Full PreFrontal

Ep. 148: Pedro A. Noguera, PhD - Building New Ladders of Opportunity Beyond Chance and Circumstance

May 13, 2021 Sucheta Kamath Season 1 Episode 147
Full PreFrontal
Ep. 148: Pedro A. Noguera, PhD - Building New Ladders of Opportunity Beyond Chance and Circumstance
Show Notes Transcript

America’s struggle with equity was unveiled in a  2011 Department of Education study which showed that 45% of high-poverty schools received less state and local funding than what was typical for other schools in their district. The  funding disparities were further brought to light through a 2019 Ed Build report that showed that majority-white districts received $23 billion more in school funding than majority non-white districts. If this data is accurate, the performance gap is truly an opportunity gap and the solution could reside in rethinking our thinking about poverty, potential, and performance.

On this episode,  author of 15 books and distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Southern California, Dr. Pedro A. Noguera, discusses how perceptions and stereotypes regarding poor children of color influenced by deficit thinking gets in the way of cultivating the talents in these children. By rethinking one’s own pre-suppositions and by refocusing on tapping into children’s curiosity, the chance that they become independently motivated learners is certain. 

About Pedro A. Noguera, PhD
Pedro Noguera is the Emery Stoops and Joyce King Stoops Dean of the Rossier School of Education and a Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Southern California. Prior to joining USC, Noguera served as a Distinguished Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. Before joining the faculty at UCLA, he served as a tenured professor and holder of endowed chairs at New York University, Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of 15 books. His most recent books are A Search for Common Ground: Conversations About the Toughest Questions in K-12 Education (Teachers College Press) with Rick Hess and City Schools and the American Dream: Still Pursuing the Dream (Teachers College Press) with Esa Syeed.


About Host, Sucheta Kamath
Sucheta Kamath, is an award-winning speech-language pathologist, a TEDx speaker, a celebrated community leader, and the founder and CEO of ExQ®. As an EdTech entrepreneur, Sucheta has designed ExQ's personalized digital learning curriculum/tool that empowers middle and high school students to develop self-awareness and strategic thinking skills through the mastery of Executive Function and social-emotional competence.

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 Sucheta Kamath: Welcome to another episode of Full PreFrontal. My mission is to help people understand that our brain brains prefrontal cortex at its best produces behaviors and actions that are goal directed, persistent and highly focused in serving the needs of the future self. The brain's PFC or prefrontal cortex acts as the orchestra conductor, directing actions, guiding emotions, tweaking responses, and calibrating decisions in order to create a beautiful, harmonious symphony of well lived life. However, this is not accessible to every single individual. And because the brain is in the process of development, children are less capable until they become adults. But even within the developing brain in the child, some children have greater access to the advantages that come with a well developed prefrontal cortex. So the question is, we cannot really understand the impact of brain that's able to guide itself without considering the context. And that's why I bring the guests who contribute to this process of uncovering or unveiling the key components that drive and propel the significant self regulation in our ourselves and continue to be successful. So it gives me great pleasure to introduce our guest today. Our guest is Dr. Pedro Noguera, who is Emery Stoops and Joyce King Stoops Dean of Rossier School of Education, and a distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Southern California. And I know you started there, I think recently, if I'm correct, before that he has a long journey of amazing successful career including being at the endowed chair at NYU, Harvard, and you versity of California, Berkeley. He is an author of 15 beloved books, I haven't finished all of his 15 books, which is on my list to do list, I have finished three most important ones that I found extremely informative. And he also is a most important contributor to our educational leadership's understanding of how to create equity, and really understand student agency. So welcome to the podcast, Dr. Pedro

Sucheta Kamath: I'm going to call you, Pedro. 

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: Yes, please. Great to be here Sucheta.

Sucheta Kamath: So I talked to a lot of my guests. And since we talked about executive function, I want to start by asking you, do you care to maybe reflect for a moment and talk about your own development as a student? And when you are a young learner? What kind of agency did you have on your learning? When did you discover the brain that guides and directs and manages learning? What would you say?

