In the latest episode of Have You Heard, Jack and Jennifer discuss some lesser-talked-about aspects of the recent strike by Los Angeles teachers, and what the strike means for the future of education reform. Will the teachers succeed in forcing, not just a temporary moratorium on charter schools in the second largest school district, but a different way of thinking about urban schools? And we meet a Denver teacher for a taste of the likely next #redfored hotspot.
In 1977—please don’t do the math!—I climbed aboard a school bus headed for a newly integrated school, part of an ambitious and court-ordered school desegregation experiment in Springfield, Illinois. In the latest episode, I explore what did and didn’t happen in Springfield, and why our vision of what’s possible today seems so much smaller than it did four decades ago. Complete transcript available here.
And in our special extended play version, available to our Patreon subscribers, we talk about why doing something about segregation will require re-thinking rigid metrics of school quality. To get access to extended episodes, reading lists and more, just click on this little button!
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.
Have You Heard talks to historian Harvey Kantor, the author of this excellent history, about how education came to be seen as THE fix for poverty. Hint: it all starts in the 1960’s with the advent of the Great Society programs. Fast forward to the present and our belief that education can reduce poverty and narrow the nation’s yawning inequality chasm is stronger than ever. And yet education, argues Kantor, is actually exacerbating income inequality. In episode #24, Have You Heard welcomes back co-host Jack Schneider—well, sort of!
In episode #14, Have You Heard talks to Tressie McMillan Cottom about her new book, Lower Ed, and the push to make education *risky*…
In this episode of Have You Heard, we talk to Tressie McMillan Cottom about the rise of for-profit colleges, and *risky* higher ed that saddles low-income students with debt and questionable credentials. And we discuss the growing push to make K-12 more risky, including busting up public institutions and shifting the burden of choosing an *education option* as Betsy DeVos likes to call it, onto parents. Cottom’s new book Lower Ed is a must read, and this episode of Have You Heard is a must listen. As she points out, the same free market that we’re now entrusting with the futures of kids and adolescents also gave us cheese whiz. Cottom’s book and our conversation threatened to deplete my store of adjectives (*fantastic*!) and inspired Jack to make one of his famous charts.