Ep. 371: Reinventing America’s Schools – With Curtis Valentine at ASU+GSV SUMMIT

May 12, 2023

What does school in America look like in 2050? In collaboration with RISE Reports podcast and ASU+GSV, Curtis Valentine and panelists Nina Gilbert and Sharhonda Bossier talk about the future of education and teaching. 

In part 1 of this two part series, PPI’s Reinventing America’s Schools (RAS) Project Co-Director Curtis Valentine, in collaboration with EdChoice, sits down for a live panel conversation and podcast recording at the ASU+GSV Summit in San Diego with Nina Gilbert, Executive Director of the Center for Excellence in Education at Morehouse College, and Sharhonda Bossier, Chief Executive Officer of Education Leaders of Color. They discuss the future of education, the future of teaching, and importance of school choice for families across America. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/the-future-of-schools-part-1/id1519327729?i=1000612638884

Curtis Valentine: Good afternoon, and welcome to our panel. We’re glad to see you all today. My name is Curtis Valentine. I’m the co-director of the Reinventing America’s Schools Project at the Progressive Policy Institute, a D.C.-based think tank. I’m also the founder of Real Men Teach, a national campaign to increase diversity in teaching. I have the pleasure of moderating a panel with two of the most amazing minds of education in this country, flat-out. This opportunity to bring them together is what I’ve been looking forward to for a very long time. 

This conversation is also a part of the RISE Reports podcast, and it is done in collaboration with EdChoice. I want to thank Emory Edwards for bringing this together and having the forethought to say, while we’re here, ASU+GSV, that we have this conversation again on the future of education, the future of teaching. I’m going to allow my two panelists to introduce themselves, but I want them to tell you who they are, what they do, and this is important. What about what they’re doing right now most excites them? I’ll start to my far right, Nina Gilbert. Tell us about who you are, what you do, and what about the work you’re doing right now most excites you. 

Nina Gilbert: Thank you so much for inviting me to participate in this podcast, I’m happy to be here. Yeah, so I’m Nina Gilbert. I’m the executive director of the Morehouse Center for Excellence in Education. I’m also the chair of the Education Department at Morehouse, and an assistant professor. 

What excites me about this work are these two young men right here, and all of the amazing scholars I get to serve every day. I’m really excited to see when they make connections, when they connect their passions, their talents, their aspirations with this kind of vocational endeavor around teaching and learning. When they understand that there are many, many ways to make impact in the field, and that teaching, of course, while important, that there are other ways that they can impact the sector. We uncover their natural gifts and abilities and they’re discovering how they can do other things like invest, invent, develop new tools and technologies, advocate, write, research. We have some students who are working on documentaries, so they see that there are many paths and it’s a multidimensional sector. 

Curtis Valentine: Outstanding. There’s so much that’s happening at Morehouse. Shameless plug. I’m a 2000 graduate of Morehouse College, and so glad to see these two brothers and sister in our illustrious light. To my immediate right, Sharhonda Bossier, in French, Boston English. Tell us about yourself, what you do, and what about what you’re doing most excites you. 

Sharhonda Bossier: Yeah. My name is Sharhonda Bossier. I lead an organization called Education Leaders of Color, EdLoC. We are a membership organization providing professional development, networking, and funding support to leaders across sectors who are focused on ensuring that young people of color have the supports and resources they need to thrive, capitalize on opportunity, and build wealth. I’m really excited right now to be leading this network at a time when I think we are re-imagining what is possible in education, redefining how we think about student success and mastery, and at a time when I think there’s so much emphasis on what is possible. 

For a long time, I felt like the education sector in particular was really focused on what felt like a set of intractable problems. Right now, it feels like there’s so much more hope, so much more willingness to define new north stars, and so to be proximate to leaders every day who are re-imagining what’s possible for our young people, being able to support them, to catalyze collaboration across sectors and across our network is really, really exciting to me. 

Curtis Valentine: I want to jump right in with a quote from an amazing sister, Toni Morrison. She says, “The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining over, and over again your reason for being. Someone says, ‘You have no language,’ and so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says, ‘Your head isn’t shaped properly,’ so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says, ‘You have no art,’ do you dredge that up. Somebody says, ‘You have no kingdom,’ so you dredge that up. None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.” 

