Ep. 66: School Choice in Pop Culture - Parenthood - EdChoice

Ep. 66: School Choice in Pop Culture – Parenthood

September 12, 2018

In this episode of our School Choice in Pop Culture series, two fans of the NBC television show Parenthood, our Director of State Relations Lauren Hodge and Vice President of External Relations Brian McGrath, discuss inspiring and sometimes heartbreaking clips from the popular television series.

Lauren Hodge: Well, good afternoon everyone. This is Lauren Hodge joining you for another episode of EdChoice Chats. Today we’re going to be doing a School Choice in Pop Culture with one of my favorite series, Parenthood. So for those of you who know me and those of you who do not, my name is Lauren Hodge and I’m a state director here with EdChoice. I come to you pretty fresh into this school choice movement. I previously worked as litigator and came over after seeing the juvenile justice system let down kid after kid after kid and really trying to get to the root cause of the issue. So I am very excited to be joined here today by my colleague. Brain, you want to introduce yourself?

Brian McGrath: Sure. I’m Brian McGrath. I’m the Vice President of External Relations here at EdChoice. I have been at EdChoice, in this precious organization, the Friedman Foundation for almost 20 years now, in and out of the school choice movement. Have seen a lot of different things happen. I’ve done fundraising, I’ve done program work, I’ve done partnership building so it’s been a fun ride to be a part of. And welcome to the team Lauren, it’s only been a few months for you, I know.

Lauren Hodge: That’s right. I’m glad to be here. So today, we’re going to watch one of, I think, our favorite series.

Brian McGrath: Yeah, big one.

Lauren Hodge: Parenthood. And for those of you who may not be familiar with the series, it is amazing. I’m just going to tell you right now. Amazing. But it takes place in Berkeley, California. A pretty affluent area in California and it focuses in on one particular family and the extension of that family. So the sisters and the brothers and it follows their paths over a course of a couple of years. And so really, one of the stories that we’re going to look at today is the story of the Bravermans. And the Bravermans are led by Adam and Kristina and they have several children, one of whom is Max and Max is a special needs child.

And so we’re going to look through some clips today that talk about Max’s struggle with the school system. But I think one of the reasons I absolutely fell in love with the show is its genuine message. I mean, the emotions that they show were raw emotions, the issued they showed were issued that families dealt with, special needs and just family dynamics and money and careers. I mean, just the things that in and out it pulls at your heart strings. And it was just one of those shows that even if I walked away sobbing from an episode, I absolutely loved it.

Brian McGrath:  Yeah, and for me, I mean, this show came out I think in 2010 maybe and I have three children, I had just had my third child at that time, my wife and I. And so I was in the throws of all these kinds of things. Like hey, my life’s totally different. I got a kid going to first grade, I got to actually deal with schools now. I mean, I’ve been talking about ’em for a long time and now I actually have to be involved in the system. What’s it look like? How does it work? What are all the issues that go into that?

So for me, when we started watching this show, you’d watch it and say, “Oh yeah, I kind of get that emotion of what they’re feeling there.” And it just hit me at a time in life where it was very real that you’re beyond the kind of one childhood stage and then also the sort of free willing days of just having infants or little kids. Now you’re actually, you’re sending your kids out to the world and the world is a complex place. So anyway, that’s why the show always appealed to me, is that I could, not that I could identify exactly with all their plates, but identify with the complexities they had to face every day. And what was a middley, a suburban, affluent lifestyle. This is not some hard knocks place, this was one of the wealthiest parts of the country. So anyway, that’s why the show always appealed to me ’cause I can … In that part of my life, it hit home in a lot of ways.

Lauren Hodge: Well, that makes a lot of sense. I know as I continue to rewatch it, I pick up, I think, new things each time that I see it. So I think the first clip that we’re going to see here today is involving Max and a behavioral therapist. And so, just a little bit of background for those of you who may not be familiar with the show. Max is the middle child in the Braverman family. He’s got an older sister and later on, a younger sister that have come along.

Brian McGrath: Spoiler alert.

