Reimagining the Good Life with Amy Julia Becker

S3 E17 | How the Church Can Support School Reform with Nicole Baker Fulgham

October 27, 2020 Nicole Baker Fulgham Season 3 Episode 17
Reimagining the Good Life with Amy Julia Becker
S3 E17 | How the Church Can Support School Reform with Nicole Baker Fulgham
Show Notes Transcript

Do we, as a society, truly think that every child can succeed in school? Nicole Baker Fulgham, president and founder of The Expectations Project, talks with Amy Julia about the societal expectations for children in schools, the inequity within public education, and how to mobilize the church to work towards education reform.

Nicole Baker Fulgham (PhD, UCLA) is the president and founder of The Expectations Project and author of Educating All God’s Children and Schools in Crisis

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“My faith pushes me on the issues of justice and equity and serving those who have the least.”

“I believe as a Christian that God doesn’t differentiate academic potential between black and brown and white and Asian and rich and poor kids...Being in the classroom didn’t take away my firm belief in that. I just had to figure out: how do we collectively get there?”

“How do we fix the system so that we can support teachers differently, support schools and families differently, so that we can unleash that God-given potential in every kid?”

“Do we, as a society, truly think that every child can achieve? And when I say every I mean every. The child whose parents are incarcerated. The child who is homeless. The child who just immigrated here and is six years old and has to learn English first. The child whose family is struggling economically…I’m not sure that we deep down believe that about everybody….If we did, we would be investing in kids differently in our country.”

“We always want to support individuals, but we also have to look at not just the educational system that’s impacting them—institutional racism, all those things—but also those other systems outside of school.”

On the Podcast:

Thank you to Breaking Ground, the co-host for this podcast.

White Picket Fences, Season 3 of Love is Stronger Than Fear, is based on my book White Picket Fences, and today we are talking about chapter 11. Check out free RESOURCESaction guide, discussion guides—that are designed to help you respond. Learn more about my writing and speaking at

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Thanks for listening!

Note: This transcript is generated using speech recognition software and does contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

0 (3s):
Hi friends. I'm Amy Julia Becker and this is love is stronger than Fear a podcast about pursuing hope and healing in the midst of social division in the season were talking about my book White Picket Fences and today's episode takes a look at the themes of chapter 11, which has called possibilities. My guest today is Nicole Fulgham Nicole has been a champion of education Reform for many years now. And she approaches the problems of inequity in education here in America, as a black Christian woman with personal experiences and, and understanding of policy and those aspects of who she is all combined offer so much insight into what is needed in our schools today.

0 (47s):
I love the way Nicole underlines the importance of Expectations when it comes to our kids and our schools and the importance of community engagement and the importance of believing in our children in the importance of policy changes. And it's this insistence on all of these things in the ways that we can be involved in making our schools better for all kids, they make me really excited for you to meet her. Today all right. Well, my guest today is Nicole Fulgham founder and president of The Expectations Project, which I'm going to have her tell you all about, but first I just want to say, Nicole welcome.

1 (1m 28s):
Thank you so much. I appreciate you inviting me. I look forward to the conversation

0 (1m 32s):
For me to, I have followed your work for a long time, many, many years, but I'm sure that there are listeners who don't know who you are, what you do and who will be interested, especially this moment. I think having some information as well as guidance and how to think about and participate in education and public education in the United States, we'll be really helpful. So I would love to just start by asking you to tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to found The Expectations Project in what it is.

1 (2m 4s):
Sure, sure. Happy to. So I grew up in Detroit, Michigan in, in the city in what I would probably call a working class neighborhoods. So we had a few lower middle-class families working class for indefinitely, a fair amount of the people who lived in poverty. And so I saw education in inequality. You kind of outside of my front door every day, growing up my parents or a working class family, but were able to really work hard and sacrifice a lot of things to send my brother and I to a school is outside of our neighborhood. So starting from preschool, my mother majored in early childhood education in college. So she definitely knew what she was looking for for us, the patient and wrestled with whether or not to send us to our neighborhood public schools and ultimately decided to send us to an urban, the Lutheran school were schools that you, as the neighborhoods like Detroit became increasingly African-American a lot of private schools fled in the schools stayed.

1 (3m 7s):
And so they were like a kind of the next step up from the neighborhood public schools in terms of honestly quality. So there are good, but they weren't, you know, sort of this like super like Tony, you know, and to have private suburban school, but it was arguably safer. Umm, and there were something a bit more than we got, which was a huge sacrifice for my parents to do that. And I am forever grateful but sad that they had to make that choice. Right. Anyway. So at the time that I got to high school, I went to, I got accepted into an exam public high school in Detroit called a Renaissance high school. And I saw the difference between what I was getting from my friends on my block in K through eight. But I definitely saw the difference in high school.

