Ep. 163: Mean Tweets with Jen Wagner and Drew Catt

March 3, 2020

In the second episode of our Mean Tweets series, Jen Wagner and Drew Catt read tweets and offer commentary and insight regarding some of the top issues in education.

Jen Wagner: Welcome to our second edition of Mean Tweets with your friends here at EdChoice. I’m Jen Wagner, our VP of Communications. I’m joined by our researcher extraordinaire, Drew Catt, whose title is way too long for me to remember. We’re going to go through all the things that people say about us on social media. Spoiler alert, people aren’t very nice. They say really mean stuff to us. It doesn’t hurt our feelings or we wouldn’t be here. We’re going to start with some real classics, right? Some really highbrow critiques of our Twitter and Facebook channel. Without further ado…

Drew Catt: Here’s a nice Zoolander reference, @DerelictMy tweeted, “@ShaneAlanHarden @JasonBedrick, @EdChoice @CitizensStewart Umm nothing you said is true.”

I don’t know if that’s true.

Jen Wagner: Is that true, Drew? Is nothing we say true?

Drew Catt: It’s all relative.

Jen Wagner: Oh my gosh. Are we a bunch of liars? Drew, you’re not allowed to come back on this podcast. You’re in data and research.

Drew Catt: What is truth?

Jen Wagner: I don’t know. We could ask @DerelictMy, with his Zoolander photo.

Drew Catt: Yeah, data is data is data is data is data. A number is a number. You can’t say that, like we don’t use those imaginary numbers to come up with our research or anything. They’re real numbers. Some of them have more places after the decimal than others, but it’s all real.

Jen Wagner: No fake news here. All right, so thank you for that great insight, DerelictMy. All right, so one of our fan faves, @ShaneAlanHarden, over on Twitter says, “Thanks. However, there’s a better chance of me taking a cheese grater to my forehead before I listen to your propaganda podcast.”

I think that we should start a propaganda podcast. I feel pretty good about that alliteration. Nice job, Shane.

It just makes my head hurt.

Drew Catt: Yeah. How many layers of your epidermis do you think you could get off with the cheese creator before you pass out? I don’t know, let’s ask him.

Jen Wagner: It’s a research question. Let’s do a report on it. Let’s ask Shane to come in and say, “How’d that work out for you, bud?” He’s probably not listening to or watching this video podcast, which is a real shame for him, because he features prominently.

Drew Catt: Yeah. It’s not often that you get mentioned on YouTube.

Jen Wagner: It’s true. It’s true. My seven year old thinks I’m famous.

Drew Catt: @bakkedduck tweeted, “@JasonBedrick @HauberBilly @edchoice @CitizensStewart Because I, as a tax-payer, should not have to pay for your child to go where you want to send them. People also need to stop using higher ed as a comparison model. They are apples and oranges in the intended purposes.

Ah, OK.

Jen Wagner: I believe that should be “for the intended purposes,” but we don’t get, we don’t correct people here. What do you say? Are we inappropriately comparing K-12 to higher ed? Actually, we never compare K-12 to higher ed, but why should @bakkedduck not have to pay for each child to go anywhere?

Drew Catt: I mean, doesn’t he or she or he/she or they or this individual …

Jen Wagner: The duck.

Drew Catt: Yeah. Doesn’t this duck already pay into multiple school districts through their state taxes? Don’t they also pay into whatever district they were able to purchase a house or inherited house from? Yeah, I don’t think they understand that the property tax dollars don’t go anywhere. They stay. You put the property tax dollars in with the local tax dollars, they stay there.

Jen Wagner: This one also, this one tweaks me a little bit. It gets me a little bit, maybe it’s because I’m becoming more libertarian the longer that I work here. I don’t want to pay for your child to go to the school that works best for your child. No, you should want a system where every child has access to the school that works for him and her, him or her rather. It seems kind of weird to me that this person is like, “No, no, not paying into that system. Only going to pay into this really antiquated system where the kid can go where the kid lives unless the kid’s family has enough money to send the kid to a private school or go somewhere else.” That seems kind of crazy, just saying.

Drew Catt: Yeah, I mean, we’re talking systems and systems theory, when you get down to it, the only role of a system once it’s been around for a long enough is self-preservation.