Lauren Hodge: That’s right. And so, he had been struggling at school for a long time, struggling behaviorally for a long time. And so, eventually it comes out and he is diagnosed with Asperger’s. And while that’s not a now recognized diagnosis, it was a very real issue for Max to contend with. I mean, and so one of the things that his parents were able to do is hire a behavioral therapist. And so this clip is the very first interaction between the behavioral therapist and the character Max.

Brian McGrath: Right.

CLIP

Lauren Hodge: All right, so this one of the clips. What do you think about it Brian?

Brian McGrath: Well, what jumps out of me is, ’cause like I said, I have these three kids. They’ve gone through school or are going through school now, but one of the tenets of school choice of course is that parents are their primary educators and they know best about their kids and they need to be empowered to figure out where their kids fit in. What this shows me though, because I’ve dealt with this and so have a lot of other parents, I know, it’s parents need help. This is not a, “Hey, I’m in charge of my kid’s education and I’m a parent and I know how to do all the ins and outs of it.” Whether it’s helping your kid with math or dealing with emotional issues or structural issues or discipline issues.

So school choice is a mean that all those things go away. That we don’t respect the role of teachers or administrators or counselors or other folks. And in fact, this is a great example of that because there’s the mom who has already got a program that’s not working with their kid. Really, “Hey, have a cookie,” whatever. He gets like this way, you just can’t handle him. But there is a professional in the room saying, “No, you got to do these other things differently.” Now, what we would want the school choice world is to let the parents try to seek those people out. Let the parents maybe use some of the dollars associated with their kids’ education to seek those services out.

So, for example, like many states have things like Course Choice and Course Access now. So why they couldn’t use those resources to access those things for their children, is beyond me. But that’s what struck me in this scene, was that I have gone to parent meetings, I’ve gone to teacher, counselor meetings. “So and so is not behaving. What do we do?” And you go in with all these preconceived notions. But sometimes the people in the room, they do care about your kids well-being and you just need a little help as a parent.

Lauren Hodge: Well, and I think contextually what sticks out to me with this clip is that, and you and I both chuckled at the same part where … For those of you who are listening and can’t see the clip, the behavioral therapist says “No, when you make a deal you have to stick to it.” And the mom, Kristina kind of sits up straight and she kind of shakes it off like, “Oh, I didn’t even know this was an option anymore.” And so, one of the things that always reminds me in this scene is the relief that comes, not only to the Bravermans in this clip as a family, but to the teachers and to his behavior.

In this point in time, Max is still in a mainstream school but he’s causing issues and he’s disruptive in the classroom. And so much of that school choice conversation that we have, it’s about so much more than just the school. It’s about actually being able to live effectively as a family and to have the skills that you’re going to need, not just so you can pass your math class, but so that you can be a successful member of society. And I think when we talk about, especially behavioral therapist or any type of special needs program, one of the ways that I see this utilize the best are in ESA’s education savings accounts or in text credit scholarships where they give that power to the parent to top up on their services.

So maybe their child is doing really well in a lot of these areas but this is the major challenge that they’re facing. And as you see throughout the progression of the show, Max becomes this beautiful, wonderful character over time, spoiler alert. But he’s able to grow and to develop in large part, due to the behavioral therapist coming into the home. And I think that when we talk about education, when we talk about the importance of it, for so many people, it’s not just the importance of passing the class and getting the grades, it’s about really becoming a functional, important member of society. And for a lot of students, no matter what your need is, you might need a little help in a certain area. That’s life. I wish I would come out knowing everything but I’ve really experienced that. And so, I love to see the impact that that behavioral therapist can have and the impact that it can bring, not only to the child in school, but to the home itself.

Brian McGrath: Right. Yeah, ’cause it’s all one big complex system once you get down to it. Like I said, having three kids, all doing their own separate things. I mean, three kids who came from exactly the same background, going to exactly the same schools but they all react completely differently to each [crosstalk 00:10:52]

Lauren Hodge: You’re telling me they’re not all the same?