1 (3m 48s):
I had been prepared both by my School, but also my parents to be able to get into this very competitive public high school in Detroit. And from day one, they were talking to us about, you know, sat prep and you know, taking AP classes. They assume we were all going to college because we were quote best of the best of my kids in Detroit and all 99% of us went on to college and you know, were all still friends on Facebook because I'm old Today and people are, you know, attorneys and physicians and you know, running engineering firms and sort of this amazing success of a mostly black kids from Detroit, all of them definitely not wealthy.

1 (4m 30s):
But the difference is all of my friends who didn't get into that high school, which was most of the kids are on my block. I went to the neighborhood school, which I had no AP classes at that time. No one to talk to my friends a lot about college, the entire time that we were in high school. And so about half of them dropped out my brother and I are two of three kids in our neighborhood that we know of that went on to a four-year college. And the crazy thing is that they were just as smart as I was. I am convinced smart and curious has unlimited potential, but we are going to two very different school systems within the Detroit public schools. So that really changed because of the way I looked at the world early on the other piece of information.

1 (5m 12s):
And this is a lot of background about how I got here, but I think it's good to hear people's stories. And so indulge me if you will. Absolutely. That's what I want it on it. Yeah. I mean, at the same time I was attending a church, a church with my, my family as a, as an AME church, African Methodist Episcopal church, which has a rich tradition in activism and sort of engaging in civil rights issues, you know, since its founding splitting off from the Methodist church that wouldn't allow, we were, you know, right after slavery, wouldn't allow black people to sit in at the same views as the other who are white. And so the church began. And so growing up, I saw this very large influential church repeatedly hold elected officials accountable to the things they say they're going to do when they kind of came through the congregation to shake hands and you know, wink, wink, we'd like your vote kind of thing there, pastor.

1 (6m 6s):
It was like, absolutely. Yeah, come on through. And they would have them in the next six months in front of the entire congregation asking them. And so you said you were going to do these three things. You haven't done them yet. When are you going to do them? And they like consistently called out the leadership in this city, black, white, verbal, it didn't matter. They were like you said, you are going to do it and he didn't do it. So we are going in and I'll start to protest or we are going to call your office. We are going to bring you back in front of this church that you promised these things too. And so for me, I saw that as an extension of my faith. Like my bait pushes me because it was always on the issues of like justice and equity and serving those who have the least. So those two experiences, the School inequality in growing up in a church that really put that in practice really led me to the path that I'm on today after, you know, being a public school teacher for a few years, getting my PhD in education policy because I was trying to figure out how do you change this system to make them have kids and Andy over the years is I just wanted to have to really marry these two ideas of what would it look like to have people of faith incredibly focused from there, faith lens.

1 (7m 15s):
And I am a Christian from a biblical lens focused on, of course we have a system that is right now, educating different groups, have kids based on race and class to different outcomes. And as people of faith that shouldn't be because we assume all kids have potential. What would it look like to mobilize that group of faith motivated folks and to have them push their left, that officials kind of on mass, right? To change the policies, the system and the practices, and to demand that they fix this system year after year after year more equally reflects the potential of all of that. That's what I do with The Expectations Project.

1 (7m 55s):

0 (7m 56s):
Thank you so much for giving us that story. I want to add one more piece to it or ask you to speak to one more piece of it, which is your own experiences teaching in Compton, I believe right out of college. Is that right with Teach for me?

1 (8m 9s):
Yeah, I did. Yes. I had joined teach for America M right out of college and definitely learned a lot. I think my students, I'm not sure who taught a few more in a way with a first year teachers. And I taught for a few years and taught fifth grade. And you know, that was definitely one of those life changing moments because it made me really put into practice, all the things I said, I believe, right. I said, well, you know, growing up in Detroit, I know my friends or just as smart as I am, like, why aren't we pushing them? And the same way I'm getting pushed, right? Like I believe in like, God, doesn't differentiate academic potential between black and Brown or white and Asian are rich and poor kids.

1 (8m 53s):
Like I'm not going to day right. First off. But then when you're on this side of the classroom to have to actually prove that to be the case with it changes your perspective. It doesn't take away my firm belief in that I just had to figure out how do we collectively get there? And, you know, it was a really hard, I was very fortunate to be placed that at a school that has some veteran teachers who we're, you know, at that time near the age of my parents who are quite frankly, and my grandparents took me under their wing and they were willing to let me kind of like shadowed them in the classroom for them pick their brain CRI with them. A lot of them are Christians. They prayed with me right outside of the classroom in a legal way, but this amazing community that they taught me how to engage and get to know my students, families.