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: Well, I would say, I was lucky because my parents strongly encouraged us to read independently. And I point out that neither of my parents went to college, neither graduated from high school, really sent all six of us to college, some of the top colleges in the country, Harvard, Brown, Cornell, Berkeley, and on Saturdays, after we would do our chores, we lived in Brooklyn, they would make us go to the library, as if that was a daycare center or something. But fortunately for me, there was a very nice librarian, a Panamanian woman named Mrs. McDonald, and she would take interest and she would talk to me and to the others about what our interests were, when I was eight years old, she recommended a book to me A Wrinkle in Time. So well, I love that movie about it not long ago, I would have never read that book, because it wasn't my kind of book. I like science fiction, there are a lot of things I didn't like about it. But I liked Mrs. McDonald. And I fell in love with the book. And within a week, I was done, I was back ready for more. And that really put me on a journey to become an independent learner. Because one of the things you know, we make it seem harder than it is. Our goal should be to encourage children to become independent learners. Yes, not dependent on the teacher. And reading is one of the ways to do it. If you can cultivate in children, that desire and love of reading early, then everything else gets a lot easier.

Sucheta Kamath: While there's so many things that I can I can think of as I'm listening to you. First of all, congratulations to your parents, because they themselves sound like had some secret sauce about motivating their children to pursue or even discover the joy of learning and engagement. I would love to bottle that so maybe you can tell us how they did that. But I do want to quickly tell you my personal story. I grew up in India. My mother was an eighth grade graduate. My dad was Did not grew up with lower middle class, you can say but did not have access to college. So went to college as he was working. But they both instill deep love for learning. And one of the nerdy things we had in our house too, is to go to the library. But the unfortunate part of the library that our town belong to, would allow one book per week. And I would finish that book on the way from library to home. So I would sit in the library and finish reading three, four books, and then the librarian who turned out to be a little bit mean, but she discovered that I was taking, I was not being faithful to reading so I mean, I was hogging all the books. So anyways, what what's so interesting to me that your love for learning, eventually translated into you taking deep interest in learning how to learn. Sounds like so you, you are a social scientist, if I may say so. And your interest is in the relationship between culture and society and individuals in the society and how that interplays tell us a little bit how, how is that interest has shaped your interest? How that interest has shaped your understanding of education, learning and student agency.

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: So you know, one of the things we know is that what's happening outside of schools in the lives of children, the economy, in the political environment, in their culture is also shaped their experience in school. However, it tends to be, especially in the United States, we don't recognize that very well. We kind of know it intuitively. We know, for example, that poverty will shape educational experiences for kids, but we very do very little to address it. We know that culture shapes educational experiences for kids and influences how they learn things, but we do very little to address that. So it turns out that although context is clearly very important, as is culture, these are not topics that educators are well schooled in and know how to account for when teaching children. And so you know, the mistake I often see is, we expect children to learn the way we teach.

Sucheta Kamath: Yes.

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: And if they can't do it, we blame the child, we blame their family. Yes, what we should be doing is teaching kids the way they actually learn. To do that, you have to know those children, you have to know something about those children, how they learn what they're interested in, what they're motivated by what challenges they face. But I often say is, the more we know about the children we teach, the more we know about how to teach them. But in I say more often than not, we know all we know are stereotypes, and stereotypes and form assumptions that are usually particularly with poor children of color influenced by deficit thinking about those children's and that actually gets in the way of cultivating the talents in children.

Sucheta Kamath: I think what strikes me about that is this idea that if you are coming from poor background, you don't have rich life experiences. And and to me experience itself is enriching or enriched enough to teach so many things that may not be pertinent to the teachers interest in students learning is what you're saying? Absolutely. Right. So what can you tell us? What's a good way to tap into student's learning experience or life experience, and in the context as the teachers are trying to accomplish some goals that they have for learning? And so I'll give you a quick example. I think one of your students, you know, Anindya Kundu. Actually, I heard him talk about this. I think he's one of your collaborators now. But he was talking about this to teachers in California who actually realized that that students were not engaging. So educational experts recommended that ask the students do you have a backyard? What What do they have? So they had access to their backyard. So they came up with this project to study lead content in their backyard soil. And then that became based on their their study, they actually came up with a proposal to send to their local district or my state legislative entity. That was brilliant, right? So how do you

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: I think he got that story from me, but I'm glad he's sharing. An example. Example of, you know, how do we make education relevant to the lives and experiences of children? So here's another example I just heard. A kindergarten teacher had the children outside playing in the yard, and one of the children found a dead bird. Well, children are extremely curious about animals and about death. Yes. So everybody was They are looking. And they wanted to they can we touch it? What happened? How do you think it died? The teacher proceeded for the next two weeks to create lessons around the bird. They buried the bird. They talked about, you know, what, what should we do with the bird and they all agreed we should bury the bird and another bird. But they also spent time thinking what could have killed a bird. And so they hypothesized about how the bird could have could have died. They talked about what does this bird eat? So they weren't they were curious. They, he tapped into the natural curiosity of children. I love that research shows, when you tap into their curiosity, they'll become independently motivated learners. brilliant, brilliant.

