Interview: Hosts of ‘Bored of Ed’ Podcast on Post-COVID School Reimagined for Justice
Experience the enchanting melody of ‘The Wheels on the Bus’, accompanied by captivating drum beats and a remarkable record scratch.
Immerse yourself in the captivating world of the Bored of Education podcast, where disruptors and innovators gather to discuss their endeavors in dismantling inequality in public education.
Jonathan Santos Silva and Doc Miller, the hosts of this new podcast, just concluded the first season of their thought-provoking show. With a broad audience spanning across the nation and beyond, the Bored of Ed is available on popular platforms such as Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Through this series, the hosts question whether the COVID-19 pandemic, despite its devastating impact, could serve as a catalyst for promoting equity and liberation within our education system.
Throughout the 12 episodes of Season 1, Santos Silva, a former math teacher and the founder of the Liber Institute, and Miller, a seasoned educator and employee at The New Teacher Project, engage in conversations with leaders of color in the education field. Together, they explore ways to reimagine the school system and improve support for students and families.
In an exclusive interview with , Asher Lehrer-Small spoke with Santos Silva and Miller to uncover their key takeaways from Season 1 and gain insight into their future plans for the podcast. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
: Jonathan, your journey in education began as a math teacher on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. How did that experience shape your perspective and influence your current endeavors?
Courtesy of Jonathan Santos Silva
Santos Silva: I had the opportunity to teach in South Dakota through Teach For America, and it was a completely new and unfamiliar setting for me. Growing up in Massachusetts, the heartland of America was uncharted territory. When I arrived in South Dakota and witnessed life on the reservation, it was a transformative experience. The small town atmosphere and the interconnectedness of the community were eye-opening. Every passing car represented a family member of my students – a parent, an aunt, an uncle, or a grandparent. This realization highlighted the immense value of family and relationships.
Since then, the lessons I learned and the relationships I formed have greatly influenced my approach to leadership. Everything I have done can be traced back to the wisdom and inspiration I gained from the reservation.
Turning our attention to the podcast, ‘The Bored of Ed’ is a clever and catchy name. Could you share its significance and the inspiration behind it?
Santos Silva: I consider myself fortunate because I excelled within the confines of the traditional academic setting, despite the stereotypes and biases that may suggest otherwise.
Neither of my parents had college degrees. My mother possessed only a high school diploma, and my father initially dropped out of school but later obtained a GED through the military. They had limited knowledge about FAFSA forms or the intricacies of college admissions, but they instilled in me the belief that education was essential.
Although I achieved academic success and thrived, I quickly realized that I was the exception rather than the rule. It became tiresome to constantly justify why I was not inherently special. My friends, cousins, and neighbors possessed equal intelligence and talents as me, but the system failed to support their success. This weariness persisted.
Whenever educational topics appeared on cable news, the discussion primarily involved the same individuals – a select group who were repeatedly called upon by networks such as Fox News, MSNBC, or CNN. It did not matter what the subject was; these networks consistently disregarded the expertise of brilliant Black, Latinx, Southeast Asian, and Indigenous educators across the nation. I questioned why we were not speaking to these individuals who possessed an intricate understanding of education.
Hence, the name ‘Bored of Ed’ emerged from my discontentment. We grew tired of the monotonous conversations surrounding education reform and desired to explore different perspectives. We strive to engage with the true heroes of education – the individuals who diligently carry out the work.
Santos Silva and Miller recording the podcast from their respective homes. All Season 1 interviews were conducted through Zoom. (The Bored of Ed)
Santos Silva: The importance of this issue has always been relevant, not just in the present moment.
During my time teaching in Indian country, I noticed that white individuals mostly took charge of professional development. These individuals, who had never set foot on the reservation, were allocating funds towards curriculums that they believed were best for our students. It made me question why we were neglecting the knowledge and valuable insights of our elders and educators who were intimately familiar with our children, community, and context. Their perspectives would have been invaluable to our work.
So the significance of this issue has always been present. I then realized that since this is my own podcast, there are no program directors or advertising personnel dictating what can or cannot be said based on their commercial interests.
I wanted to have conversations with the individuals who we should have been engaging with from the start. What if we united and utilized our collective power?
Take a listen to Episode 1 of the Bored of Ed podcast.
A recurring theme in several episodes is the importance of customization to meet the unique needs of individual students. This includes addressing their emotional requirements, learning styles, overall well-being, and other contributing factors. After speaking to numerous experts, what are your thoughts on how to implement this in the classroom?
Santos Silva: Rather than offering a strict prescription, I believe educators should embrace the mindset of design thinkers. They should engage in empathy interviews with various individuals in their community, including students, the people responsible for sending them to school (e.g., parents, grandparents, guardians), and respected elders.
How can we foster one-on-one conversations that empower individuals?
For instance, if you regularly encounter the uncle of some of your students at basketball games or parent conferences, how do you initiate a conversation with him that unlocks the potential for him to become an active and engaged leader in the community? What unique skills do you personally bring to the table, and what skills and perspectives do you lack?
Customization and personalization should not be viewed as additional extras, but rather as a way of forming meaningful relationships with the students we are here to serve.
Provided by Doc Miller
Miller: What strikes me about many of the episodes, as someone who may not share the same background as the community I am affecting with my decisions, is the importance of listening.