Brian McGrath: They’re not. And that’s fine and I think that you have to search out ways to make it work. And have some of them have no issues. One of them in particular is always a slow starter at the beginning of school so we always have to go in. In fact, we were laughing about the other day. “Hey, when’s it going to be our special parent teacher meeting to talk about our son’s slow start?” And that’s where these kinds of extra services could help and counselors and things like that can help.

Any tool you can give parents I think to achieve what we think is one of their primary jobs, which is to help with their kids’ education, to me makes a lot of sense. So we just have to find ways to do that.

Lauren Hodge: Well, and I guess … You’re a parent. I’ve never met a parent who doesn’t want the absolute best for their child. Who isn’t looking for anything and everything that they can do, especially when a child’s struggling? And these types of services are just so critical to that development.

Brian McGrath: Right. And there’s more and more. I mean, there’s all kinds of services that are out there available. Not every school, as we’re going to see in I think some clips going forward, can provide everything you need and nor can they really, is it realistic to think they will, but that’s where you got to give the, “Okay, that’s not happening and how do we get them to a place they can thrive as a child?” And that’s really what you want.

Lauren Hodge: Right. All right, so should we move on to our next clip?

Brian McGrath: Sure.

Lauren Hodge: So our next clip is Max and Kristina been and going to a parent meeting.

Brian McGrath: Oh parent meeting, I know a lot about this. This is right up my alley.

Lauren Hodge: So this should be home territory for you.

Brian McGrath: Yeah.

Lauren Hodge: So Max and Kristina are called in to a parent meeting after finding out that their son is struggling in the classroom. And I think for those of you who are listening and not able to watch, Max is a couple years older here. So he’s had the behavioral therapist, he’s in this public classroom and this is kind of the context for the clip. You’re ready?

Brian McGrath: Yep.

CLIP

Lauren Hodge:  Wow, that is a packed clip. And for those who are listening, Max was being sent out of the classroom. He would become disruptive while the teacher was teaching. He had read all of the books and knew all of the facts and he would just start kind of sharing them with the class. And so, when he became disruptive, the teacher was sending him to the library.

Brian McGrath:  Right. And apparently this had happened a lot because he kind of he suggested himself, library time and they were like, “Yeah.”

Lauren Hodge:  Right.

Brian McGrath: So not a new thing. Well, I’ll start on this one since I have so much experience with parent meetings.

Lauren Hodge: That’s right.

Brian McGrath: It is a hard situation I think they’re dealing with because you watch the clip and you get the rest of the kids are kind of squirming in their seats a little bit. And it’s uncomfortable to watch actually because you feel for them, you feel for Max. The teacher is trying hard, there’s really no … The guy says there, no one’s winning. Truthfully, no one’s trying to lose it either and I don’t think this guy … This teacher doesn’t wake up every day and think, “How can I get this kid out of my class.” That is not the case, I don’t think with teachers, whether they be in public school, private school or whatever.

So it is a hard situation. But I think this is a great example of where sometimes the school system or the teachers or the administrators sort of goals, objectives and solutions do not align with the parents’ desires. And that’s what this really comes down to because the parents, the Bravermans, want their kid in a normal situation and he’s not exactly fitting in there, and that’s a hard situation to deal with. I can tell you it happens all the time. Every one of my kids through their elementary and middle school years now, has had a child who’s disruptive in class. Sometimes they have special needs, sometimes they don’t, sometimes they’re just a rowdy kid. The kids tend to find a way to deal with it but these are things that happen every single day in school.

So again, it’s one of those things that given an opportunity to move a kid somewhere or maybe he’s got a better … Maybe it’s a different environment in school that he feels more comfortable in. Maybe it’s smaller classes, maybe it’s different kind of teaching style, who knows. But the system we have now in public schools is not designed to deal with every situation like that.