1 (9m 44s):
And so my family's became partners and their kids' education. And I just was kind of naive enough to think like, actually we should be able to do this. And so we were able to be really honest with kids and families about where they were academically. And then in fact, like two thirds of my kids were reading at, you know, probably a second grade level or below in fifth grade, some work at functionally illiterate and the same with math really below grade level. And so I was honest with them, with their families, not in a blaming way, but just we've got work to do. And so people got on board and I got lots of volunteers from my church at the time community members to help us do extra tutoring because my kids needed more time to catch up.

1 (10m 25s):
But it really was this amazing thing. It was, I mean, I'm glossing over it, you know, a lot's of like tears prayer's, you know, mistakes failure's. But at the end of the year, my fifth graders on a standardized test, it had the most academic growth of any fifth grade class in Compton for a brand new teacher is sort of crazy. And I don't say that to say like, Oh my gosh, I was like an amazing teacher because I probably wasn't. Right. I was just sort of like naive enough to like try a bunch of things. And I had the energy of, you know, I don't know a journal, right? So it was 80 hours a week. Things that in reality are just not sustainable to be a teacher that way for 30 years. It's not.

1 (11m 5s):
So I don't judge other teachers who aren't doing those things, but it was this beautiful thing to see. So many of my students in their families see, Oh my gosh, I've had students say, I didn't think I was smart until this year. And that is like what our role is supposed to be. And so for me, it's like, well then how do we, as part of our life as a classroom, was it that's one classroom? How do we fix the system? Right. That it can allow more of that to happen, to support teachers differently, to deport support schools and families differently. So we can unleash that God given potential in every kid.

0 (11m 38s):
Yeah. I So resinate with that. One of the reasons I wanted to have you on the show is because I've been walking through during this podcast season, my book White Picket Fences and the chapter that we're kind of on is called possibilities. And it's a chapter that I wrote about our daughter Penney and the possibility's that opened up for her as a child with a disability within the school system. And I've just been so struck as I've watched her earlier this week, we had a PPT meeting for her, and then you got this team of people and I'm just so aware of how much they believe in her. They believe in her abilities and they certainly are going to make accommodations based on her needs.

0 (12m 23s):
And they're going to give her the support that she needs, but they really do believe in her. And in watching that and in watching the difference, honestly, she's had teachers before were in a dance class, for example, she's gone had the same class, but different teachers and one teacher will write me and say, penny got tired after 20 minutes and she couldn't continue the class. And then I'll talk to the other teacher. Who's teaching the same lesson on another day. And, and she'll say no to a penny has never gotten tired and it really came down to you believe she can do it. So I just saw it in, I re-read your book in preparing for this interview today, which I'll just mention here for people who are interested called Educating all God's children.

0 (13m 7s):
And I was struck by that same thing of just like what you just said about the student who was like, I never believed I was smart. Like I never knew that. And you believed that, right. You actually believed what you had said, theoretically must be true about your neighborhood. It's like, okay, I'm going to actually live that out. And so I wanted to ask you to, just to talk a little bit as I think about not just the, you know, kids with disabilities, but other kids who are on the margins for other reasons, and who are vulnerable, especially when it comes to education for other reasons, what do you think are like societal expectations are for those kids and how do we begin to change the expectations? Right. I'm thinking of The Expectations Project and why you even called it.

1 (13m 49s):
That definitely that, and that's exactly the reason, because for me, it was such a differentiator at that school high school that I attended, you know, honestly, like I think we, if we dug deep down in sort of honestly, and like a, the depth of our soul, I say we, as a society, we want to ask ourselves, do we truly think that every child can achieve, right? And then when I say every I mean every like The child, whose parents are incarcerated The child who is homeless The child who just immigrated here and is six years old and has to learn English first, right. The child whose family is struggling economically, who doesn't have, you know, the clean clothes that we, you know, sort of a think that I should have whatever the thing is.

1 (14m 38s):
I don't think we do. And, and it's hard to acknowledge that as a country, because at this wonderful likes sort of a bumper sticker slogan write, like all kids can achieve, like everyone has potential and is great, but like, we need to do the deep soul searching and say like, it's okay to kind of acknowledge, like, I'm not sure that I believe that. Right. And it is that we don't 'cause we see so many messages reinforcing that, right? Like we don't see messages reinforcing these, you know, superstar stories have kids with every like seeming, you know, every possible disadvantage is succeeding.