Jen Wagner: True story. @chuckazooloo says at a bunch of people, “Posted earlier in the thread, but it doesn’t matter. They only care about their Milton Friedman induced ‘free market.’ A free market that is bolstered by unaccounted for tax money given, so Sup[erintendent] of charter schools with populations of less than 300 kids can make $250k.”

I don’t know. I don’t know about that. What do you think Milton?

I don’t know where that number came from. Is that something you’ve encountered in your research, Drew?

Drew Catt: I don’t research charter schools.

Jen Wagner: Oh, they are a part of the school choice portfolio.

Drew Catt: Yeah, they’re part of the school choice portfolio and umbrella. When we talk about choice for all, that is definitely included. Yeah, but if you’re talking about Milton Friedman and charter schools in the same breath, there’s a disconnect there. Not that Milton wasn’t necessarily the biggest fan of the charter schools.

Jen Wagner: For those who don’t know, obviously Milton Friedman was the founder of our foundation, that is what founders do, I guess, they found foundations and looked at as the godfather of the modern school choice movement. What did he believe?

Drew Catt: Well, it’s the decoupling of the funding from the operation. Hey, if you give the money to the person or entity that’s operating it, there may be some conflict of interest going on. They may not spend it the best if they’re taking all the money and deciding how it’s working.

Jen Wagner: Yeah, that was what he was for.

Drew Catt: Yeah.

Jen Wagner: OK. Oh, I don’t know. Pineapple upside down tweet here. All right.

Drew Catt: That was a good one, yeah. I enjoyed that.

Jen Wagner: Thanks, yeah. You’re welcome.

Drew Catt: @ohiogirl5472 tweeted @edchoice, “Clearly a political group with a socialist agenda. Using teachers and students as political pawns.”

Does that make me a rook?

Jen Wagner: In one breath we are libertarian conservatives in the style of Milton Friedman, and in the next tweet we are a bunch of socialists using teachers to further our political agenda. I don’t know. Your wife is a teacher. She’s lovely. I don’t think we’ve ever used her to further an agenda.

Drew Catt: No, she’s come to some of our events and enjoyed it.

Jen Wagner: Yeah, my parents were public school teachers. Have not used them to further our agenda. I just, how can we be both socialists and conservative libertarians, libertarian conservatives, libertarian nibs.

Drew Catt: It’s a split-brain issue.

Jen Wagner: Yeah. Yeah. Sorry, Ohio Girl. I think you may be a little off base on this one. Also, we are nonprofit, nonpolitical. We don’t take sides. We just have a whole lot of people here who really believe in a whole bunch of different things, but all agree on school choice.

Drew Catt: Yeah, and a lot of people love politics and a lot of people politics are just eh, but overall we’re nonpartisan. It’s very important.

Jen Wagner: @Makeita.Journey on Twitter says, “I’m certainly not against choice,” which is always an opening for but, “but this is exploitation, right? Conflating the unchallenged personal identity story of a minor to make a larger political point about education policy is stupid. Convince me with something beyond anecdotes.”

As it turns out, you’re a researcher, so convince me with something beyond anecdotes.

Drew Catt: Well, I always have all this data. Then people say that, “Oh, well you’re using the wrong data,” or, “You’re slicing it the wrong way.” What does it? Do you want data? Do you want anecdotes? Do you want both? Because if you’re not going to be convinced by one or the other and you’re not convinced by both, then what are we doing?

Jen Wagner: Yeah, I don’t know. Also, I don’t usually, I may be an outlier here, I don’t usually go to Twitter for data. I don’t find a lot of data analysts making compelling arguments on Twitter. I find a lot of anecdotes, much like @Makeita.Journey is making here. Look, the bottom line is we, yeah, we do. If you want to visit our website at edchoice.org, click on that research tab, you will find so much data, it will blow your mind. Guessing that none of these folks did that. Maybe they did, but also if you want really compelling anecdotes, talk to anyone who’s ever used a school choice program or exercise old-fashioned school choice to get their kid into a school that works for them, and this amazing thing happens. They become true believers because it truly works for them. Sorry that we don’t have more data on Twitter, Makeita, but the anecdotes are pretty compelling too.

Drew Catt: If you want a really good anecdote, go ask your parents why you went to the school that you went to. Might be good.