Lauren Hodge: Right. Well, and I think so much of what you say is true. Nobody in that classroom is out there to get Max. Nobody’s trying to lose is what you said. But you do hear we’re 29 students. We have 29 other kids that are in this class and this is the problem. I can’t handle this. And it’s one of those things where the school choice movement, at least in my mind, it’s not about demonizing any particular school setting or any particular teacher style or teachers, it’s about recognizing that not every kid is the exact same. And for some kids, a different style or a different place might be ideal.

I think for those of you who know the show, you know that the same period of time, one of Max’s other teachers, takes away his chair. And what he finds is that Max does really well if he can stand up. He’s better at paying attention and he can exercise some of that extra energy that he has. And that’s an example of a unique teaching style that that teacher was able to deploy. But not every teacher is able to do that, not every classroom is able to accommodate that.

The other thing that I think is really interesting in this piece, and for those of you that are listening, you’re not able to see it, but it’s a situation where the parents are sitting together at the desk and then you have the administrator, the principal, standing over them saying, “This is the solution. This is the best solution I have at this period of time.” And you’ve probably sat in desks like that in your parent meetings, right?

Brian McGrath: Yeah.

Lauren Hodge: That power dynamic is very difficult, I can imagine, because you have somebody saying you’re supposed to trust the principal, you’re supposed to trust the teacher, you’re supposed to trust the administrator. They are the professionals and they’re telling you, “This is the best.” I have to imagine that’s a very difficult thing.

Brian McGrath: Yeah, it is. It’s frustrating and I’ve gone into one of these. Like I said, one of my kids is kind of a slow starter beginning of the year and so we inevitably go in a couple of weeks in and say, “All right, what can we do?” So much so that now we actually sort of alert the teachers ahead of time and say, “Hey, this is going to take a little while. It gets pulled up but what can we do and you should know but …” I can remember being very frustrated in one particular session we went in and their answer was kind of like, “I don’t know, take away his iPad.” They basically prescribed a bunch of things that we could be doing, which is certainly reasonable but there didn’t seem to be much on their end other than, “Hey, he’s just got to pick up the pace.”

That actually may have ended up being right but it just felt like we were in that powerless situation. Like there was nothing there were going to be able to do more than they were already doing. And as the consumer of something, you want something different than that. You want someone if your … If your car breaks down, you want a mechanic to tell you the great options and solve your problem, not to say, “I don’t know. Try something else.”

I think there’s a great opportunity or a great example too. Of something I heard once when I was in New Hampshire. I did work up there, maybe 15 years ago before they had the school choice program. But I remember this guy I was doing some stuff with and he said, “You know, public schools work great up here for about 80 or 90% of the kids. But for that 10%, they just don’t.” And it has nothing to do with the school or anything else. And so, for most of those kids in that classroom, they seem like your normal, average kid who is probably doing okay and Max was the one who was having an issue. So again, it doesn’t mean that those kids are bad or that the teacher is doing the wrong thing or that the school is inherently bad, it just means the situation isn’t working out for Max.

And as a parent again, you want whatever resources you can to try to fix that situation for your kid. Because at the end of the day, you are most concerned and really I would say almost only concerned about, your kid when it comes right down to it.

Lauren Hodge: Well, and I think that that’s a good example of this whole context of these clips. We talk about Max who is special. He does have some unique challenges to him but the fit piece, the being able to be in an environment where you learn your best, where you can thrive, where you can take away those distractions or whatever it is that’s impeding the ability to actually learn in that classroom. That’s universal, that’s every single child, that’s every single parents who have gone into these meetings, who are talking about changing its way. I mean, even though this context is certainly with the special needs, this does involve vouchers, this does involve education savings accounts, tax-credit scholarships, all of these things that fit for a kid no matter what it is. That they are in the best environment they can possibly be.

Brian McGrath: Right. Yeah, absolutely.

Lauren Hodge: So I think the next clip that we’re going to see is Kristina in an IEP meeting. So, an Individualized Education Plan or more commonly a special need situation where the parent is meeting with the school and they’re trying to work through what the best needs of that child are and the services. The context for the clip is that this mom who has a daughter with special needs approaches Kristina, the mom in the Braverman household, because she’s walked this path with Max. And she’s seen what this is and she needs help as she goes into this meeting. Ready?