Sucheta Kamath: So and what you're saying is that can be a bird unit now. But you know what,

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: even environment unit, it's a unit around biology and physiology. It's a unit around so many things that he brings together literacy, their learning language, developing their language skills, by studying something that interested in, he tapped into because he was wise enough to see, yeah, these kids want to know about this bird. Let's use the bird as a teaching opportunity.

Sucheta Kamath: Brilliant. So why why do we not see this more often? Where are we getting it wrong?

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: I think we what we get wrong, is we approach the children as if they come to us with empty heads as if they know nothing. And our job is to pour knowledge and skills into their heads. So we're going to teach them the alphabet, we're going to teach them their numbers and build a foundation so they can acquire academic knowledge that you know, the one who realized long ago that that was all wrong was Maria Montessori. And many people know of her work as the Montessori schools a worldwide and well renowned. What many people don't know is Maria Montessori was not an educator. She was a physician understood child development. And she understood that if you expose children to an environment, that taps into their natural curiosity, they're tactile, because a lot of kids are tactile learners, they like to touch things, they will learn on their own. And the teacher can become the guide of the learning. And anybody who's gone to a Montessori School sees the magic of it. kids who are deeply engaged, right? who developed strong concentration skills, strong executive function, the ability to defer gratification, the ability to work with others, all in the context of work, that seems like play.

Sucheta Kamath: Wow. And to me, actually, the joy of that classroom, like imagine if you are in the zone where children are engaged, because what they are engaged with is so curious Gen. Or it tickles their curiosity. But it also is going to make them problem solvers. Curious investigators. I Another thing I find and tell me how this fits. One of the things that I get from your writings and your entire proposition to educators is, is this enriched teachers also invoking their own enriched experiences? You know, to me, sometimes, either teachers don't, don't freely bring in their cultural experiences, or they're not really taking the time to build their own knowledge set beyond the classroom curriculum, and I'm not accusing them. But I just feel it requires that's the kind of innovation we need to see. What What do you recommend? How can teachers be brave? and not think this is waste of time?

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: Well, it starts from teachers realizing how powerful they are.

Sucheta Kamath: Yes.

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: And I think many teachers don't see that. They because a lot of it, I don't blame teachers for this. I think a lot of times they come into a school and they're told this is what you're going to do. This is the curriculum, we're going to watch you to make sure and you better keep these kids under control. And so then they become fixated on control, and covering material, not on tapping into the curiosity of children and empowering them as learners. So when I was a brand new teacher, in Providence, Rhode Island, I was assigned to work at what was considered the worst High School in the city, Central High School. And, but I was excited. I was looking forward to it. I'm going to teach 11th graders American history. I loved history. So I was really excited about that. So my mentor teacher tells me, he says, your job when you teach American history is to get the kids from the American Revolution in the fall to the Vietnam War in June. That's your job. Here's the book. I'll be in the back watching. So I tell him, I said, Well, what about the constitution? Don't the kids need to learn the constitution? You only get a few days on the Constitution. The Consitution is complicated, and you have to be at the Civil War by Christmas was really complicated. He said, You don't get it, you have to be at the Great Depression by Easter. Then I got it. He didn't care if the kids learned history, all he cared was how many units? Well Did I cover the book was about breath and coverage, not about depth of understanding. So but fortunately for me, he wasn't in the back watching. He was off, out drinking coffee or doing other things. So when the door closed, I had the power. Wow. And I'm thinking to myself, wow, this a lot of power for a 21 year old. But I knew what to do with the power, even though I was only 21. I said, My job is to get them to love history the way I do. So what meant to me, I have to make history come to life. I have to get them to see why it matters. So I would do things like bring I would, we would learn about something like learn about a character from history, say Thomas Jefferson, they would learn him and I'd say tomorrow, Thomas Jefferson is coming to class. And I would invite a friend to come in dressed as Thomas Jefferson. And the kids will come in ready with questions, interrogate Thomas Jefferson, and pose questions about slavery, for example, about his relationship with Sally Hemings, this young woman that he owned and fathered several children with and then asked how could you write the Declaration of Independence, all men are created equal and treat your own children and slaves.