1 (15m 18s):
They will seem like almost one in a million. Right. And, and for good reason, like it's harder. Right? Like, I don't think, I mean, I'm very clear that, you know, the child that I'm raising, you know, is going to have different advantages even than I did write it as a, as a youngster in, so like I'm IX, there's a, there's an expectation people probably have of her, you know, race aside she's African-American as a My, but there, there are some assumptions, right. That she'd be able to achieve, but I'm just not sure that we deep down believed that about everybody. And the reason I'd say that is because if we did, we would be investing in kids differently in our country. Like we just like we are.

0 (15m 56s):
And I totally agree. I I'm thinking of, I remember it was when penny was really little that I read the line, the soft bigotry of low expectations.

1 (16m 6s):
And in fact it was like a punch in the gut. Right. Like it resonates. And that's the thing, like, I wrestled with that as a teacher and I came in with absolutely. But when you get in the thick of it, right. And you're like, Oh my gosh, like I know that. And I've had students who had some, you know, they experienced trauma. Some of my students, you know, during the school year with family things that happened. And you're like, wow, okay. So that's just happened. And I'm asking you to focus on fractions on Monday morning. And I know that it happened in your house over the weekend. Right. It's not that I, I still had to help them focus on fractions. Right. Because that was the, long-term what they needed. But I also, can you do that and make sure that the family has the social services or counseling support they need through the school or through the County.

1 (16m 52s):
Right. Like both things can be true. But what we often do is in not just because we are biased or like it's our own bigotry or prejudices, it's this, it's out of like sympathy that we can sort of fall into this. Like, Oh my gosh. But I couldn't expect them to do that because there's so much, and it's like, get them the help they may need. But also like, they still need to learn fractions because like that matters too. And like, who are we to say that they don't get the right to learn it, but, but again, like at the end of the day, if we truly believe that every kid would succeed, you wouldn't see, you go into schools now, you know, suburban and urban schools and just the facilities, everything is so dramatically different.

1 (17m 33s):
You wouldn't see that type of inequality. If we truly believe that every kid can achieve it, you just wouldn't. Yeah.

0 (17m 40s):
And again, my like little, you know, a Petri dish has been my own household as far as watching the same, be true when it comes to our daughter, because there again can be low expectations and high expectations. And she's got similar to what you described in terms of your kids, like a ton of social support from her family and community that plenty of kids don't have, but there is still that sense of if our attitude towards her is that we believe in her certainly in terms of her potential to learn, but also her potential to contribute. Because I think that's part of it too, is like, what if we assume that she has someone who is going to give to our society and we don't know exactly how, but what if we assume that about every kid, all the kids that you described as well, who I think we often assume are going to just take from our society, which is absolutely not true and does not honor the image of God in them whatsoever.

0 (18m 34s):
And I wanted to ask you about, you have written about a history of how Christians have been involved in educational initiatives in Reform in the past. So I'd love for you, if you can't just do a sketch it a little bit of what the history is, but then also talk about the contemporary moment, our churches, our Christians involved in public education reform and why or why not so past and present. Could you just speak to that a bit? Sure.

1 (19m 1s):
Yeah. I mean, it's so, so many of the, the public schools are at the beginning of schools in America were largely Protestants present in communities that were founding them. There was, there was a, a, a deep belief that, you know, Educating young people, particularly a lot of these Protestant communities reached out to immigrants, right? That, that was an important part of their calling. Now, granted, they were doing it because they wanted to make sure that people knew Jesus, right. That was the main, the rest of it. Like oftentimes the educational texts where, you know, religious documents on. So we can, we can discuss that at some other point, but there was also a belief that people needed to be literate and contributing members of society, which that part, I definitely, you know, adhere to that over time, that lessened right as schools became like truly public.

1 (19m 48s):
And then there was the massive debate over a prayer in schools, et cetera, the place where I would say like the conservative Christian White conservative Christians really fell down on this promise was when schools were being desegregated in the sixties. And that is this really, really disturbing moment for a lot of, of, of more conservative white denominations that started all of these quote unquote Christian Academy's. And I say quote-unquote because like the root was pretty wicked. Y many of them were started. I'm sure they'll talk to you this, but the route was, it was, it was pretty foul starting. These are all white Christian academies to ensure that there are white children, didn't have to go to school with black and Brown kids.