Brian McGrath: Yeah.

Lauren Hodge: Let’s do it.

CLIP

Lauren Hodge: All right. So I guess if you’re all right, I’ll start this one.

Brian McGrath: You jump in.

Lauren Hodge: That’s right. So this was a parent IEP meeting and you can almost sense the tension from the clip. The mom is sitting there and she starts off with, “I’m not feeling good.” I mean, you’re there and had she not even had Kristina with her, it would have been one with three people sitting across from her that know the system, know the rules, know what’s available, know the resources. There’s a lot of knowledge that sits across from her but at the same time, this mom knows her kid. And you can see from that clip she is visibly anxious, she’s visibly frustrated by this process. And I think what’s so interesting about it is that she comes in with a solution. “I’d like to see this happen.” And it’s automatically dismissed as that’s not the way … We don’t see these types of gains in high school and we don’t want to do that unless it’s absolutely necessary.

So the counter solution that’s being provided is simply a check-in. You can tell me what you think, I don’t think she was ultimately happy with that solution but you saw her become kind of become resigned to it. Where she’s like, “Well, okay. I guess if that’s what you think will work.” And so often, parents that are going in, they know their kid the best but they’re sitting across from people that are professionals. That you were kind of told, put your faith in them and trust them, and for good reason. I’m not saying, like you said, no one in here was a bad actor, it’s simply the context of sitting there and being told, “Well, this should work.” “Well, okay, I guess we’ll do that.” And so, that tension from that meeting, I wonder how many parents walk away from meetings.

Brian McGrath: True.

Lauren Hodge: Where you kind of say, “There was no real outcome there that’s viable.” Or you walk away with that unsettled feeling of, “I don’t feel like this is actually a solution.”

Brian McGrath: Yeah, what struck me about looking at that and if you couldn’t see it, both sides seem … The mom seems, she seems powerless from the beginning, she seems very nervous and the other guy, the administrators in the other side, kind of come in and they seem much more business-like. Because they’re going through this meeting, this is their job that day, is to check this box of, we met with so and so and we came up with some solution. And again, not that they came in wicked that day thinking how they can make this woman’s life miserable, but in a way she’s powerless to do much and they seem a little powerless to do much. The situation doesn’t seem like it can be resolved very easily ’cause there are some limitations on what schools can do.

Lauren Hodge: Absolutely.

Brian McGrath: And I think you’re right, she’s sort of resigned to whatever they come up with just because it seems like it’s something different or maybe it’s … But it’s just not the exact same status quo. But this is almost like a perfect advertisement for ESA. This is exactly why ESAs exist because there are just some places, some instances, some kids, some schools, whatever, where it just doesn’t work out. And rather than trying to constantly take those kids and run them through a mill that’s not going to work, let them go somewhere else.

And so, that’s what you heard of, you were begging for in the end of this. Is they would find some way to say, “She’s apparently a bright kid, she’s got all this talent but she just isn’t working out there.” And that’s where you start to think if you look at this from an outside perspective, like how many of those kids are out there? And how many of those kids are out there in these schools that maybe there’s not identified the proper way of getting what they need and then their lives are dramatically different? I mean, some kid going through, I don’t know what age this student was supposed to be, but if you’re in fifth grade or fourth grade or sixth grade and you are already kind of predestined not to get the education you’re capable of achieving, what does that do to you longterm? It’s harrowing to think about, really.

Lauren Hodge: Well, and it identifies what I will refer to as the inbetweeners. So she doesn’t belong in the mainstream, she doesn’t belong in the special ed, but where is there to go? And I mean, for those of you who know the series, you know how this ends up. But this is the importance of innovation, and innovation and education. So often these schools, they have their requirements that they need to fulfill. Hold the IEP meeting, we held the IEP meeting. We generated simple solution. You check the box and you’re doing the best you can because you’ve got hundreds and hundreds of students.