My question to start off is, how do you stay focused on this work when there’s so many distractions of us having to prove, or seemingly triggers to feel as if we need to prove, yet the work still has to continue? For two of you who are in leadership positions, people are looking to you on a regular basis to lead, while oftentimes, we feel the distractions happening in places like Florida and around the country, how do you stay focused? 

Nina Gilbert: Coffee. It’s hard. I have this uncanny ability to see things coming, and not because I have some type of superpower, because I no longer lead the school. And when I was leading my school, I was on the dance floor leaving the school leadership position meant having a position on the balcony, so I could have a different perspective. So most of my colleagues who are practitioners are still on the dance floor. So I am always seeing something, this policy is coming down. I can see trouble brewing and I’m trying to tell my people, y’all better wake up because this thing is about to happen. Let’s get ready for it. But most practitioners, and by practitioners, I’m talking about teachers and principals and deans and folks who are doing the work every day. They are so in the trenches and working on compliance driven stuff, trying to stay alive to fight another day that they’re like, yeah, yeah, we’ll get to that. 

Stepping back from the K-12 work, I became more of a news junkie. So I’m watching all of this stuff and looking for implications for K-12 education. Once I moved from the practitioner work to the development of new practitioners and higher ed, I saw a huge disconnect. The folks who are doing the work in the classroom don’t have a direct line or any type of interaction with people who are doing the research and the people doing the research are not really connected to folks who are developing policy. And I’ve worked in all three of those lanes. So what I’ve learned though is to decide what am I going to focus on? Because I can’t manage all of the radical work that needs to be done, but where am I going to make my impact? 

And so my work starts with deciding how does this affect our liberation? So if what’s about to happen, these distractions, will impact that then I have to do something and then I have to decide what is that something I’m going to do and what is my risk tolerance? So if I stand up for something and it impacts my ability to keep my role and my job, am I good with that? Not doing anything, Is it going to impact my ability to prepare students who want to become educators? What am I going to do? And then once I decide to do something, I have to think about am I okay doing that in isolation because everybody’s not willing to take a stand. 

And so I’ll give a very concrete example. I have an educator prep program. Morehouse has never had a program that allows students to seek certification on campus. They would’ve to go over Spelman. So we now have gotten all of our approvals through the state of Georgia to certify, or at least recommend students for certification. As soon as we got that, the state announced or our licensing agency announced that preparation programs like mine needed to have safeguards in place so that we are preparing pre-service teachers to address racially divisive concepts in an appropriate way. If not, there will be consequences and repercussions for your program. So that’s a huge distraction. 

So while building a program at an institution where for 157 years, we’ve not had an educated prep program. Now we have one and we have the state saying, you HBCU, as you prepare, teachers don’t come into their classrooms in Georgia talking about being black now and don’t talk race and slavery and all of these other kind of racially, charged in their words, issues. So yes, that’s a distraction. And so for us, for me, the decision is like we are going to keep doing what we’ve been doing, what Morehouse was doing when you were a student. We’re going to do it for these young men and those who are to come. If it impacts our liberation, then yeah, it’s worth a distraction to do something. 

Curtis Valentine: You’re doing it bigger and better than it was when I was a student, because to your point, all of my friends who wanted to become school teachers had to go to Spelman to become certified. But you talked a lot about, you didn’t use the term, but this idea of having that north star when you know who you serve and where you’re going, you could sort of filter a lot of this stuff through that. Sharhonda, what are your thoughts? You’re leading an organization that is bringing together folks from states, different groups, different leadership positions. Some are probably on the balcony and some are on the dance floor, and some are trying to build a whole new house. How do you stay focused when you have all of those moving parts? 

Sharhonda Bossier: Yeah, well, I think staying focused on the north star, remembering who we serve, and I think taking advantage of the fact that I do get to step back from the day-to-day and my role, but I think so ditto and underscore all of that. I think the thing that I would add is it’s really helpful to be a student of history, because there are so many examples that you can look to of people who came before us and figured out, or at least got closer to a solution than we are right now. So speaking of bringing multiple groups together, our work is focused on building a multiracial coalition. And I think that all sounds great right now, and people are like, people of color umbrella, bet I’m in. And then when you get black people and Latinx people and Asian people and Pacific Islanders and Native Americans all in the same room, you’re having some really interesting conversations about the power dynamics that exist between and among our communities about harm that has happened between and among our communities, about a sense that some minority groups enjoy a privileged status over others. 

