The official subject matter of Sea Change Radio is environmental sustainability. This week, however, we are deviating from that to talk about a topic that we believe is inextricably linked to sustainability: stratification in education. We are talking with law professor, civil rights advocate, and educational diversity expert, Prof. John C. Brittain, about educational practices that perpetuate social, racial, and socioeconomic exclusiveness. Elite private schools were once restricted to wealthy white young men. Since the 1960s we have seen some progress at these schools – they all admit women, most have scholarship programs to make room for the non-wealthy, and they generally boast of need-blind admissions practices. But there is one hidden practice, often overlooked, which runs counter to all of that progress: the practice of legacy admissions. That is, giving preference to applicants who have a family connection to the school. The majority of elite educational institutions in this country do this. For example, in 2017, a full 41% of Harvard’s incoming freshman were legacies. Logic tells us that generation after generation, this sort of admission preference can’t be doing much for these schools’ demographic diversity. Professor Brittain and host Alex Wise discuss how legacy admission practices serve as affirmative action for the privileged, the irony that the practice thrives in the United States which holds itself up as a model meritocracy and how schools’ justifications for the ongoing use of legacy preferences don’t hold up to a reasoned analysis.
What if every child emerged from the public educational system with an appreciation for the connectivity of all human and non-human life, and with a commitment to create solutions to the problems that plague that interconnected ecosystem? Today on Sea Change Radio we continue our discussion with Zoe Weil, education reformer and environmentalist who holds that vision firmly in view. Last week we talked about the intersection of sustainability and public education. Today we go deeper into some concrete strategies, programs, and curricula that can help make this vision real. What’s the link between obesity and the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico? How do you bridge the equity gap that PTA fundraising inadvertently widens? And how can teaching critical thinking in public education help to sustain this institution that is the life blood of a participatory democracy? Listen as we grapple with these questions.
What’s the purpose of schooling? Reading, writing and ‘rithmetic, right? Well, our guest today begs to differ. Zoe Weil, author and the founder of the Institute for Humane Education, argues that the obligation of education is to cultivate a generation of “solutionaries” – kind, just, and socially conscious people who will protect the environment and promote human rights. We talk about her new book, The World Becomes What We Teach, and touch upon educational equity issues like implicit bias, summer learning loss, the resurgence of school segregation, and how Common Core fits into her vision for meaningful change.