I must acknowledge that my identity cannot be separated from this context, right? So if I, as a white leader in a predominantly Black community, make decisions without listening to Black kids, Black parents, Black families, and Black communities, I will fail to understand the necessary customizations.
If I solely rely on my own perspective to make decisions, we will continue to experience the same lackluster outcomes. Therefore, I challenge anyone who listens to this podcast to consider their individual identity as the lens through which they perceive their work in the world.
This reminds me of Episode 8, where Ron Rapatalo from Edgility Consulting discussed the importance of youth voice. He expressed his frustration when adults forget how stifling it was to be disregarded as youths in the classroom. So, how do we create classrooms and schools that effectively integrate the voices of students?
Santos Silva: It all starts with respecting young people.
We listen to others, read their books, or watch their content because we respect them and value their perspectives. Disregarding the opinions of children is a form of disrespect.
These kids have witnessed incidents of unarmed Black individuals being killed on video. They have read about the disproportionate impact of violent crimes and murders on Black and transgender women. I cannot assume that I know what these kids need, or that they are ready to learn what I want to teach them.
Therefore, we should approach every interaction with the premise of respect, recognizing that the young person in front of us is deserving of our respect. We should ask, "What do you need? What do you want? How can I help you prepare for learning?"
Listen to Episode 8 of the Bored of Ed podcast for more insights on this topic.
We require a crafted approach to education, one that prioritizes the child and recognizes the importance of their development and growth. This represents a paradigm shift, a more challenging endeavor that demands additional resources and a reimagining of our roles within the system. In order to adapt to this new model, certain outdated aspects of the factory-like education system must be discarded, while preserving the valuable end product.
Regarding the COVID pandemic and its connection to race, it is undeniable that the pandemic is closely intertwined with systemic racism. This issue was discussed in Episode 6 with David Johns, the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, which was recorded shortly after the shooting of Jacob Blake by a Wisconsin police officer. That episode remains memorable due to the timely convergence of these dual pandemics.
The energy of that particular episode was distinct. It can be likened to a scene from the Tom and Jerry cartoons, where there is a bomb with a long fuse, and the anticipation builds as it could explode at any moment. We must consider the immense burden placed on individuals, how much more they can endure.
As we witness the disproportionate impact of these crises on Black and Native communities, particularly through videos capturing acts of violence, one question remains paramount: How can we prepare ourselves to help children heal? How can we engage in conversations with them about the traumatic events they have witnessed? This is the essence of what stood out to me in that episode.
When it comes to the children we serve, David’s commitment is unwavering and deeply serious.
In some episodes, Doc has provided guidance to white listeners on confronting uncomfortable truths. As a white listener myself, I found these moments to be valuable. What message would you convey to white listeners who genuinely want to engage with the issues of white supremacy and institutional racism within education?
Miller: For those who strive for equity, it is essential that we enter spaces with an open mind, ready to truly listen and believe the firsthand experiences shared. When doubts or dismissive thoughts arise, we must consciously reject them and focus on listening genuinely. It is through this process that we can establish genuine connections.
I often refer to a book called "The Person You Mean to Be" by Dolly Chugh, which explores this aspect of personal growth. If you find yourself confronted with challenging ideas and your initial instinct is to engage in a debate, recognize that this is the natural response of our brains. It triggers the release of cortisol and that sense of getting hijacked by the amygdala, leading to the fight, flight, or freeze response.
This doesn’t make someone a bad person; it simply highlights our humanity. What truly defines our character and enables personal growth is the ability to acknowledge these reactions and still remain present in that uncomfortable space, actively listening to others.
Chugh refers to the notion of being "good-ish" people. It means embracing the discomfort and exploring it instead of shying away from it.
Returning to the broader perspective, this podcast envisions what schools might look like in 20 years, considering the disruption caused by COVID. It has sparked conversations on social media with the hashtag #BackToBetter. Now that schools have reopened and we are over a month into the school year, what positive developments have you observed?
Santos Silva: Not all children have had a negative experience during the pandemic. Some have thrived because, for the first time, they are not subjected to constant scrutiny of their every movement. They can be fidgety or get up from their seats without punishment. Teachers have prioritized their well-being by asking, "How are you feeling today? How is your family?" We are prioritizing humanity.
The scope of the issue extends beyond reservations. I recently came across an inspiring story about a mother in Connecticut who took it upon herself to create an organization that brings together homeschooling families of minority children. She firmly believes that if the educational system fails to provide her child with trauma-sensitive, culturally responsive, and personalized learning experiences, then she will take matters into her own hands.
These parents truly know and love their children, and they are fully committed to ensuring the best for their kids. As educators, we can learn a lot from their dedication and approach.
Many people are feeling exhausted and disillusioned, just like we are. They have grown tired of the same old educational system and are unwilling to simply accept any subpar back-to-school plans devised by the district. Instead, they are choosing to opt out of such plans and take control of their own liberation.
Moving forward, what can listeners expect from our podcast? Can we anticipate a new season? Without giving away any surprises, I can confirm that there will indeed be a Season 2.
There are countless more voices that we have yet to hear and numerous untold stories waiting to be shared. The members of The Bored are truly remarkable, and there is still so much ground to cover.
I firmly believe that the only limit to what we can achieve with The Bored of Ed is our own creativity.