Sucheta Kamath: My goodness

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: a higher order thinking skills. Absolutely. And I will bet you those students who went to the worst High School in the city will still know about American history because of that experience, because history came to life for them. And I think that, that when we can make knowledge matter, and make it meaningful to our students, then it becomes something very different for them, school ceases to be an alienating experience, and it becomes an empowering experience.

Sucheta Kamath: Okay, I need to go back and you need to go back to teaching so I can restart your class, you know, this, this style, and this kind of immersive experience. And this also questioning your assumptions as well as kind of coming, you made these things come alive, you know, I had Esther Wojcicki on my podcast, and she's a Palo Alto teacher. And she's told that a very similar story of how she defied some of these expectations, she just had the students decide and drive their learning goals for themselves. And, and I do think that the the courage that you're talking about is comes from your own understanding of the history. So you are in your power, like your passion zone, I feel people are not taking the time to read enough sometimes. So they may not have the knowledge to share with great passionate stories about learning how to learn. Imagine

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: if we were to tell teachers, your job is to get the children excited about learning. That's your job. Yes. Right. But what does that do to a teacher says, oh, then I'm gonna have to be creative. If I to get them excited, I can't just go and talk. I've got to come up with ways to bring them in, to show them the power of knowledge. Man, if that's what they're doing, it looks very different.

Sucheta Kamath: Oh, so. So can I kind of take you back on this idea of how does sociology What have you learned from cultures? Whether the ancient cultures and cultures from other countries that has informed your own understanding of education? So what are you seeing what have we learned from looking at the history of humans in the context of larger groups? I know it's a little bit sidestep. But I think that is such an important way to think about learning. Right? 

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: So what we know is that culture informs how we learn. It also informs how we see the world. Right? And so that's why when I said earlier, the basic most fundamental question we've got to be able to answer is, what is it take to educate the children we serve? Who are those children? Well, as soon as you ask that question, you start to delve into the realm of culture. And you start to what are their lives like outside of school? Who are the influences in their lives? How do they use literacy and problem solve? How do they adjust to challenges and respond to challenges that they face? When you start to look at it that way? I saw I saw this. For example, when I was in Australia, I was I was talking to a large group of principals and I said this very thing I said about the need to understand the kids. And one of the principals shared a story he said he was teaching in a very remote setting the outback, right? And mostly Aboriginal children. Yes. And it was so remote, that he had trouble recruiting teachers cuz nobody wanted to live there was so, so far away. And the school was just doing terribly. The kids were not performing well on the test, the standardized test, and he was at a loss of what to do. And one day one of the kids invited him to go fishing. Because if you like to fish isn't sure like to fish. He said they were going to go fishing on the weekend once you come with us. So he shows up with a big fancy fishing rod to go fishing in the stream. And he sees the the kids, all they have is his string, and paper clips that they're using to catch fish. But they're out fishing him. And so he puts his rod down. And he says, Okay, show me how you do it. And and then as they're showing him he has a revelation. How did these kids learn to fish? He didn't learn to fish the way we've been teaching them in schools with somebody lecturing at them. These kids learn by doing, they learned by watching to fish, well, you have to know understand currents, you have to understand the way and you have to know when the fish are going to be there, what the fish like to eat, oh my god, he totally changed his whole framework, and the way he was viewing the children. And that's what we need to do in more schools is reorient the framework away from focusing on what the children don't know, to recognizing what they do know. And building upon that foundation. Because as we build upon that foundation, we can back introduce children to new ideas, new concepts, new skills.

Sucheta Kamath: I'm blown away by that story. And this reminds me of, I'm going through my mindfulness meditation teacher training program right now. It's a two year commitment. And one of the

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: I'm a meditator too. My wife teaches mindfulness.