Jen Wagner: True. They probably moved, maybe moved, maybe paid tuition, maybe you just got lucky. You were already in a good school district.

This is one of my favorites @lib_crusher, could be liberty, could be libertarian, could be liberal, unclear. “@edchoice Shut up scabs.” Again, when I read these I always read them in the voice of my 12 year old when she’s mad at me. It makes my life a little cheerier.

Drew Catt: Wait, what definition of “scabs” do you think they’re using here?

Jen Wagner: I don’t know. Could be like the more union oriented. It could just be what grows on your finger after you get a paper cut. Just unclear. This is the kind of highbrow dialogue that we are used to on our social media channels, so we really appreciate all that positive, really affirming feedback that we get.

Drew Catt: If you can’t take name calling, then what are you doing on social media.

@90RedDragon tweeted, “@edchoice @MQ_McShane Charter school parasites.”

I haven’t seen that new Parasite movie. I’ve heard it’s really good though.

Jen Wagner: I don’t know. Are you guys all you crawling on? Are you eating the public school system?

Drew Catt: Are we the lice on the head of charter schools?

Jen Wagner: Oh, that’s a good question. Or charter schools are the parasites or are parasitic? I don’t know. This one, Red Dragon, man, I needed you to just put a little more context here.

Drew Catt: Yeah.

Jen Wagner: Yeah.

Drew Catt: Yeah, maybe next time use five to seven words instead of three words, so we know where you’re coming from.

Jen Wagner: Yeah, you got more characters, right? Twitter gives you more space. Or put like a graphic, fun GIF, that’d be good. We would understand better. That’s really what we’re here for is to understand where your anger comes from and help you work through it. Actually, this is how we work through it. This is our therapy.

Kent Slonaker over on Facebook, Kent has a question, “How much does Betsy DeVos pay y’all?” Which I appreciate that y’all is spelled correctly. Sometimes people do “ya’ll” on social media. That’s a huge pet peeve of mine. So, Kent, the answer is zero, but you get mad props for spelling y’all correctly.

Drew Catt: Well, I enjoy their use of y’all.

Jen Wagner: Me too, yeah.

Drew Catt: Me, personally, as an individual, and us as an organization, the answer is zero. Now are we talking about Betsy DeVos as an individual or are we talking about Betsy DeVos as a government employee? Because the answer’s still zero.

Jen Wagner: Still zero. Yeah. Yeah, Betsy DeVos, secretary of education, oftentimes we’ll have people come up to us at booths when we go to conferences. They’ll say, “Oh, that’s that.” Sometimes they say Betsy DeVos, which is how you pronounce her name. Sometimes they say Betsy Dev-iss, which is not correct. They’ll say, “Oh, that’s that Betsy DeVos or Dev-iss thing, that school choice thing.” We often times have to correct them and say, “No, that’s the Milton Friedman thing.” 1955 long time ago, long before Betsy DeVos was on the scene. But yeah, the answer is nothing.

Drew Catt: @reuwell tweeted, “@edchoice @AEIeducation Why do I have a feeling this,” school choice, “will have racist, sexist, and classist results? This hurts everyone.”

It would if it did, but it doesn’t.

Well, now we can talk about the research.

Jen Wagner: Yes.

Drew Catt: We have this wonderful publication called The 123s of School Choice. Now, we don’t necessarily get into anything sexist, but we do have a nice section looking at the implications for racial integration on school choice and guess what? Overall, it’s good. It’s a good thing.

Jen Wagner: Yeah, our public school system is actually more segregated now than it was, I don’t know, 50-60 years ago. Largely because people tend to move out of the districts or they tend to self-sort by race, and then the people who are in those lower income areas don’t have access to the “good schools.” School choice actually reverses that, because it breaks down the boundaries. That’s that school choice of all kinds, inter-district school choice, charter schools, private schools, all kinds of choice, because it opens up doors to people who quite honestly are pretty used to having them slammed in their faces, and those tend to be lower income folks and tend to be folks from minority communities who are used to being let down or left behind by their public schools.

Drew Catt: I feel like this individual also has this idea in their head of what a private school looks like. They’re thinking of what you see in all the TV shows and the movies of this uber elite, all-white, upper-class, suburban-ish school, boarding school, probably. Did I already say boarding school?

