship location, not as free labor. Like, they’re not going there to be cheap, easy labor for the employer. You’re going there to learn how to run the place. And I love that stance on the work. So here I am, I’m talking with a student in Los Angeles and her previous internship had been in a dog kennel because she liked the animals and you know she really loved the business aspects of running your own business and learned a ton about that but realized that too much of the job was cleaning cages, whatever. And so, that wasn’t for her. So this semester that I visited her school, her internship was with a dog trainer and she and I had this phenomenal conversation about sort of what’s the difference between training dogs and training orcas at SeaWorld and the psychological stuff that’s happening here. Right. And she had just submitted her scores to major universities for four-year biology programs, you know, and I think the pathway from one semester internship at the dog kennel to four year Biology major at a major university is shorter than we think. With these pathways and opportunities and we think about possibilities, right. So that’s kind of my long run up answer to my question. Who wants to share an example that you found particularly inspiring?

Maurice Swinney:

I keep thinking about, you know, it’s funny, not being a principal anymore. It’s a different world not being a high school leader for 12 years and I keep thinking about this one student who we were looking at student outcomes by race and gender to really figure out how different young people were and what were the performance outcomes. And so we met with different groups and, you know, ask them about their experience in school and one particular student, his name was Jason. And I remember Jason talking about all of the little ways he was like, yes, we have a football team, but as a Latino I want this type of football team, like I want soccer.

And so all of the guys were like, yes, that’s what we, you know, want like we know that there are sports and programs and all this stuff here. But this is what we’re asking for. So I was like, yeah, well, okay, well, we’ll do this and come back to me with the plan. And they all came back with a plan like in 24 hours. And they were like, this is how much the uniforms would cost, this is how much this is, we know that we would need coaches and just like all of this great sort of stuff that they had designed and the only thing that that I did was, um, say, come back with a plan and they did the research to figure out what exactly they wanted. And so they already know a lot of what they want, it’s I think it’s we have an “adultism” problem that our young people in CPS are starting to talk to us about. Our youth organizations actually do some training and they talk about adultism. And how we need to sometimes get out of the way. And so I feel like the more I invite young people into a conversation and give them the space to talk about things that are important to them, their agency just is right there like a ton of water just starting to flow out. And so we got to keep doing that.

Anindya Kundu:

I love that. I love that, Maurice, I actually didn’t know about adult ism before this. And so I’m going to try to use that too and I love your example, because you mentioned research and just thinking about young people and all they bring to the table we should honestly acknowledge that they’re experts of research, too. And so that’s kind of a little bit of what my effort was in the book is that so much of research, sometimes asks “why did these groups or why did these students fail”? Sociology is very much at fault of doing this, but instead my goal was to try to learn from them to highlight their voices about how they were able to succeed. So giving them that expertise and trying to learn from them and I learned so much. Scott’s question was about a couple of our favorite examples of agency. And so from my participants, I would say, one would be Alicia. She was raised by a single mom and her mom was an English language learner. And so since Alicia was like six years old, she would help her mom do things like talk to a repair person of their apartment and, you know, navigate these adult roles that are very unique for a young child. And she told me about her GPA in college and how she had a ton of different companies trying to recruit her but she was going to become a teacher. And so I kind of played devil’s advocate. I was like, why are you going into teaching? Why wouldn’t you go into something a little bit more lucrative? And then she turned the question back on me, she said how dare I like how dare I go into teaching knowing these problems that I faced a lot of students and young people continue to face? And in the same quote, she said something about everyone is brilliant. So, you know, in the beginning of our talk. I said that, but I was channeling my inner Alicia that if we believe that every child is brilliant, it forces us to rethink education and, you know, we might call that radical, but I don’t think we really need to. And one other example of agency, I think, is Jay studs. He’s the student whose teacher acknowledged his rapping abilities and gave him access to a recording studio. And what’s interesting is that set off this chain where he actually did end up in investment banking because he started getting internships at the recording studio and he realized he liked the financial aspect. And my own undergrads once were, like, why is this the story of success? Jay Stud going to work for investment banking? Like he’s now working for the man. The group that you know disinvests from communities and it furthers poverty and is a complicit in the capitalist process, you know, these radical undergrads. And she forced me to think about it. But there’s something to be said about changing systems from within. And that’s what Jay Stud is doing, you know, he’s making sure that the investment bank is now hiring more men and women of color. And he also chooses to still live in Jamaica, Queens, even though it’s a longer commute to work so that every day, the kids in his neighborhood see him as an example. The kind that he didn’t necessarily have growing up. And so that’s the reciprocal nature of agency that can be systems change. Helping one student’s life get better. I think is systems change because you further their agency to create positive change as well.