And so you’re like, right, we knew how to contend with this conversation when we were talking about what other people were doing to us. And now that we’re in this space of needing to talk about how we show up with and for each other, it’s a whole new set of muscles that we have to develop and practice. And so I’m like, okay, I’m not the first person to try and do this. I’m not the first person who has confronted this challenge, who has confronted a similar one? What can I learn from them? And I think one of the things we try and do also is ensure that the people in our communities who are elders, who are elders in this work, are invited into those conversations to share their experience and their wisdom with us. I think there is so much that we can learn there. 

And I know people are always excited about the new and emerging leaders, but there are people who have decades of experience who I think we can draw from and we can pull from. The other thing is to just name the thing. And I think often, particularly in this moment, as these conversations have become increasingly politicized and increasingly polarized and polarizing, people have been really reluctant to name it. But I don’t think we can address it unless we call it what it is. Hey, I’m having this experience and I think I’m having this experience because I’m a black woman. So what does it mean for you as my friend, as my ally, as my aspiring co-conspirator, to try and show up differently for me in this work to try and expend some of the capital you have and service of the work that we are doing together. 

And then lastly, I’ll say that I have found that centering the work is the most productive path forward for people to engage in those kinds of thorny and messy conversations. We have a shared goal, we have a shared vision, and what is it going to take for us to get there? What are the biases that we all bring to this work? What does it mean to interrogate and unpack those biases? And how do we make commitments moving forward for how our behavior will change? And you need sometimes a little bit of expertise. You need a lot of vulnerability and a lot of humility. And we have found that that has been really successful for us at EdLock. We’ve had some really hard conversations about what it feels like to be leaders of color sitting in spaces where we are often one of a handful of senior leaders. We’ve had conversations about how we show up for and support each other, and we’ve had conversations about how we think about the role of our white allies in doing that, how we think about engaging them in that work. 

But yeah, that’s what I would say. Underscore having a north star, being reminded of who you serve, taking advantage of the opportunities to step back, naming the thing and making commitments for change behavior about how you move forward. Centering the work has been the most helpful way that I have stayed focused. 

Curtis Valentine: That sounds right. Again, every day it seems like it’s something new. And so I really wanted to start off this discussion in that way. We’re here at ASU+GSV. How many of you all are here for the first time? So that was me last year. And there’s a lot of conferences that sort of frame themselves as the future of education, but this space seems a little different. I could definitely see how this particular gathering is pushing a lot of areas. And so I want to talk about moving forward. Just sort of shameless confession growing up, my favorite movie was Back to the Future. Big Back to the Future fan. And I was talking to my students, I also teach at the college level, and I asked, do you all believe in time travel? They’re like, no. I said, do you believe that time travel will be possible in the next 100 years? If it’s possible in a hundred years, then it’s possible now. Because someone from hundred years can come back now and can be with us. They’re like, okay. And we all having kind of… 

I often have this conversation with myself is, all right, it’s 2050. What types of schools, what types of educators are my grandchildren moving in, what spaces? And what am I doing right now to prepare for that time? What trees am I planting now that my grandchildren will eat off of? And so I want to sort of jump in our DeLorean, got the flux capacitor. Actually, in part two, they actually using recyclable stuff to put in there. He’s putting in trash. I’m going a little… Doc Brown, shout out to Doc Brown. And so it’s 2050, right? We are there together. Let’s talk about the educators. You are at Morehouse. You are preparing for the educators of tomorrow. What do educators look like in 2050? What skills will they need? What training will they need? What role is artificial intelligence playing in how we train educators, how are they using it? So I just wanted to give you an opportunity to share your vision for what the future of educators look like for the next generation. 

Nina Gilbert: So you started with these distractions, talking about distractions, and I’m distracted now because I’m trying to do the math. How old will I be in 2050? Well, so let me move on from that. So I think educators will look the same. Because throughout history, I can speak to just black folks, we have always educated our own. We didn’t require a credential or degree to educate our children and our communities. We did it through storytelling. We did it through passing along these important truths and values. 

