May 25, 2021

Jack Schneider and Jennifer Berkshire: The K-12 Culture Wars

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Schneider and Berkshire host the podcast Have You Heard, and their latest episode looks at the new culture war that has settled on public schools as a main target. In a tour around the country, the y introduce us to teachers who remind us that these culture wars are experienced up close and personally by teachers in the classroom. Just one example: Misty Crompton is a New Hampshire teacher who received the Christa McAuliffe sabbatical award  and used it to study issues of educational equity.

Berkshire So Misty has spent the past year thinking about this question: What would a more
just school system really look like?

Misty So creating a more equitable environment for both staff and students that requires us to
sort of flip things on their head a little bit and ensure that we have a system that is really not just
in a gimmicky way, student centered, that we truly are being student centered and that we are
listening deeply and authentically to students. And that we are trying to understand who they
are, you know, understand their identities and certainly listen to the stories that are out there of
people who feel that they have been excluded somehow or been harmed in some way by the
school environment. And what was it that did created that condition and what can we do to
remedy that? So that’s the part, obviously that I love just thinking about our history with people
who are different maybe than us.

Berkshire In other words, Misty was kind of living the dream. And her goal was to bring other
teachers along with her. Teachers who shared her commitment to this kind of non-gimmicky
student centered education and realized that getting there would require a big commitment.

Misty Like if you’re gonna examine equity, if there’s not like one program that you can, you
know, hire a consultant from North Carolina to come in and be like, okay, we’re going to do this
week long program. And then we’re done, this is a real commitment to, you know, examining not
only ourselves as you know, the educators, but also working together as, as in the entire school
environment, as often as possible to just examine what we’re doing, take a look at it, say, who,
who is this working for? Who might this not be working for? How can we create a better system
for students? And, and we consider that a form of progress.

Berkshire By now you’re probably thinking – well this sounds great. Something nice happens to
someone who deserves it. Alas. For months now New Hampshire has been the site of an
intense debate over some highly controversial education proposals. One would create a
ginormous private school voucher program. The other would prohibit quote the dissemination of
divisive concepts. And suddenly Misty found herself right in the middle of all that acrimony. She
became campaign fodder for some local school board candidates who actually cited her on their
campaign literature. I’m going to read it to you.

Quote Right now, a Derry teacher is training to change our social studies curriculum to teach
Critical Race Theory aka Marxist ideology in our schools with no community input. End quote.

More elected officials joined the fray, making Misty out to be on some kind of anti-American,
anti-New Hampshire mission. The experience was disturbing, but it also got her thinking about
teaching during a time of intense social division.

You can listen to the full podcast here. And if you’re not the podcast type, a full transcript of the episode is available.


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