Sucheta Kamath: Oh, that's brilliant. I am a longtime meditator, and really have a tradition. I come from Hindu tradition as well. And one of the stories that were shared in in one of my classes was so heartwarming that a teacher in Hawaii, went to a classroom, middle school classroom, and she asked the children to talk about their gifts. And it came to one particular young boy who had obvious learning disabilities. And he pondered over this question, and he was quite troubled and felt really sad to share that he couldn't think of any gifts. And she felt horrible of even asking him, and then the class ended. And a couple of days went by, and then she had gone to a grocery store. And she saw the boy there with with her family, and he came running to her. And he said, I really, and she was a little bit embarrassed, because she's like, Oh, my God, I he's probably devastated that in front of the class, he had nothing to share. And she said, I really, I'm not good at reading, I really, really cannot write. And I, you know, I was thinking about, but I want to share with you that I go to the ocean and fish come to talk to me. And she said, Really? Tell me what what do you mean by that? He said, even sometimes sharks come and talk to me. But I tell them, I don't need you because I need the other fish. But I always tell the ocean, I will only take two for my family. I don't need all of them. So anytime I stand next to the ocean, all the fish come, and only few I take with me. And she was just like your story. She was like, What are you talking about? So turns out, he had this incredible knack of using some sounds to draw fish to the to the like, even to a shallow, shallow part of the ocean. But anyway, that just reminded me that she would have never even give him give him any credit. But what I'm getting from you, though, is this deep interest in human condition. you're inviting every person involved in education or interactions to take interest in other person's life.

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: That's right. education should do is elevate the human condition. Yes, enable us as human beings to better navigate the world, to better to learn how to live together so that we live peacefully and in harmony. You know, and you know, we don't think about education as doing that. We don't think about the role of education to be to teach us how to live. Don't learn how to live. If you don't learn how to support yourself, because of your education, then how useful was your education You know, my father, I mentioned a while ago that my father did not have a high school degree or college diploma. But he was a very well read person. He was also a very traveled person because he was a merchant seaman. So we traveled all around the world to speak several languages. And before I went off to college, he said to me, he said, you know, you can get a free education with a library card, you know, that? I, that's what I've done. He says, Don't go to college and become an educated fool. Oh, wow, the most important kind of knowledge you can't get in college. And that's common sense. Wow. Yeah. Think about it. What is common sense, common sense is good judgment. Common sense is discretion. Common sense is knowing yourself, and being able to read others. If you don't learn those things, you go through like making lots and lots of mistakes.

Sucheta Kamath: And again, I think to, to the point of our discussion, that executive function is nothing but common sense, this ability to use discernment, this ability to read between the lines to infer and extrapolate from social context, as well as personal personal agenda compared to navigating the interests and needs of others, that that dance that we do that you can have a little I can have a little, we both have this ample the sense of abundance that comes though, so nobody's coming from a place of deficit or a fear that there's a zero sum game. So tell me in, in your experience, now, let's talk a little bit about equity. What is your definition of equity? And how do the challenges around the learning and teaching? It kind of, you know, are exaggerated by the issues of race issues of differences that are hyper focused or preconceived notions, and people's lack of access to their own biases?

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: Yeah. So equity is simply giving children what they need to be successful in life. Right? That is acknowledging, though, that what they need is not simply academics, they might need social support, they might need emotional psychological support. And it's also based on a recognition that every child is different. Yes. Now, I often point out that anybody who has more than one child, probably practicing equity already, because you know that you can't treat them all the same, because they're all different, different personality, different temperament, different needs. When we see the needs and and recognize the differences amongst our children, then we start to acknowledge that we're going to have to provide different kinds of support for different children. Because again, they're not all the same. That what gets in the way, our biases, biases relate to race related class, culture, language, etc. The thing that gets in the way is simply the tendency to blame the children when they don't learn something or blame their families say, and how often have you heard people say, well, they don't value education?

Sucheta Kamath: Yes. completely wrong. Yeah. 

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: And so these kinds of attitudes really get in the way of meeting the needs of all kids. But the good news is, and I always remind people this, you know, I can point to schools in various parts of the world that serve all kinds of kids. And the the, the existence of those schools is all the proof, we need to know the problem is not the children. Problem is our inability to create the conditions that foster good teaching and learning. So I'll give you another story to illustrate that I was in Alabama, a place called Tuscaloosa. Tuscaloosa is home to the University of Alabama, great university, great football team, not great public schools. So it's a integrated city with segregated schools. So I go to Bear Bryant High School, a school named after a great football coach, and all black school. And I'm asked to speak to the teachers. And I'm talking about creating the conditions for teacher learning. But I can tell from the looks on their faces from their posture, that they're not buying anything I'm saying. And I said, I said, How many of you have ever been to a school where you've seen black children excell, and no one raised their hand. I said, You've never seen black children who are excited about learning or motivated, who are doing well academically said no. I said, Well, if you've never seen it, I bet you don't think it can be done, do you? And they said, That's right. I said, Well, I'll challenge you to come with me. I can take you to schools where black children aren't selling. And to their credit, they sent eight teachers to come visit me in New York City. Oh my god, I drove them to a school called Medgar Evers Prep. Named after the great civil rights leader, and they were blown away by the children, by the students, by their commitment to their education, by their passions by what they were accomplishing. And it was interesting when I debrief with them about the visit. They were saying, Well, you know, we'd never seen this before, this was so impressive. And what they started to realize, but didn't say it, is the problem wasn't the children. The problem was the way they treated their children, how little they expected of them. Now, I don't think that simply visiting because it only eight of the teachers wet, there's still a whole nother and so left behind. So can those eight change the mindset of their colleagues? I don't know. But that's what we have to do is change the mindset. Carol Dweck, whose work I'm sure you know, yes, talks about mindset, a fixed mindset versus a growth mindset. But she points out that if you want children to have a growth mindset, which allows them to see themselves as having the ability to learn something, if they apply themselves if they get the support and help they need for that to happen, the adults have to have a growth mindset first. And if they don't, it's not gonna happen.