I think in a more organized way, as we talk about the educator, I do think that the preparation and training of these educators will possibly depend on the state of the world. What does our environment look like? Is it sustainable. Because COVID, if it taught us nothing else, it blew up our whole understanding of what school meant, or schooling, because now parents are educators. You have apps and other forms of technology serving in the place of the schoolroom. So I think if anything else, it’s not so much how the educator changes, but how the way in which we educate will change, which means anything and anyone can become the person who delivers instruction. 

I learn a lot from these young men. And I think if anything is going to be probably most disruptive is that folks in other generations will have to start interacting with each other more. We couldn’t sit at a table quietly today, because we were all debating with each other about research concepts and what constitutes credible research. So I am learning a lot from students that I serve. I learn a lot from my own children who are teaching me things that I totally did not get as a student in a classroom. So I do think we have to open up the way we think about what it means to be an educator. I say to my students all the time that every teacher is an educator, but not all educators teach in a traditional classroom. And I really don’t know what that individual looks like, what their profile is. 

And in terms of AI. So that concerns me. Right now it’s hot, everybody’s talking, and sounds good and it’s great until dot, dot, dot. So until a really brilliant or really intelligent black person starts to have their intelligence questioned and identified as artificial, that’s my concern. I don’t know if that makes sense. 

Curtis Valentine: Talk more about that. 

Nina Gilbert: As I understand it, so I am not the most technologically advanced person here. I still have problems understanding how to get into all of my devices as these people know. I can’t remember passwords, don’t nod. So as I understand it, the utility of it is great and we need to embrace this because it’s happening whether we want it or not. If there is a really great piece written, if there is something that is artistically in intellectually valuable, if it is going to be questioned. If the author is a person of color, and the question is, did you do this or did you use ChatGPT? Did you use some other platform or apparatus to develop these thoughts? No, these are my own thoughts. This is authentically and originally created. I am concerned about equity and access. So if you don’t know how to access that tool, are you left behind? So I’m always a little concerned about equity and access whenever there’s something that’s new and emerging and then how it can be used to bring harm. 

Curtis Valentine: Sharhonda, I want to, just this idea of the future of educators, but I also want to add a piece. This is something I’m working… 

Sharhonda Bossier: Already asked four questions in the first one. 

Curtis Valentine: Because I know are all of them. 

Nina Gilbert: I probably missed it. 

Curtis Valentine: This idea of what teachers look like in the future. Will the profession be open and available to all of us? And can we walk into that space being our authentic selves? Or as a lot of educators now feel like I’m having to give something up. 

Sharhonda Bossier: In order to do this- 

Curtis Valentine: In order to move into this space, but also my students are also missing something because now I’m not giving them permission to be their authentic self at the same time. 

Sharhonda Bossier: Yeah, it’s a good question. About a decade ago when, I was living in New York at the time, and we were having sets of conversations around what good teaching looked like, there were all these conversations about how we were going to tie teacher compensation to performance and how we were going to assess teacher performance and all of that other stuff. And when we talked to educators of color, what they heard in the we want to professionalize the profession conversation was the way that you have shown up as your full self for your students, the way that you have been more than just the math teacher for your students is not valuable. That unless you can get your students to perform at this level on a certain very narrowly defined set of assessments, you are not a good teacher. And what we have also seen over the course of the past few years of as we have seen more conversations around social and emotional learning and educating the whole child, et cetera, is educators of color also saying, I don’t see myself in this language or in this framework either. 

So some of the natural orientations that I bring, as I think about my role as a member of a broader community, as I think about my school as an anchor institution in this community as a catalyst for community revitalization or redevelopment, none of those other things are seen as valuable by the people who are assessing my performance. And so as people are thinking about some of the, and we have lots of members, you Sharif El-Mekki, and others who are working on teacher diversity initiatives. In addition to just changing the face of the educators, we are also thinking about what it means to change the definition of what makes a good educator and what it means to have schools that are preparing educators on the hook for ensuring that their folks are not going into school districts ill prepared to actually educate America’s children. That they are not churning their teachers out every two or three years because that’s disruptive to schools, to communities, and to the families they serve. That we are thinking much more holistically about the role of educators, and differently about the role of schools and schooling. 