So no mal intent that’s created there but this is why schools, like charters, this is why places need to be able to innovate. Or private schools need to be able to innovate and say, “Okay, we’re going to do this a little bit differently. Maybe you do need somebody that sits with you in the class or maybe you’re really good for this period of time and then you have to be pulled out.” And so, when we talk about regulations, when we talk about … A lot of these schools are fighting uphill battles. They have their check boxes that they have to mark off and yet there are these really great private schools, there are really these great charters where these kids can get access to resources in the way that you need. And also, the impact that that has, like you said, on other students in the classroom.

So we don’t want to interfere with other people’s ability to learn, that much is clear. But at the cost of what? So we don’t want to have students that are in the classroom that are disruptive that are going to disrupt the rest of the class. But balancing this, that’s a lot to ask from a class of 30.

Brian McGrath: It is.

Lauren Hodge: And like a lot to ask from teachers.

Brian McGrath: It’s a lot to ask from me. I mean, this is the fallacy of what we’ve created. Is a system that’s supposed to serve every kid. There are 50 million kids in school or something like that. Basically, and the outcome is supposed to be perfect for all of them. I mean, that’s sort of the inspiration. They’re all going to succeed and it’s impossible. We’re giving the system of schooling we’ve created the way we do it now, it’s an impossible task. Which is why innovation and things like even allowing people to access other kinds of schools whether they be private or home school or all these other things that are out there, online. Whatever it may be, that’s the way it has to go if we’re going to try to raise the level of success stories for some of these kids for sure.

Lauren Hodge: Well, and I think, going back to your point with New Hampshire, Indiana, we’re based here in Indianapolis and Indianas had choice for a very long time. The public schools are still up and running. We’re talking about taking that segment of the population that it’s not working for. That’s certainly not every single student. And so, when we talk about school choice, it’s important that, yeah, everyone should be able to have that opportunity. Just because you’re born into a certain zip code or born to a certain family … Mind you, all of these clips are taking place in a very affluent area that probably has more resources than most and it’s still not quite working.

Brian McGrath: Right. And again, it’s not because of anybody’s not trying their best, it’s just a matter of sometimes things need to be, you just need to try something different. And I think you see that a lot in schooling today. We just got to find ways to keep letting people access what they need to access. Actually, I have this one quick sort of thing that reminds me.

I have a friend whose parents are a public school teachers and he’s adamant about supporting the public school and he’s always questioning me about my advocacy for this issue. But anyway, and we live in the same neighborhood so his daughter was having a tough time in reading class a couple of years ago and I said, “Hey, would you ever consider pulling her out of the school?” And he said, “Well, yeah. I guess if she just doesn’t get over the hump, I would.” And I said, “Well, does that mean you’re somehow condemning that school? Don’t we all love this school?” And he said, “Yeah, we do.” And I said, “Well, there’s your school choice.” But he had always viewed it as it was us saying that schools were bad or teachers were bad or whatever, and that’s just not the case.

Lauren Hodge:  No. That’s absolutely … I think that hits the nail on the head. Should we turn to our last clip?

Brian McGrath: Yeah, absolutely.

Lauren Hodge:                     This one’s a tough one for me.

Brian McGrath:                   Yeah.

CLIP

Lauren Hodge: That scene gets me every time.

Brian McGrath: Lauren, how are you feeling now?

Lauren Hodge:  Yeah, ’cause my tears are coming down.

Brian McGrath: You weren’t kidding when you said these were too [inaudible 00:35:05].

Lauren Hodge:  I know. But it’s one of the most powerful scenes in my mind from Parenthood. And there are a lot of them, but especially as it relates to Max. And so, just for a little bit of context from this clip, he’s about eighth grade here I think, ’cause it’s before he starts high school. And really that realization, I am a freak. I mean, how many times in that clip does he continue to push back. No, you’re not. I feel this way. And I think … Florida just passed that bullying legislation so if you have been a victim of bullying, you’re now eligible for basically a choice program, to leave that school and go into another school.