1 (20m 30s):
And so that is, you know, one of those parts of our history that we don't like to talk about it as much, but it's part of our story. It also leads to why we've had, you know, in some communities resistance when churches now write, want to get involved in this is changing a bit, I would say, but there are communities that remember that history. And so I'm more skeptical right. Of, of Christians wanting to get involved. I also think, as I say, in the, in the book there in some communities, Christians are known more for getting involved in public schools to push sort of religious issues and to be sort of counter cultural, whether it's, you know, a protest and removal of prayer and Schools or questions about, you know, curriculum dealing with sexuality issues or what not.

1 (21m 11s):
And, you know, my take is if that's your, because by all means like a champion your costs. I think the sad part is that we are often known more for that in connection to the schools, then Being partner that wants to come in and say, Oh my gosh, kids are struggling with the families are struggling. How do we support this school? I would say the good news. It was like that tide has turned, I would say in a lot of communities in the last, you know, 10 or 15 years. So we do see so many more congregations that are taking on trying to develop really honest symbiotic partnerships with public schools and just coming in and saying, Hey, do you want to be helpful? What do you need? Which has always the best way to be a partner in any context from my experience, which has been exciting.

1 (21m 53s):
So I think where were we are still growing? Is that last step of how do we sort of over time a limit as that? I like to say it eliminate the ne the need for every Church to need to tutor our kids, to get them ready for kindergarten, because there's no pre-school in our community that is affordable for families to saying like, actually, if we would organize advocate and speak truth to power to get the affordable quality pre-school for everybody, like long-term, that's going to impact thousands of kids instead of the 20 kids where tutoring, right. Thousands of kids will then have what they need to be ready for kindergarten. We can maybe still tutor to, to like, make it even better, but it's the systemic change.

1 (22m 36s):
The system, the policy's the practice is the funding mechanisms. That's a place where I think we're on the cutting edge. Umm, and can step more into that space. And the last thing I'll say is when Christians on math and I say this the broad strokes, let me caveat caveat. There are plenty of Christian denominations that have been doing this work for years. They typically are denomination's of color, particularly black communities engaged in education policy, you know, from the civil rights movement. On so I want to make sure I acknowledge that history, but from a broad strokes contemporary space, I think there's a lot of us who have been involved in policies around vouchers for a private schools for obvious reason, right? Lots of us to send our kids to a private or Christian schools or have them in our church's.

1 (23m 20s):
And so that's a self-interest we have, and also, you know, potentially a belief that parents should be able to be free to choose with with government tax dollars, where are they send their children So but lots of, lots of opportunity for us to, to engage in the, the policy reform. And I think we shouldn't, we shouldn't let those opportunities go by when this system is so broken and so not reflective of the kingdom of God for, for all of his kids. Yeah. So I had a of questions based

0 (23m 46s):
On what you just said. And one is just that I feel like, especially in Christian circles, there's a tension that comes up between this idea of like individual responsibility and structural concerns. So our schools are failing and our kids falling behind because of systemic racism and structural inequality or are they failing? And school is failing kids falling behind because individuals aren't doing what they should be doing. And I hear this debate come up in a different language and in different ways, but, and I tend to think it's a false dichotomy, but I'd still love to hear just what you have to say to Christians about the relationship between individual responsibility.

0 (24m 30s):
And this is more a structural or a systemic problem that we see in various ways, but especially in schools.

1 (24m 37s):
Oh, that's a great question. It, it is a constant ongoing discussion in part because there are, there are truths on both sides. Right. And, and I liked in this, I'm sure it was for some people who, when they talk to me about these issues, I tend to see the, the gray in between usually because things are not as stark as we want to kind of put people in the bucket, you believe this or that. And it's like, well, if only we were that simple. All right. Yeah. So, so on this one, I think there is, there is space and movement needed on both sides. I think when I look at what is going to move the needle more for a larger number of people, I look at it from a systems perspective, right?

1 (25m 19s):
Again, that analogy, I get a whiff, we can tutor kids' for the next one, a hundred years and tutor 20 kids to get them ready for kindergarten are going to get quality pre-school for an entire state that didn't have it. They had no funding for poor families previously. And then it's like, Oh, a a hundred thousand kids now. And it does it make the policy perfect. Write all sorts of implementation challenges. We all know that, right. But it's, it's a, a root it's getting at the root issue is where do I like to come at things from personally? So are there places where individual families may need more support? Of course, like, you know, we are both parents. We know that there is always, it feels like more we can do to support our own in this work.

1 (26m 1s):
But I also recognize the putting all of that responsibility on an individual families in it's, usually parents, they get blamed. I hear this a lot. What if the parents cared more about education for the kids cared more of X, Y, and Z happening. And its like, well, so that's try to put ourselves in the position of a family who is struggling to make ends meet whether it's a single, a two parent family, grandma, auntie whomever, if they are working, you know, two or three jobs, right. Don't have paid time off to go up to school. So we can meet with the teacher at two o'clock in the afternoon, which is a privilege that a lot of families don't have, like let's start linking all of these systems together outside of school are impacting an individual families, options and choices.

