Has it really been a whole year since VP Mike Pence cast his tie-breaking vote, making Betsy DeVos Secretary of Education? Congrats! You survived – and DeVos remains Trump’s least popular cabinet official. In this episode of Have You Heard, Jennifer and Jack reflect on DeVos’ first year, a task they prepared for by watching, reading, and listening to WAY too many DeVos speeches. (Note: don’t try this at home, or in close proximity to sharp objects). Their top takeaway: after 365 days, DeVos remains misunderstood and misunderestimated. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you will experience the 46 longest seconds of your life – and still have many minutes to go in the episode!
Turns out that’s not an easy question to answer. Even as the number of private schools that get taxpayer funds via school vouchers or tax credit scholarships is on the rise, few states keep any kind of tabs on what these schools are actually teaching. We talk to Rebecca Klein, education reporter for the Huffington Post, about her recent series on three popular curricula. As Klein explains, kids on the receiving end of these widely-used lessons are being schooled in an extreme religious and ideological worldview. Oh—and don’t miss Jack’s trip in the time machine to learn how US public schools were made secular in the first place.
Education reform is often referred to as the *civil rights issue of our time.* But as Noliwe Rooks, author of the new book Cutting School: Privatization, Segregation, and the End of Public Education, tells Have You Heard, today’s reformers are the latest in a lengthy tradition of profiting from an unequal education system. Rooks coined the term *segrenomics* to describe the blend of segregation and economics that dates back to the earliest days of public education. Today *segrenomics* comes with a decidedly high-tech gloss (think, for example, the huge push to get personalized learning into urban classrooms.) But as Rooks explains, the goal of finding experimental ways of educating poor students of color, while leaving the structures of segregation and inequality intact, dates way back. One of our most ear-opening episodes yet! You can also read an edited version of the interview here.
For decades, “go to college” has been sole recipe for social and economic mobility offered up by Republicans and Democrats alike. But the 2016 election revealed the limits of “college for all.” For one, only 1/3 of Americans actually have bachelors degrees, as Joan Williams points out in her new book, The White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness in America. Williams argues that higher education has become a way for professional elites to “reproduce” and transfer class status. Note: this episode is the first in a three part series exploring the question of what—and for whom—college is for.
Have You Heard: You note in your book that many professional elites occupy such a bubble that they rarely encounter people who haven’t gone to college.
Joan Williams: That’s right. When I would point out that only one-third of Americans have bachelors degrees, there were people who literally didn’t agree with me. They just said that has to be wrong. People who have to have gone to college for generations and all of their friends have graduated from college, they were just completely dumb with disbelief.
But there are a lot of very concrete reasons why working-class kids, by which I mean the true middle class, might not want to go to college. It’s economically very risky to go to college right now. It’s very expensive and a lot of people end up starting college and not finishing. They end up paying many thousands of dollars in debt while they’re earning the wages of a high school graduate. Middle and working-class kids are very well aware of that. It’s also literally harder for them to get into college with the same credentials than it is for kids of professional classes.
Have You Heard: There’s a chapter in the book about why working-class Americans don’t just move to where the jobs are. But you could ask a similar question about college: if the key to social and economic mobility is to go to an elite school, why don’t working-class kids just do that?
JW: The children of elites are trained for college intensively from a very small age. And the assumption within the family is that, of course you love your parents, but you’re going to travel hundreds or thousands of miles away to go to college. That is not the assumption in what’s called the working class but is really the middle class. There the assumption is that you will remain in your parents clique networks. These are small, rooted, geographically based networks, and the assumption is that you’ll help each other with child and elder care and home repairs and so on. And using these small clique networks composed of family and close friends basically protects people from their disadvantaged place in the market. For example, they don’t have to pay to buy the kind of childcare that you could buy for four dollars an hour. Instead grandma takes care of the kids.
In episode #31 of Have You Heard, we meet Mihir Garud, who left a job as a stockbroker to teach personal finance at a Chicago charter school. He’s also the treasurer of a union that now represents 25% of charter school teachers in the city. Garud, who sees unions as the “last brake” on a system of free market capitalism run amok, turns out to have a lot in common with the teachers in Chicago who organized the country’s first just-for-teachers union back in 1897.