Jen Wagner: No, but boarding school, yeah. Something out of, I don’t know. I don’t know what’s a good, not even like Harry Potter, Gossip Girl. OK, I don’t know. That’s not what any private school I’ve ever been in looks like.

Drew Catt: I mean private schools for them 0.1, 0.01 percent which they’re, hey, guess what? There are also more public schools that look like that than private schools, so don’t worry. We’re going or equality.

Jen Wagner: That’s what I’m trying to break down too. Like, OK, the 0.01 or the even the 0.1 or the 1 percent, they’ve always had access to private schools, because they can afford for to pay. But what if you can’t? This is the story I always tell people. I’m the product of public school teachers who went to private school for 12 years. I have no idea how they paid for it. Thankfully the statute of limitations is probably run on that, but they made that choice for me. It changed my life. I can’t very well sit over here and be like, “Oh, well no one else should have access to that school, because my parents paid for it.” That would make me a hypocrite. I try to avoid that when at all possible.

Drew Catt: Yeah. It’s fascinating how people say like, “Oh, if you have a universal program, only the wealthy families will take advantage of it.” Well guess what? Arizona has had a universal tax-credit scholarship for a couple of decades now. It’s mostly low- and middle-income families that are taking advantage of it. Even when you open the flood gates to everyone, it’s good income mix.

Jen Wagner: Yeah, because choice is something that everybody wants regardless of how much they make, what they look like, where they live, etc. and so forth. Unless of course you live on our Twitter feed and then you think choice is terrible. Okay, I feel like this next one may be directed at me, so I’m going to let you read it.

Drew Catt: OK.

Jen Wagner: OK, you can finish this out because I feel like this one was aimed at probably something that I wrote.

Drew Catt: Over on Facebook, Theo Phardog said, “Let me guess, you screened your writers to find that one Democrat that believes in privatization… sure.”

We have many Democrats here that believe in nonprofitization. That’s it. Jen, do you believe in privatization?

Jen Wagner: I mean, OK. First of all, we’re not privatizing public schools here. We’re not privatizing education. I am a Democrat. That’s, so I had you read this one. That is my background is democratic politics. Newsflash, we come from all parts of the political spectrum here at EdChoice. I mean all parts.

Drew Catt: Yeah, the Milton Friedman…

Jen Wagner: All the way.

Drew Catt: Libertarians to the socialists, just kidding. That was a reference to the up streets.

Jen Wagner: That’s actually true.

Drew Catt: That is true.

Jen Wagner: If you sat around our lunch table, you would find that we have different views on almost everything. As our publicly-authoring-things Democrat, that was not proper English, by the way. Yeah, I mean, I believe in the private sector. I also, news flash, believe in free markets. I also believe in equalizing the playing field, knocking down barriers and making sure everyone has access to a quality education that works best for them. Privatization of our public schools or of education is not something that we support. It’s not something that I support. It’s actually not something that most Republicans support that I’ve met. What we’re here for is to make sure that everybody has access to the educational option or opportunity that works for them. It’s actually pretty simple. I explained it to my 12 year old the other day. She goes, “Well, why would anyone be opposed to that? That’d be stupid.” That was a direct quote. I said, “Well, as it turns out, you should tune into our next Mean Tweets video podcast, because you’ll find out that not everyone agrees.”

Drew Catt: Ooh, maybe we can exploit some children and have Kids Say the Darndest Thing School Choice Edition.

Jen Wagner: I mean, I’ll volunteer my two. They’d be more than happy. They’ll be YouTube famous.

Drew Catt: Write that down.

Jen Wagner: All right.

Drew Catt: I just want to break this one down just a tiny bit more. The word privatization always sticks with me. My grad degree in nonprofit management screams, “No.” Because guess what? These schools have nonprofit status. If anything, we believe in the nonprofitization of the education sector.

Jen Wagner: Oh, Drew just made a new word up. The word police are going to be on us. Yeah, I mean, most of these schools, all the schools, the private schools are nonprofit. I realized there has been, in all seriousness, there has been some criticism of for-profit charter companies. I think we can all agree to look at the data, look at the research and look at the outcomes. Nobody here is sitting around like Scrooge McDuck on a pile of money that Betsy DeVos gave us trying to figure out how we can privatize the K-12 system.