And so what I am seeing that is exciting to me is re-imagining the role of schools as anchor institutions for families and for communities. And I think that gives us so much more latitude to redefine how we think about what makes a good educator. I’m excited by some of those conversations. I think our members are leading a lot of those conversations and we’re talking about the importance of, if rethinking how we think about student performance and assessment as a result of some that’s of these AI conversations. So if a student can… When I was teaching, you’d be like, upload your essay to turnitin.com so I can make sure you didn’t plagiarize. If students are able to figure out ways around those things, then how then am I asking students to demonstrate mastery? 

What are the things that students can do that are uniquely human, unique to them that an AI product or a program cannot do for them? And how does that for me force me to rethink how I’m redefining achievement or performance in my classroom? So I think that there are, and I do think that the last three years in particular have given us an opportunity to reimagine that. My hope is that we start to think about educators as real members of communities, of the communities they serve. I think that’s also why you are trying… You’re seeing some cities think about what happens when their teachers are priced out, when they can’t afford to stay in cities where they’re teaching. 

Because we, I think have come to the realization that for so many families, particularly our low income families, schools are the social safety net. And if that is true, then how we think about the role of educators has to evolve if we’re not going to just lose kids through every single phase of their educational journey as we are doing right now. I think we recognize that it’s very costly to us. Not only are we losing young people to prison, but we are also losing their genius and their productivity. And as we are thinking about, again, how we ensure that young people are feeling connected, I just think that we’re going to find ourselves in a set of conversations pretty soon where we’re like, all right, y’all time to get serious about thinking about how we redefine what makes a good teacher. 

Curtis Valentine: And so you did all four questions and a fifth. 

Sharhonda Bossier: Boom. 

Curtis Valentine: Boom. And so it’s interesting, I think about a quote by Dr. King, a great Morehouse man, during the civil rights movement and this idea of, and he says, I’m afraid that we’re integrating into a burning building. We’re trying to move into a space that’s really not a healthy space. And the work that I’m doing, and it’s a conversation to have with Sharif and others, this idea of recruitment of particularly black and brown men and people of color into these schools. And they’re going in and the space is not ready. It does not recognize they’re genius, doesn’t recognize their value. And they’re sort of overlaying them on this historical sort of big black male teacher, disciplinarian, coach, all those things. And so we talked about this idea of the person, but now I want to sort of transit into this idea of the space, or is it a space? 

We’re still in 2050, are we students, educators walking into a brick-and-mortar building? Are we all on our VR headsets and navigating this world where we could transport ourselves to either the city of Atlantis or Atlanta? And so I want to stick with you, Sharhonda around let’s talk the future of school. And we also have this conversation, we’re still, we don’t talk about necessarily more openly around this idea of private versus public versus charter versus homeschool and all those spaces that a lot of us talk about in our quiet spaces, but understand the politics of it. Talk about where we are in that time, and what we can be doing in some cases right now to prepare for that day. 

Sharhonda Bossier: Outside of my full-time work, I’m an organizer and I spend a lot of time in communication and conversation and with people on all of the various issues that are important to them. What I will tell you is families do not care about governance structure. What families care about is getting their children access to an education that feels like it sees them for who they are, values the genius that they bring and is preparing them for the future of the world and work. And so what we have seen over the past, I think even just few years, increasingly, is the movement towards black homeschooling is because black families feel like they’re not getting the first part of that. The reason that increasingly families who have young people who have been diagnosed with sort of special needs are choosing smaller schools or launching their own micro schools is because they feel like they’re not getting the first part of that. 

Families are hungry for educational experiences that they feel like value their children as whole people, that they feel like prepare them for the future of the world and work. And I think we are going to see a scaling and proliferation of models that move away from you drop your kid off at 7:15 and pick them up at 2:30, because people want to know that their children are getting real world experience, exposure and practice. So my sense is that particularly for some of our older students, you’re going to see many more, and we’re seeing this even with some of our members, sort of education and work hybrid models where you’re maybe in a classroom half the day, but maybe you’re doing some sort of internship the other half of the day. We’re going to see far more models that encourage curiosity and exploration for younger learners, I think. And I think we are also moving away from this idea that a child’s classroom experience has to be very rigid and very structured, like a bell-to-bell thing. 