Sucheta Kamath: Well, two thoughts come to my mind about this. One is, I think, what you did for them is, again, one of the things I'm really getting a sense of how you're approaching is, is this incredible trust and compassion, even though they are coming from fixed mindset. So you're very patient and tolerance. I love that tolerant. But what you're what you really did is how much ever you may have might have lectured them that no, they're a very successful people, you actually said, let me let you experience it. Experience is such a great teacher. And I feel that's what is, that can only happen if we cross pollinate if we go into each other's communities. If we meet people from completely different walks of life, I think that's not happening enough. We America is kind of living in a silo where people kind of become members of their own echo chamber. And I'm sure you have some thoughts about that. And second, just circling back to the topic of equity, the best way I like to explain when I talk about equity is when my kids were growing up, I have two boys, and any any dessert, I would give it to them, the rule was one will cut it into two pieces, and the other one will have first dibs. So if you want to equal I mean, you can decide to cut one big and one small then but the other one gets to pick it that kind of instill this sense that I need to think about, how will this be for the other person? And and I think we are not doing that enough. But question about the this idea that you know, let's just take, I was looking, putting some stats together, which I don't need to share you you probably breed this space in this space. But you know, NC, NCES like sorted the eighth grade math achievement data between 1990 to 2015. And sorted it by race, ethnicity and family income. And it showed that achievement gap between the students by the groups were a narrowing, but it still continued to be wide for the lowest performing gap was for our non black children. So this is a very different question. I feel if you put up a slide and showed it to educators, they probably are going to be a guest. But why does this not this understanding that it's not I think, fully absent, but why does this not translate into changing into policies and actions and deeply seated structural changes? Like when are we going to come to that place where we, this knowledge of disparity between the way achievement is working for students will change? What when? How do you hopefully think about this?

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: So we have to it. So what I did in that example I gave of going to that school in Alabama, was I created dissonance for those teachers, right? So I shook up their assumptions about their students by showing them black students who are thriving and excelling. So they changed the way they were thinking about we have to do that. More and more and more, because the way we have Okay, so so think about like this, in any society, a group that's been hated. A group that's been been oppressed usually doesn't thrive. How could a blacks students were excelling in America, given they have the highest poverty rates, the highest unemployment, the highest rates of homelessness, that would be amazing.

Sucheta Kamath: It would be a great quote.

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: But think about it, despite all those hardships. You look at the accomplishments of black individuals in the arts, in music, literature, and we can go on and on and name outstanding individuals, many of them came from impoverished backgrounds.

Sucheta Kamath: Yes.

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: So what we know is that this talent in those communities, but here's the problem in this country, unless you have talent in athletics, right, you're fast, you're strong. Or if the the your ability to get the opportunity to develop those talents will be very limited, because it can be limited by virtue of what kind of school you attend. And in this country, we tend to give kids from impoverished communities an impoverished education. So imagine if we, you know, there's a town in Florida, called Belle Glade. Belle Glade is just a little bit to the west of West Palm Beach with the community. But Belle Glade is very, very poor, and predominantly black. Many of the houses don't even have indoor plumbing. But it's produced more professional football players than almost any town in America. Now, why is that? Well, it's because we love football. And so coaches know that there are kids in that town, who run fast, who are strong, and who with the right training could become excellent football players. Well, suppose we said, You know, I bet you there are some potential scientist in Belle Glade. And there are potential writers and artists and doctors in Belle Glade. Suppose we took the same kind of approach to developing talent in communities like those. You won't do that, if you believe, if you and that's the American mindset that there is no talent there. Yes, yes, people have nothing but problems. I often point out to Americans, why is it that in every city in the United States, large or small, there's almost always a black ghetto? But if you go to Canada, there are no ghettos.