Drew Catt: I’ve always wondered about the physics of how he dove into the money.

Jen Wagner: I know, right? It’s heavy.

Drew Catt: Yeah.

Jen Wagner: Yeah. Also, he’d have to wash his hands all the time, because handling all that money, just so many germs. Anyway, sorry. Moving on. You’ve got the tweets.

Drew Catt: Oh, I’m the flipper.

Jen Wagner: I gave you the tweets.

Drew Catt: I’m flipping. OK, another Facebooker, Facebookite.

Jen Wagner: Facebookie? No, that would be something completely different. Facebooker, we’ll go with that.

Drew Catt: Facebooker, Facepage turner.

Jen Wagner: Back over on the Facebooks, Linda Davey-Spycher says, “I don’t want my tax dollars supporting profit-making companies.”

Perhaps she’s actually saying she does support ed choice, because we’re nonprofit or maybe she wants her tax dollars going to companies that don’t make a profit. It’s really unclear, but either way we’re good.

Drew Catt: We went into this one a little bit. Jen, can you think of any profit making companies that are affiliated with any public schools?

Jen Wagner: Yes, I can, Drew. I can think of the testing companies that administered the high stakes tests in almost every state. Additionally, and I’ve had this debate with a couple of lawmakers, so the big truck that pulls up outside of a big school and delivers all the food tends to be a Cisco truck or I’m blanking on the name of the company, but there’s all these national publicly-traded companies that provide all this stuff to schools—textbooks, testing, food. I just feel like she doesn’t believe that that’s happening.

Drew Catt: Where I grew up, it was a known fact that “Hey, you want to make it out, get that government contract.” Guess where the best government contracts where? The public school districts.

Jen Wagner: The largest employer in most cities, I should say, small to midsize cities, certainly in the more rural areas, is the public school. You know what? They have a lot of services they have to procure. I get that it’s really easy to say things like this. Oftentimes, too, I’ve had lawmakers compare the private-run prisons to public schools and how those should not be funded the same way. My answer is always pretty simple is that if we have a more robust school choice environment and kids can get into schools that actually work for them and they can get the education that they need, we won’t have to worry about the prison side of things, because we won’t need private- or publicly-run prisons. These kids will go out and succeed in our society. That will be a wonderful thing.

Drew Catt: This is just hypothesis. There’s research available along these lines. Check it out on our website.

Jen Wagner: edchoice.org.

Drew Catt: Switching back over to the twits. No, that sounds terrible.

Jen Wagner: Tweets.

Drew Catt: Ah, switching back…

Jen Wagner: The Twitter machine.

Drew Catt: I’m clearly, I’m not one of these people. I set up an account when Twitter first happened, so I would have my name, but I don’t want anywhere near it, really.

Over on Twitter @1TeacherVoice replying to @ahartley98 and @courierjournal said, “New name for vouchers should be #SchoolStamps. We’ll see how long they push for them when they’re called that.” Kind of creative.

I’m still…

Jen Wagner: Book.

Drew Catt: Yeah.

Jen Wagner: I collected stamps as a kid. #SuperNerd, right here.

Drew Catt: Yeah, you see, I remember when I, right after my now wife and I got engaged, one of the first things she did was she ordered a custom stamp for us, so that we could stamp all of our engagement-related whatever.

Jen Wagner: See, I feel like they’re not intending that. This is not, is it phil-, philatel? What’s the study… the collection of stamps? Philately, philately, I think. I don’t know.

Drew Catt: Oh, I don’t know this one.

Jen Wagner: I don’t know. I don’t know. We’ll look it up afterward. Maybe we’ll tweet about it. Who knows? Obviously this person is trying to compare school choice to food stamps or other welfare programs. I’m not really sure what the point they’re trying to make is. Obviously, as someone who comes from a left-leaning stance on things, I probably view this issue more in line with what this person is trying to be critical, like I want everyone to have an opportunity to succeed, which also includes eating, but that’s not what we do here. We break down those barriers. We open up the doors to people to get to the right school that works for them. I don’t really understand why that would be a negative thing, but then again, I’m not a Twitter lurker, so I don’t know. I go home and turn off the Twitter machine. Maybe this person should, too.