This is a huge thing in the choice field. I feel like we have to address because … I mean, it’s a powerful scene. You’ve got dad in the front who’s tearing up, you’ve got the mom who’s going back. He doesn’t even like to be touched and she’s throwing her arms around him because I think … I’m not a parent but that has to be your worst nightmare.

Brian McGrath: Oh, absolutely.

Lauren Hodge: Like the worst nightmare. And so I think that it’s a really important way when we go back to that, that universality of saying, “Hey, we have to have some fits important. Choices important if only to make sure we have the right fit.” Because for a portion of kids, it is a living nightmare every day and it’s … I think that context for it was he had gone out on a field trip and it was the very first time his mom didn’t go on a field trip with him. Because his mom had always chaperoned knowing that he had some issues that had dealt with and he asked her not to because he wanted to start starting his independence. So you’ve got a parent trying to support but also being very nervous. And then this, your worst fear happens.

I mean, this scene just … It breaks my heart every single time but I, still crying, but I feel like it’s so important that we talk about it for the kids that really do face this in the classroom.

Brian McGrath: Yeah. This scene is fascinating to me ’cause it touches about every emotion as a parent you have on the rawest of level. So the number one thing that you think when you’re a parent is I want my kid to be safe in every environment possible. So like I said, when I first started watching this show, this was a couple years in, in this particular scene but we’re first sending our kids on the bus by themselves and all that. Of course my wife followed the bus to the school the first day ’cause all the moms do. It’s like a caravan. But that’s pretty fun. That was great.

But we sort of went through a minor version. So we found out a couple of weeks later, our first grader was getting picked on, on the bus. So of course you’re … I mean, I’m just like Adam in that scene. He’s just steely-eyed, he’s calling the kids names. He’s going to kill him. I mean all these things, ’cause that’s what you feel. Now, we dealt with it by and it went okay. But then there’s that self-doubt, “Oh, I just put my kid in some terrible situation.” Or not terrible but they’re not safe, I can’t hold my hands around ’em all the time.

And then it also touches on how hard it is to just communicate with your kids sometimes as they grow. Like some kids will tell you everything, some kids will tell you nothing. So we didn’t know about my kid, for example, getting picked on for like three weeks ’cause he just didn’t say anything about it and he’s a shy kid. And so, that’s why they would pick on him a little bit ’cause he was a little bit shy.

And also, I think it touches on one of these desires that every parent has is not is my kid going to get an A in algebra or whatever, it’s are they going to socialize with others? Are they going to feel accepted? Are they going to accept others? Are they going to have a life that it’s not, to your point, like waking up every day terrorized that you’re going to go to school? Because you’re going to get picked on, you’re going to sit by yourself at the lunch table, you’re not going to be able to compete athletically or whatever it may be. And that’s a big deal too.

And one of the things the EdChoice research constantly shows and we talk to parents who use the school choice programs or even not, is what do you want out of this educational environment? “Well, I want my kid to be safe. I want them to learn certain things.” Text scores are up there and academic scores are up there but there almost never number one, if I remember the research correctly. So there’s a lot that goes into, as I mentioned earlier, the complexity of what education schooling is. And this scene just touches on all of ’em and that’s why it’s so hard to get these things right all the time. Yeah, that scene is about as poignant as it gets when it comes to how you deal with your child or your children on a every day basis. And again, it has nothing to do with the test scores at the end of the day, really it’s how their day goes.

I mean, there in school or that school environment for more than, almost a third of their day at least. One thing I think it touches on too that I think too is that it shows how it’s hard for adults. So we’re all there making policy on this, that and the other but we don’t see the world through our kids’ eyes.

Lauren Hodge: That’s a good point.

Brian McGrath: So he’s saying, “Hey, I’m supposed to be so smart and yet my life stinks. I’m supposed to be this and I’m experiencing that.” And it’s hard because it’s hard to go back. I mean, how many times do you hear this, “Well, when I was in school.” But it’s hard to really see the world through a kid’s eyes right now.