My hope is that we see that people are comfortable with, and I’m going to say those of us who are in decision making roles are comfortable with our children and our children’s children having schooling experiences that don’t look like our own. Because I think that actually is one of the biggest hurdles. When we walk into classrooms where things are happening that don’t look like things we have understood to be learning or teaching, we actually get in the way instead of asking the young learners in the classroom, Hey, are you getting what you need? Do you feel challenged? Are you curious when you come? Do you feel cared for by your teacher? Do you feel safe at school? And I think if we started there, we would have a fundamentally different understanding of what the future of schooling could and should look like. 

Curtis Valentine: I want to say to some of you all, when I posed a question of 2050, it seemed kind of a abstract, but a school built tomorrow will house a student in 2050. So my school district, we’re going through this P3 model. We’re building six schools in two years, and we’re going to be doing that for the next four or five years. And so I’m having conversations with my superintendent about the schools that we’re building now will be a 2050 school. And so are we building them in the way that we built them 50 years ago, or should we be building them in 50 years from now? Which is a central spot where students sort of come get their lesson and then you have these breakout rooms, glassed in, I can see what’s happening. I can jump in, get a lesson. 

If those familiar with the Purdue Polytechnical School in Indianapolis, where students literally on a weekly basis create their own schedule. They get assessed on a Friday and the next day their classes are like office hours. I need to sign up with Ms. Bossier for a little bit more reading because last week I wasn’t, and I’ll do a couple of days with Ms. Gilbert on, but I have the agency to choose that. But the space is created. And so I don’t want people to think, oh, 2050. It is a right now conversation. But you mentioned about the sort of parents don’t care about governance structure, but you know that certain governance structures do allow for more flexibility and the ability for us to move in certain spaces that will allow us for that future that we’re talking about. So talk about, give me your vision for, not necessarily what it will be, but what it could and should be around in ensuring that we give educators agency and autonomy in these spaces. 

Nina Gilbert: So in addition to parents not caring about a governance structure, kids don’t care about it either. Students don’t care if they’re in a charter school, or private school, or public school, or a Sunday school. They just want school. I actually started a charter school and three as a matter of fact, and I remember we were fighting and marching and protesting and having rallies at the school. And one of our kindergartners said, Ms. Gilbert, why are these people here? And before I could answer, someone else said, it’s because we’re trying to save our charter school. She goes, oh, I ain’t never been to no charter school before. I’m like, first of all, we need to work on some things. Parents don’t care. They want their kids to be safe first. They want them to be appreciated and valued, even before they become high academic achievers, they want them to be valued and safe. 

As a parent myself, I’ve chosen all models for our kids. We’ve had them in public school, private schools, charter schools, Christian schools, we’ve done it all. And we only have three. I can run out of fingers thinking about the numbers, types of schools they’ve been in, but the three kids all had three different types of needs. So we had to find the best space for them. And when we couldn’t find the model that worked, I had to create one. And that’s when I started my own school. And as an educator, I’ve worked in international schools, Montessori schools, private schools, public schools, charter schools, it’s all been a mess at some point in time. And in some cases, there are things that I’ve learned there that were so valuable, and folks who worked really hard and parents who were really engaged. So I think when you have a group of people who are all just focused on outcomes for kids that are positive, and will help prepare them to reach their highest potential, that’s what matters. 

And in terms of what schooling is and this kind of brick and mortar thinking and this factory way of preparing students that we’ve done forever, we’re not waiting till 2050. It’s happening right now. And that was the session I moderated yesterday, where there are students who, by the way, attend schools that say that they’re preparing them for career in college or a college and career. And the students on my panel are working students, they are professional actors and professional athletes, and they don’t do school in a traditional way. We have one student right now, a Morehouse brother of these students who is hopefully on his way to the NBA Draft, and he had class in his room today. These students had class, they’re here at this summit and they’re having class today. 