Sucheta Kamath: Wow,

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: you can go to Windsor, Ontario, Windsor, Ontario, is right across the river from Detroit. Detroit, as we know, is a dying city predominantly black. Yes. Lots of property, lots of problems. Across the river is a thriving black community. In fact, many of the residents of Windsor were formerly enslaved people who escaped to live in Windsor. Oh, wow. They live in lovely homes. They do well, in school, they go to universities. Why is it that in Windsor, the community is thriving the black community and in Detroit, it's done.

Sucheta Kamath: My goodness, expectations. Opportunity opportunities? Yeah. 

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: Historic racism. Yes. You know, so if you don't confront these issues, nothing changes. And and so this is the dilemma for education, education, United States reproduces inequity. It does not for most people, there are exceptions. I'm an exception. You know, there are many others who are exceptions. But the basic pattern is we're reproducing patterns of inequity. Those who start out poor, stay poor, stay poor. Yeah.

Sucheta Kamath: The zip code destiny. Yes,

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: That's right. How do you disrupt that you only disrupt that if you're not just putting money, you can't just put money into a failed system, you just get more failure, you have to change the whole paradigm, the whole way in which we think about what we're doing.

Sucheta Kamath: Well, I'm so glad that you share. you're sharing actual examples of success, because it's not a dream. It's not an aspiration. It's not like a utopia one day we'll get there, you're saying, we are doing it in so many places. We're just not consistently committed to doing it in every place. And do you think it's a lack of imagination on educators part, or it is many, many things, I don't mean educators.

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: It's also lack of well, you know, we just not the state of black children, Los Angeles, and we show that even as the numbers of black children decline, the hardships keep going up. We also showed that not only are they doing poorly in school, but they have the highest asthma rates. They have the highest rates of food insecurity, highest rates of homelessness, highest rates of children in foster care. But then we asked a different question, Where are black children succeeding? So we looked at the schools that send the greatest number of black students to the University of California. Most of them are integrated schools with lots of resources. Problem is not many black students get to go to those schools. However, we found one school that's almost all black was actually black and Hispanic. And it's located in what's called the King Drew Academy. King Drew sends more black students University of California than any school in Los Angeles.

Sucheta Kamath: What are we getting?

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: It has all the opportunities kids, it has lab laboratories, it has internships, it has an enriched learning environment.

Sucheta Kamath: Oh my goodness.

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: Why is there only one? Why aren't there several like that? Why do we accept such an inferior education when we know that the cost of not educating kids is significant? Because those we fail to educate are the ones we're more likely to incarcerate are the ones who are more likely to end up unemployed and or unemployable. So it's lack of will lack of imagination, lack of vision, it's many things

Sucheta Kamath: And lack of actually powering those initiatives with money. So, you know, that 2019 ad builder report came out, and that third, like, majority of white districts received 23 billion more than majority to non white districts. I mean, that's really putting your mouth, your money where your mouth isn't aligned with some other mission. And it's their driving forces definitely different.

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: So So money is part of the answer. But it's not just money. It's about how the money is used. You know.

Sucheta Kamath: I see. Well, so as we end this conversation, do you kind of think, oh, how do you think? Where do you feel hopeful? As you talk about connecting communities, focusing on human connections, you know, that's another one of the books that you co authored. I love that whole approach that you're talking about. And it's not Kumbaya because it's almost often like people condescendingly talk about Kumbaya. It's such a great concept, you know? So, how do we stay hopeful, committed to excellence, and never stopped with effort? How do you envision if everything was going your way?

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: You know, I, my hope is that the pandemic provides us with a moment to reflect on how to make it better, right? We, you know, this disruption has slowed everything down, you know, and many of us, myself included, I'm saying, you know, my life was not good. Before I was traveling too much. I didn't spend enough time with my family. Because I didn't sleep as well, I didn't eat as well. I didn't exercise as often. Now, I need to take more control. I'd say the similarly we have to think about schools that way, we can't just go back to the way it was. Because the way it was, wasn't working for many kids, we need to make it better. We need to make it more equitable, more engaging, you know, more supportive of our children, and if we can do those things, but for that to happen, we've got to let people know it's possible. And that's why I think what you're doing with this podcast is so important, get the word out that we don't have to settle what we have right now.