And the truth is, it’s hard to grow up. It’s harder now than … I mean, it’s not how it used to be but there’s a lot that goes into it. Whether it’s social media bullying or kids bullying in school. Now, I think the upside of that is it’s gotten a lot of attention so there’s more focus on not letting those things happen. But it’s just hard for us sometimes I think as advocates to really dig down and see what a individual kid is. And I mean advocates on both sides, same thing for people who are teachers and the administration and everybody else.

Lauren Hodge: Well, and I think when we look at that individual scene, the ability to … I mean, he’s at a very formative age and I’m certainly not a psychologist but eighth grade, the moment you really … You’ve got a kid labeling himself a freak and I mean, that I think has lasting ramifications. Like I said, not a psychologist but I can imagine that that wouldn’t carry over. And so, going back to your comment about for these children, but this is his every day. This is his world, this is his life and he has to live it every single day.

And so, when we have these kids that are so emotionally, psychologically just, sometimes even physically terrorized, making sure that parents have that ability to pull them out of that environment and not face ramifications, the … Spoiler alert, just for all of you who were listening to that very emotional scene, it does get better. And it ends up with a charter school being created by Max’s parents, Adam and Kristina, and it’s called Chambers Academy and they focus on kids with special needs that are very high achieving but aren’t working in the mainstream classroom.

And so, there is a lot of really happy things that happen that come out of this and luckily in this fictitional story, he ends up winning at the end. But not every kid is that lucky. And so, the importance that we have, not only every duty that we have not only with every child, but to get it right. And get it right the first time I think is so important and the scene really crystallizes that.

Brian McGrath: Yeah. And on that same note, I mean, to get it right and to keep trying until you get it right too.

Lauren Hodge: Yes.

Brian McGrath: I mean, one of the great things about education now versus, say 20, 30 years ago, is that there’s an opportunity to innovate and start new schools and there’s money available if you can pull it together to start a charter or build your own private school, very hard to do but can be done. There’s a lot more opportunities and that’s the promise of choice. I mean, our founder of all these stuff for us, Milton Friedman, never talked about test scores or academic outcomes, he just viewed choice as a way to provide a better educational system for everybody. And he wasn’t prescribing what that look like, but giving people the choice, giving the parents the choice, gives that opportunity, that the chance to grow. And education’s going to look different now in 10 years than it does now and 20 years on, certainly different than that. And that’s really where the power of choice comes. I think is being able to adapt to the times and not just say, “Well, back when I was in school, this is what we did.” Because back when you were in school was a long time ago.

Lauren Hodge: That’s right.

Brian McGrath: The schools different now and will be different forever.

Lauren Hodge: Well, Brian, I think we covered a lot.

Brian McGrath: We did.

Lauren Hodge: I think we covered charters, we’ve covered education savings account, tax-credit savings account, special needs. Good podcast.

Brian McGrath: Yeah. Well, and you only cried once so that’s good. You showed a lot of courage in that.

Lauren Hodge: Only one time. I’m going to be honest, I’ve watched that clip like eight times and have cried every single time.

Brian McGrath: That’s the tough one. I watched that one too to sort of get your eye up about a bad situation and so … Yeah, thanks for participating in it. We’ve got a few things to encourage you all to do. So, if you have any new Pop Culture series ideas, send ’em our way. You can e-mail us at media@edchoice.org and if you’ve got a show that you’ve found somewhere along the way that deals with school choice issues, we’d love to have it to you. Subscribe to us at SoundCloud, iTunes and Stitcher. I have to admit, I don’t know what Stitcher is.

Lauren Hodge: Somebody out there does.

Brian McGrath: Somebody knows there. If you know what it is, join up on that one. Follow us on social media @edchoice on all the normal channels. And sign up for our e-mails, especially with the website. The website is edchoice.org. There’s all kinds of great information there about all the programs we tried to touch on today. And that’s where you can find other Pop Culture series or podcast as well. Lauren, it’s been great. We’ll have to do it again sometime.

Lauren Hodge: Sounds great, Brian.

Brian McGrath: All right, thank you.

Lauren Hodge: Bye bye.

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