1 (26m 47s):
Right. And how is that impacting? Not how much they care, but what they're able to do and put into practice that fully reflects how much they actually do care because I have never met up here and he's like, I could care less if my kid graduates from high school. Like, I mean, I haven't met that person. So that's why for me like, yes, we always want to support individuals, but we also have to look at not just the educational system that's impacting them and the institutional racism, all of those things, but also the other systems outside of school that are impacting their ability to kind of execute on all of the beliefs that they have about why education matters so much. I mean, I think we see that now in a time of COVID like loud and clear, right?

1 (27m 29s):
The fact that we all of a sudden had to start doing virtual learning and there were parents who did not have a high speed internet and didn't have a laptop for their kids. Like millions of the parents don't have to have that. Right. And I think they're going back to this a little, if you can, parents who have two, you know, whose kids, schools aren't opening because of, you know, spikes and COVID and they have to stay home and do learning if the child has seven in is on zoom calls. But my mom and dad drive as a bus, a city bus, and they have to go out to drive that bus, to get the paycheck, to pay the rent, like tell me how that's going to work. Right. So it's like that. So those are the types of that, that I hope people can continue to connect and our churches to realize like, Oh, there's, there is the system thing that actually matters to you.

0 (28m 15s):
Yeah. I've actually one of the things that has gotten me particularly engaged in education these days has been recognizing last March that my kids were able to go immediately on to zoom for a couple of different reasons. One, they had been issued Chromebooks by their Schools. So there were already familiar as we were there, teachers too, we had multiple rooms in our home where we could spread out and Each be on different devices and it wasn't perfect. It's like, Oh, we have an old laptop and sometimes zoom crashes or somebody on a phone, but nevertheless, they were able to do it. And I was so aware that tens of thousands of kids just in my home state of Connecticut were not able to keep learning.

0 (29m 1s):
And it was like, well, whose fault is that? And certainly not the children's fault. Yeah. So I feel like this moment has just really like been like a magnifying glass are a spotlight on the inequities that we're already present, but it has certainly drawn my attention even more to it that said one thing I wanted to ask you about. So I think the were talking before this episode will actually air and it's the day before the final presidential debate. So I've watched the first debate. Yeah, can't wait. And the VP debate. But what I noticed in the two debates that have already been happened and the one that's happening tomorrow, I looked up the topics like education is not mention, I think Kamala Harris like made a reference to the fact that there were kids who are not learning, but it was like a passing comment.

0 (29m 48s):
And again, I looked at the list of topics for tomorrow is debate and education is not on the docket. So especially in this moment, I'm just curious, do you have an opinion on like, why are our national leaders are not talking about education and reforming education and like actually helping to change this as well?

1 (30m 5s):
Yeah. You know, it is, it is tragic, right. Because I feel like we went through this moment, right. The four schools were in this school year was as opposed to begin when life that was like, you know, the topic does you're right. Everyone from, you know, the president of the United States on down, you know, had opinions on, you know, what school should be doing in the open up or not. And so we had this like little window where I was like, Oh my gosh, it's actually coming front and center. So it was really only like a political sort of discussion. Right. And kind of a political point scoring for it for a national dialog. So I think we're back to this place now where people are just kind of hunkering down and you know, it's just incredibly complicated.

1 (30m 46s):
And my theory is that no one actually knows what to really do about it. Right. So that dilemma I gave, you know, a few moments about the little child who has to go to school virtually who's parents have to leave the house to work. Like I have asked that question in so many spaces have like policymakers think tanks and like, so it was anyone figuring out where that kid's gonna, what that is going to do all day. But I wouldn't want to my seven year old, a year old at home zooming by herself. Right. Like that's not a day like a depressing, a whole host of things. Right. And it's one of those things where like, no one's sort of knows. And I almost feel like right now everyone recognizes that is such a, S spiraling, downward, like a challenge that has multiple layers that I almost feel like people have kind of given up on the public sphere or even talking about it because I feel like we're almost resound.

1 (31m 37s):
We are almost given up on this idea that we can get it right this year. And it's a moment that we know very clear that certain groups of kids are going to come out fine. You know, parents who have the ability to, you know, pay for private tutors are a pandemic pot or whatever. Right. And, and no judgement on that, right. People are going to do what they're going to do for their kids. It's just that we do, we know that the gap's are going to be wider. And I, I just have a sneaking suspicion that no one wants to talk about it for that reason. And Oh, by the way, it's always like the left behind topic that no one wants to talk about it in any presidential election here. And sadly like, this is, this is another one. And it's, you know, were just shortsighted honestly, as a nation.