Lisette Nieves:

Hi, can you hear me, Anindya?

Anindya Kundu:

Yeah, we got you.

Lisette Nieves:

Okay, great. Well, I had to get on the phone, but it works. So it’s interesting here in the tail end of both and I would say when I think about some examples of agency and I’m glad Maurice brought up the term “adultism” it’s agency, by whose definition? whose terms?

Right. So I think it’s important that we get at that. When agency shows up, we can only inspire it, we can’t control how it represents itself. Right. And I think that there is a letting go of that. That’s where the power issue is the shift that happens there. I’ll think of two quick examples. One is when I was with Europe, and we think about that older age under credited not in school, not in work. And this was a fascinating one. This one was one was related alot to class. students will get a stipend. And so what we saw was that it was around the holidays and there were all the signs in the building that said adopt a family for Christmas, those kinds of things. Right. And so a student came to me and said, we want to do it on behalf of students, but we want to choose the family and we want to donate and we want to do that. I had no problem with that. I thought that was great. My fellow team members, some of the staff are like they don’t have enough money in their stipend, they shouldn’t be doing this. it completely tried to disempower what I thought was very exciting. And they did it on their terms. And this is an example of how when people are placed in boxes even economically, not even recognizing that the working class actually give much more charitably of their income than other groups. Right. And so why wouldn’t we see that amongst our young people? And so they literally found a family. They showed up to this family they adopted them for the holidays and they all 40 of them supported this and it was a very inspiring thing, but it was a great one to push on class. I’d say another thing that I think is important that I thought was great around agency was that there was this assumption that we all know how to work cross collaboratively. And cross-age and cross-experience. And when I actually saw a teacher ask for help to say how can I actually do partnership building in a way outside with workforce development and support our students? Then I know we were on the right path because the framework to even be able to have this we have some people that have that. how do we partner? We have some people are trained in that that’s not what people are trained in. So when we’re talking about collaborative efforts without a framework, which is why it’s so exciting to have Maurice on this panel too is that we see that without that, we are having people stumble unnecessarily. And so one is, I would say this too where I saw great agency is where I’ve seen people recruit multiple young people at one time to be on a board that they have full voting rights. All right, that was an interesting piece around that and also be involved in the pre-agenda discussion then we were talking about really recognizing agency. But many times, that’s not always the case. And I actually got to see that in a couple of Brooklyn schools. So just want to share that.

Scott McLeod:

Awesome. It’s awesome. So we’re kind of at the end of our time here, I just want to note that Anindya’s book takes a really positive approach and vibe toward student agency which is really what he says right there in the intro that he’s defining agency as the capacity to leverage resources to navigate obstacles and to create positive change in their lives. And what we’re talking about when we’re talking about fostering someone’s agency. As he said, it’s not a handout. It’s a hand up. Right. And so I think that’s a great way to sort of end our conversation is for all of us to think about how can we foster the power of our youth to help themselves and to walk away from some of these adultist structures and systems and practices that are getting in their way? It’s a fantastic book, The Power of Student Agency. Lisette and Maurice, thank you for helping us celebrate Anindya’s new book.

Scott McLeod:

It’s available on Teachers College Press, who also hosted this discussion today. Thanks to everybody in the audience.

Anindya Kundu:

Thanks, everyone. And we’ll also send out some resources at the end of this to people who attended about all the different things we talked about. So just in case.

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