So taking this experiential learning concept to say, hey, there are many ways to show mastery of a standard or a concept. You don’t just do that by sitting in a classroom being lectured to and then regurgitating that content back on a test to show that you’ve mastered something. These students have real experiences. They’re lived experiences that allow them to master certain skills. These seven survival skills that Tony Wagner talks about around collaboration and creativity and the ability to access and analyze information to communicate effectively. We can provide experiences that allow students to do that every day, and it sticks much better than having days on ends of lectures. 

So yeah, I do think that in, not 2050, but 2023, 2024, I think our current students are going to force us to rethink schools because they’re going to stop going, especially when we think about the leap from K-12 to college. We have students right now who are saying, hey, I can skip all of that because I’m an influencer. I’ve already figured out how to make more money than those who will teach me. So if we don’t rethink it, it’s going to be rethought for us. 

Curtis Valentine: I want to transition to a way forward, and the team, the community that we’re going to take us to get to everything we talked about. And I want to come back to you, Sharhonda and brother David Johns, Dr. David Johns, recently posted something on Instagram about referring to Tennessee and the Tennessee three I think they were called. And this idea of how he does not like the term ally. He thinks that the term is too easily bought at a price, at little price, little cost, and that the term co-conspirator is more in line of what we will need to move forward. Do you agree with that? And for those in the audience who want to sign up, what does that look like? 

Sharhonda Bossier: Yeah, co-conspirators do things for you and with you. I do think the term ally probably best describes where most people are on their journeys in supporting people who don’t look like them. I think the co-conspirators in my life have said my name and talked about my work in rooms that I’m not in. They have been leaders who do not look like me, do not share my background, do not share my experience, but have mentored me. They have been people who have been willing to expend their real capital, their social capital or their relational capital in support of me, my leadership and my work. And so when I think of co-conspirators, I think of people who are doing something at a cost or at a risk to themselves. 

Ally does feel like a little bit of a safe spot. I’m a runner, so I think about when I’m running a marathon and I see my friends who are holding signs and they’re like, you go girl. But they’re also about to leave and go drink beer in the next mile. Those are my allies. My co-conspirators are the people who see me hitting the wall at mile 20, and get on the course with me and talk me through the next mile. We need more people who are willing to get on the course with us at mile 20 and run that next mile with us. 

Curtis Valentine: Thank you. And when I hear that, I also want to challenge myself and say, Curtis, where are you being an ally and where are you being a co-conspirator for sisters, for folks from the LGBT community, folks from the special needs community? Am I simply being an ally to those communities, waiting for someone to be my co-conspirator in my space, but not also challenge myself to do the same thing? I have to also do that work. 

Nina, I want to come to you. You are leading an HBCU into the future of education. There’s a term that is used, nothing for us without us. Again, we’re at ASU+GSV. In many cases, you me, we are a minority in this space, but we are being talked about in this space. The children who look like us are being discussed at this space. Their future is being discussed in this space. What does that term mean to you in the space that you occupy at an historically black college in Atlanta, Georgia? 

Nina Gilbert: I absolutely love being at Morehouse because I don’t think about, I used to say it all the time. I used to hear the term, I used to embrace the term nothing with us, for us, without us. But since I’ve been at Morehouse, I’ve always been black. But now that I’m at more Morehouse, I’m more black. Blackity black black 

Curtis Valentine: It is called fried chicken Wednesday, if you haven’t been there before. 

Nina Gilbert: We also have a salad bar. So now that I’m at Morehouse, I’ve kind of switched that language. So it’s like it’s by us and it’s for us, and it’s for everybody else too. So when I hear nothing for us without us, it means that someone has identified a problem or a deficit and everybody is working on it for us. And we are saying, we want to come, we want to be in the room. We need to be at the table. I mean, that was me. I’m not being critical. That was my language, I need a seat. I’m going to have a seat at the table. And then we’ve also heard the saying, don’t wait for a seat at the table, create one or pull up a chair. No, we don’t need that table. We don’t need a chair. We are creating our own. Not we’re going to, we have. You need to come on and see what we’ve already done because we have this standard that we are trying to reach, and we don’t even know if that’s a standard that we need to be trying to reach. 