1 (32m 19s):
Like we want to talk about the topic and not realize like, if we don't fix this particular problem, like we're losing the generations of kids in our country, like stature and ability to be affective as a nation. It, you know, literally like, you know, as one of my friends says, it's like a national security issue. Right. If we don't think about it globally, like, and we don't fix this and have a completely like massive, you know, uneducated population of, of young people are in this country, like we are going to have major problems, but again, we'd have to have the longitudinal view to really take that on. And we just historically haven't as a country.

0 (32m 57s):
Yeah. I think that's all true where it's always been left behind it. And then we've got the current moment where it's like, I really don't want to talk about that because its just a hard and a bad situation right now. I want it back up a little bit and ask you to, just to describe what The Expectations Project actually does. I realized, I didn't ask you to elaborate on how your organization functions and what you're doing to really be a game changing force in this whole equation.

1 (33m 27s):
Yeah. I'm So we are the nation's largest network of faith motivated education equity advocates, which is fun to be able to say after laboring over this 11 organizations since 2012. Yeah. That's amazing. And it's really exciting. So our work is to educate, equip, and then mobilize faith constituent's so people of faith around the country to take tangible actions, to hold elected officials accountable, to push them for policy change on the issues that matter most for, for equity for all kids, it sounds like a mouthful, but it really, when you boil it down, it is right now we have a network of about 50,000 individual people of faith who are doing all sorts of things that are advocacy action.

1 (34m 13s):
So e-mailing members of Congress are the state house at our school board on something. They want to see a change making phone calls, letter writing campaigns, petition signing, doing public comment, you know, used to be in person at school board meetings now is virtually on pieces of legislation in issues. And so that's sort of the action piece, right? And so those things might seem miniscule, but they actually add up into real change, like any elected official. If they get, especially at the local level, a a a hundred people calling them about an issue, there are like, Oh shoot, I guess I should pay attention to that. And so we identify places where they're are relevant issues or policies coming up that have the potential to be game changer.

1 (34m 56s):
So we did a whole campaign at Indiana a few years ago on getting state funding for low income families to have preschool in this. You had mentioned a couple of times already and there wasn't any. And so we believe that in other organizations did as well that if we can rally people to keep speaking about this, obviously our folks who are talking about it from there, their faith and values perspective as well. And if we get the attention of the people that have to make the decisions and you know, for lack of a better word, pester them enough and really help them see our perspective that laws and practices will change. And that did in Indiana, they passed the first ever a piece of state legislation to allow low-income families to access funding for preschool.

1 (35m 37s):
And so it changed the game for tens of thousands of families, right? We were doing that on school discipline issues. When we see black kids are four times as likely to get suspended from schools nationwide. And so we're digging into why is that the case and our, how do we flip that to have more restorative justice practices, which aligned very much for our beliefs as Christian's. And so we are, you know, having our advocates, our are taking action, you know, phone calls, emails, petitions, et cetera, to really shift the conversation around that. So when policies come up for a vote, whether it's, you know, eliminating the practice of suspending kindergarteners and preschoolers, which is amazing to me that that actually happens, but I'm and putting in place funding and teacher training for restorative justice, which is helping kids like have still have consequences, but in a loving, like let's restore the relationship's and get to the root of why the child is misbehaving.

1 (36m 35s):
That's a very different than simply suspending them. And so that's the work that we do. It involves a lot of educating people on issues. So we do lots of trainings and now they're all, you know, webinars, of course we create a small group Bible studies on various topics, prayer guides for congregations to, to use a sermon talking points for pastors, right. To get the education out there. And then we have these tangible ways that our constituents can get involved to really change what's happening in their local community. And you know, it just this past summer, I guess the last like four or five months when COVID, we shifted a lot of our work to that, that piece, we've had our constituents have taken over 64,000 individual actions in the last few months on a variety of education issues.

1 (37m 20s):
And they've seen, you know, that they've gotten the attention of their elected officials and just the way that we'd hope they would. It's a very exciting, we have lots of power and voice lets use it.

0 (37m 29s):
And so if someone wants to get involved, would that be as an individual, as a church community? Like what, what would that look like if someone's listening to this and wants to know either broadly, like I just want to get involved in changing education in America. What can I do or specifically I want to get involved in The Expectations Project what would that look like?