Drew Catt: Yeah, I’m still just trying to envision what these stamps would look like.

Jen Wagner: Exploited children, obviously. They would have Betsy DeVos somewhere up in the corner. They would only be available privately.

Drew Catt: Well, and you would have to cycle them out every four years once there’s a new head of USDOE.

Jen Wagner: Yeah. Yeah, so I think we’ve got… We’ve, you know what? In our effort to continue privatizing the public school system, we should sell #SchoolStamps. No, no, maybe not. All right, we’ve got one more. Last one.

One of my favorites from @mishmashmisty, which is really tough to say, but she sums it all up so beautifully. “Whatever.”

All right, thanks, Misty. Super helpful. Thanks for your contribution. We take your feedback very seriously here at EdChoice.

Yeah, in my head it is my 12 year old. She’s just like, “Whatever. Whatever mom.” Yeah. @mishmashmisty, that’s the best you could come up with? That’s it? Whatever. No, this is everything. Not whatever. This is important. You know what? Here’s the thing, my kid’s kindergarten teacher, this would have been six years ago—and I realize your wife’s a teacher, so this may be old hat—but like make a better choice. Right? That was what she would always say. Instead of getting mad at the kids, she’d say, “Make a better choice.” That’s what I’m going to say to you, @mishmashmisty. I can’t say it 10 times fast. Make a better choice. Your tweet is lame.

Drew Catt: That’s also eight characters. Nine characters, if you include the period when, what’s Twitter up to you now?

Jen Wagner: 280.

Drew Catt: Yeah, 2-something.

Jen Wagner: Plus images or whatever. They gave you more space and …

Drew Catt: Whatever.

Jen Wagner: Yeah, whatever. Whatever, Misty. OK, well that brings us to the end of our pile of mean tweets, but I’m guessing in the time that it took us to record this podcast, we’ve got more.

Drew Catt: Let’s sum up today’s episode.

Jen Wagner: All right.

Drew Catt: What do we have here? We have exploited children. We have a Milton Friedman libertarian socialist. OK, so …

Jen Wagner: Privatizing.

Drew Catt: Yeah. All right, so let’s wrap this up is what people in these tweets overall think of this. They think of us as privatizing libertarian socialists who exploit children and teachers for the purposes of whatever and I’m not sure about that.

Jen Wagner: Yeah, and also we make $250,000 a year that’s given to us by Betsy DeVos or Dev-iss depending on how you like to say it. Yeah, I feel really good about myself at the end of this. I am so, so glad that… this was really therapeutic. It actually is also a reminder that while this is a tongue-in-cheek broadcast and it’s fun, it’s a way to make light of the people who don’t spend a lot of time delving into this issue. We take our jobs here really seriously. We take this mission really seriously. Y’all can drop all the hate on us—@edchoice  on Facebook, Twitter. Head on over to Instagram if that’s your jam and you just want to rough up our birthday posts, because that’s really what our Instagram feed is.

Yeah, there’s a lot of people out there who don’t understand the issue. We’re going to have to keep talking about it. We’re not going to stop. You can @ us all day long, but we’re not going to stop, because what we’re doing we think is pretty important. Not just because we think it’s important or Milton Friedman thought it was important or Betsy DeVos thought it was important. It’s important because it affects hundreds of thousands of families every year, every day. It’s important because the more choice you get, the more choice you want. It’s really hard to take choice away. Keep it up. Hit us up. You, as Drew said, could be featured on our next edition of Mean Tweets right here, coming at you from the EdChoice studio.

Drew Catt: Oh, and also remember take the lesson learned from @mishmashmisty in that you don’t have to limit yourself to just eight or nine characters. Use all 200 something. Give us more context about why this is a mean tweet. Give us more context about why you feel the way that you feel. That can give us a lot more to work with, and it will allow us to have a lot more fun.

Jen Wagner: That’s true. Context equals content. Also, if you do make a really good points while we pull these out, we will always respond, if you want to get into a dialogue about school choice because it is something that a lot of people don’t completely understand. We’re here to help. We’re here to educate. We’re here to, every once and again, blow off some steam right here. Drew, thank you for joining me for this episode of Mean Tweets. I will probably be back here in about a month.