We have, for 157 years, Morehouse College has been educating black men. Two years after the Civil War. So no one was saying in 1867, thank you, nothing for us without us. We were building and we were developing and inventing and educating. So for us, every day I get to work with amazing colleagues and scholars. And now that COVID is kind of over, I guess, I don’t know where she is, but there are tours on campus that there’s traffic jams on foot. You can’t walk around the campus because people are coming to this institution. For what? There’s this rich legacy in history. So the whole term, nothing for us, without us does not apply to me when I’m in that setting, it doesn’t make sense to me. 

So we now have visitors who don’t look like me all the time, who are just in awe. And I’m like, never mind that bucket that’s catching the water that’s dripping from the leak in the ceiling. They’re like, this is so beautiful. What an amazing leak. People are just kind of fascinated by what the institution is. Why? And I can’t explain that, but it helps me understand that what we have is valuable enough. And the brilliance that is nurtured there and incubated there is valuable enough. We can invite you to our table. So I feel conflicted sometimes in spaces like this because it’s the same conversation year after year. I appreciate it. I appreciate being in a space where I’m learning about emerging technologies and all of the advancements, but then I think about who’s missing. I can see that there’s a disconnect between what we’re talking about, and who’s actually going to have access to all of this amazing stuff. And so I don’t know. I don’t force my way into rooms where I didn’t get an invitation first. Don’t invite me at the end when you’re serving dessert. Yeah. 

Curtis Valentine: We’re going to wrap up, but I have a final question. I’m speaking into the future again. I’m speaking honorary doctorates into your future. And so I’m always asking myself, what’s the question we’re not asking ourselves? What’s that piece of research that once you’ve been given this honorary doctorate in this fully funded dissertation, you’re like, this is the question I want to ask because no one is asking this question? And I’m in spaces and we’re having conversations, but there is a question, there is research, there is something missing. And so Sharhonda, what is that question that that needs to be asked and researched and probed, that it’s a blind spot for us in this space? 

Sharhonda Bossier: I think a lot about what it will take to cultivate the political will for this country to invest in education as the public good it should be. I think part of the reason we have seen so much disinvestment or divestment from public education is because we are thinking about how to educate other people’s children on the cheap. And in other sectors, if we think about all of the ways that our tax dollars support medical research, if we think about all of the ways that our tax dollars support, even a lot of the tech that we use and take advantage of, I wonder what it would take for us to cultivate the political will to invest in that same level in our public education infrastructure. So that would be my research question. 

Curtis Valentine: Thank you. 

Nina Gilbert: So I already have a doctorate. I’ll take an honorary MD, I’ll take that. It’ll help me pay for the other one that I’m still paying for and will until 2050. So the research I’m interested in and that we’re currently doing does focus on who’s missing. So the model is a participatory research model where we are inviting people who are often being researched about, the research subjects to participate in the process. So because I spent so much of my career as a practitioner, and now in this latter part of my career, I am in higher ed, I see the disconnect between theory and practice. And so my beautiful colleagues, the scholars that they are, they write about the work that my colleagues who are practitioners are doing. So they’re not experiencing what’s happening in the day-to-day. And my colleagues who are practitioners are not reading their research. If you are a third grade teacher, you are not looking to read a peer reviewed journal. You need something in real time, literature that’s going to actually help you do your job better. 

And it’s not about a job. For some of us who are practitioners, it’s really about something that’s more intrinsic, it’s a passion, it’s a calling. But is that enough? So doing research that is inquiry based using ethnographic research tools, like when you’re studying the culture in the community and oneself. Being reflective, that’s really important. So we are building up practitioner research, and action research so practitioners can do the research, see themselves in the research, and actually apply whatever their findings are back into their setting, both leaders and teachers. I think there’ll be a lot of utility for that. And the other piece, if I can add, we are doing some work around the 70th commemoration of Brown V Board to really understand the impact of integration on the black teacher pipeline. 

Curtis Valentine: I want to thank you all for joining us for this conversation, for this episode of Ralph’s Reports podcast. My panelists, Dr. Nina Gilbert, Sharhonda Bossier, thank you all for this conversation. I hope you all took something from it, and I’m looking forward to having a conversation like this soon. Again. 

Sharhonda Bossier: Thanks for having me. 

Nina Gilbert: Thank you. 

Curtis Valentine: Thank you.