1 (37m 49s):
Absolutely. So I'm, if you want it to get involved with the Expectations project, go to our website and sign up for our email list. We don't spam you. I promise we're a small organization. You're not going to get 5,000 emails a week from us, but we will then get you connected to ways that you can take action in your local community. It's we make it as easy for you as possible because we know everyone's busy, but you can find a way to, you know, attend a webinar or if you want to or read more about a policy and then take some very specific, fairly easy to do actions locally. So we encourage that as one step. We also have resources for congregations that we want to learn more. I think I referenced, you know, small group Bible studies, which will be a virtual now I'm sure for many congregations weighs for congregation's to kind of self-assess how equity has happening in their local, a local communities.

1 (38m 40s):
And then come to a conclusion on, you know, one to three issues, which one do they want to do more to educate their own congregation about. We're also happy to be a resource to talk that through. We do lots of, you know, a quick phone calls in consultancies with congregations who we're like, we want to do this. We're not sure what to do next. So that's part of what we do as well.

0 (38m 59s):
Yeah, that's awesome. Well, I will make sure that just that information gets into the show notes so that people can have follow up because I have certainly found as I have become more engaged even just in the past six months in issues around educational justice here in Connecticut, that really, my knowledge was much broader than it was deep. So I knew a lot about kind of education and America and it's like, well, what about education in your town in New York County? And you know, the local places where you actually could make a difference and certainly your congregation can make a difference because as much as I bemoan, like I really wished that our national leaders were talking about and making reforms when it comes to education the same time it's on the local level in terms of town by town and state, by state where a lot of that change and transformation really can happen.

0 (39m 51s):
So thank you for being a leader in that.

1 (39m 54s):
No, that's exactly right. And I know the national, you know, politics, you know, that takes up a lot of oxygen. You do it, it has for the last several years, but you're exactly right. You know, so even if things are happening at the national level, you know, that our constituents are, you know, sometimes frustrated about, you know, depending on the issue we always had to pivot pull back. So that actually doesn't preclude us from looking at what's happening in our state, our city, our district, because it's honestly easier to move the needle because you're like a bigger fish in a smaller pond, right? Like a a hundred people are calling their state representative on an issue actually will get their attention because they don't often get that type of, of attention if a, a a hundred people to try to email the, you know, the secretary of education, or there are a Senator in Congress, a lot harder to get their attention.

1 (40m 40s):
You are going to need like a thousand people, right. Or 10,000. Right. And so like local politics matter and or it should say it not even in politics, local policies and decision-makers matter.

0 (40m 52s):
All right. Well, thank you so much for the work that you are doing. It's really exciting to hear about how that has grown and obviously it to even get a sense of the thousands and tens of thousands of people who really do care about these issues. And I hope that just having had this conversation, they'll be a few more who get on board. Yeah. I'm really grateful for all the work you do and for your time today.

1 (41m 14s):
Thank you. It was my pleasure. Thanks for M having this conversation and for, to, to keep us in the conversation, go in and anyone who has, you know, questions or wants to connect to us, please feel free to do so. We definitely want to be a resource for all who were interested. Partly you tell us your website one more time. Yes. It's a, Expectations with an

0 (41m 31s):
Awesome. All right. Thanks. Nicole and I look forward to talking to you again sometime. All right. Take care. Thanks so much for listening to love is stronger than fear. I do want to let you know about what's coming. We have a couple of really fantastic upcoming episodes, and I'm sure you don't want to miss them. I certainly don't. I'm going to be talking with Andy crouch next week about love and power and vulnerability. It's going to come out. It's going to be released on election day, even though we will record that conversation beforehand. And I think it won't be a helpful guide to what promises to be an intense day for our nation. So please join me for that. And then the following week, I'll be talking with David Bailey.

0 (42m 12s):
Some of you may remember him from the first episode of this season, and we will be talking about what faithful love justice and reconciliation work looks like. And by then will know who will know something about this election. And we will be talking about what love and justice and reconciliation work looks like no matter what is happening in the political sphere. I'll tell you this for two reasons to give you a sense of where we're headed, but also as a prompt, if you have not subscribed to this podcast, please do please share it with friends. Please rate it, review it. All of that will help more people become aware of what's going on here, because these are conversations for people who care about nuanced arguments, who care about compassion, who care about working together across dividing lines.

0 (42m 56s):
And if you are a listener already, and then I suspect you now, more people who care about these things and who would benefit from these conversations as I certainly do a week after week. Thanks so much again for listening and for being here. And I do, as you go into your day today, I hope and pray that you will carry with you. The peace that comes from believing

2 (43m 19s):
That love is stronger than fear.