Sucheta Kamath: Well, brilliant, as we end on that note, what are you author of 15 books reading? What's inspiring you? And if? How can What should I really read to enrich my life so that I can begin to think like you?

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: So I started reading a book called Making All Black Lives Matter. It's actually by a friend of mine, Barbara Ramsey, she said historian at the University of Illinois, Chicago, I'd recommend it because, you know, if you look at what's happened, just that simple term, Black Lives Matter evokes so much fear. Yes. Right. So that now they say that's a terrorist organization, they want to make Black Lives Matter. Think about the irony of it, right? Because they believe black lives don't matter, should it matter. So I'm reading it, trying to get some perspective on that and trying to find ways to be able to talk to others, so that they could be could also realize, you know, humanity, our our ability to thrive as a species is limited when when our neighbors when our when those around us are not thriving, and that that's what we wrote about in that book, the crisis of connection. The other thing I just got today is something one of you know, I'm a dean now at USC. And this is written by one of my professors, Adriana Kezar called Envisioning the Faculty for the 21st Century, and really about how to create a learner centered model at the university.

Sucheta Kamath: Oh, and so,

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: you know, I'm looking forward to this. You know, I still enjoy reading I read all the time. You know, I read probably about four newspapers a day.

Sucheta Kamath: Oh, my God.

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: So I think it's still the best way to get a free education.

Sucheta Kamath: Oh, I love that. Do you speak multiple languages like your dad?

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: I only speak English and Spanish. That's it.

Sucheta Kamath: Well, that's still multilingual for America. Let me tell you one quick question I did not ask you. Is the story different in college? You know, you're talking about our our college students in living an inspired learning life.

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: You know, by college, you know, the students who get to our elite institutions have been socialized to learn that way. So they can learn to lecture. Yes, yes, yes, they can learn from a boring professor. They, because a lot of the learning, they are taking responsibility for not just the elite universities, when you go into the less elite, and the community colleges, what you find is, the less you see passionate, creative instructors, often the quality of learning is not very good. And so you know, we have a lot of work to do in higher education as well.

Sucheta Kamath: Well, with that note, I cannot tell you how inspired I feel, thank you for your contribution to the field. And thank you for really taking such a deep look at the needs of our children and our students. Because it learning shouldn't depend truly on the teacher's commitment to teaching. It should be their commitment should be because they care about what they're bringing to their students and students will. It's infectious to me if you see an if you're in company of an in person who's inspired by their own discovery on what they're talking about.

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: It's infectious. watching us. Yes, that's right. Let me just share one last thing. Three minutes. So the way I continue to work on my own executive functioning, oh, yes, tell you through cooking. I cook. And what I enjoy about cooking is involves multitasking, vegetables of cooking the rice, I've got many things happening at once. And it's a great way to escape from the day to kind of clear my mind. So it's meditative as well. So, you know, it's it, cooking and gardening are my two, two of my hobbies that I find great joy. And so I'd encourage listeners to think what are your hobbies? What are your interests? How do you give yourself not just a break from your daily routine of work, but also a way to cultivate other talents in yourself?

Sucheta Kamath: I love that. And I have to quickly tell you, this is gonna go on and on. I apologize. But I had a documentarian, who interviewed me and followed me as an executive function expert, and he came to my house, he came to my office, he has not published it, so I don't know where it is. But he came to my house, and I have the most organized pantry you can see. And I was telling him the story of if you want to really master your executive function, learn to cook and teach children cooking, cooking should be integral part of task management, your your intention management. I mean, it took cooking is the most amazing way to serve the needs of others. But you're not eating you're speeding service. Right. What a beautiful way to be thoughtful. What

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: What am I serving them.

Sucheta Kamath: That's right.

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: And I often say good teaching is like good cooking. 

Sucheta Kamath: Oh, I love that.

Pedro A. Noguera, Ph.D.: You're a good cook. The people eat and tell you. How are you very good teacher, your students will tell you. Yes.

Sucheta Kamath: Okay, so you have a standing invitation to come and see me in Atlanta. I know we are in a pandemic. But yes, this is such a pleasure. Well, thank you for tuning in everybody, what a great conversation. And I will be putting show notes to all the writings of Dr. Maghera and and once again, stay keep keep your frontal lobes attuned because it does require attunement and alignment. So thank you for joining us and please listen to our next podcast. Thank you.