Conventional wisdom propels the notion that children from low-income backgrounds perform poorly because their families are less invested or do not value education as much as those from higher-income backgrounds. However, by applying a sociological framework to education, the evidence shows that schools, instead of contributing to the breaking of economic and social barriers, are actively widening the achievement gap by furthering inequalities. How do we rethink these challenges and actualize our belief that all students are brimming with the same potential to develop an internal drive and curiosity for learning? Fostering a child’s agency means helping them to help themselves in such a way that they can overcome obstacles and create positive changes in their own lives.
On this episode, education sociologist, professor of Educational Leadership at Florida International University, and author of “The Power of Student Agency”, Anindya Kundu, Ph.D., discusses how to help educators and stakeholders build practical resources that enhance children’s lives while inspiring them to take learning into their own hands. No matter how diverse students’ backgrounds may be, all students possess the capacity to leverage resources and master their own Executive Function in order to navigate a world of uncertainty and challenge through a cultivated sense of agency.
About Dr. Anindya Kundu
Anindya Kundu is an acclaimed education sociologist and incoming professor of Educational Leadership at Florida International University. His book, The Power of Student Agency, has been touted as a critical and practical resource for educators and stakeholders in the lives of children. Anindya studies how students overcome challenges and the support systems that help all young people thrive. He is an award winning educator who believes that collective responsibility is what will help us improve our systems of education.
Book: The Power of Student Agency: Looking Beyond Grit to Close the Opportunity Gap
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.
Sucheta Kamath: Welcome to Full PreFrontal exposing the mysteries of executive function, where we talk about nothing but executive function, we think about self-management self-agency, how do we achieve goals that we have for ourselves that we have created by ourselves? And how do we stay future forward and think about the needs of the future self. But no, we cannot really talk about executive function without the context in which we operate. Because as we pursue our goals, one of the responsibilities we have is to also help and really get out of other people's way so they can pursue their goals. And this way of collaborative and, and cooperative ways of being in the world is what makes us most successful. However, as we think about executive function, we must also think about those, particularly children who have serious challenges or obstacles in their ability to pursue goals. So as we think about children growing up in marginalized communities in poverty, if we see any gap in their performance and behavior or lack of self control, we often are left to wonder, are they delayed in their executive function development? Or are they lacking the culture or household values where executive function is not considered important? And today, we have a wonderful guest who is going to help us bust those myths, because that's not true. We already know from brain science, poverty has an impact on the way brain develops, but it is not the culture that lacks deep, meaningful values. So with great joy, I would like to welcome Dr. Anindya Kundu, who is an acclaimed educational sociologist, and incoming Professor of Education Leadership at Florida International University. His book, which we will be talking a lot about, the power of student agency has been touted as a critical and practical resource for educators and stakeholders in the lives of children. And in their studies, how students overcome challenges, and the support systems that help all young people thrive to thrive. He is an award-winning educator and believes that collective responsibility is what will help us improve our systems of education. And he's not going to brag, but I'm going to tell you, he has fabulous two TED Talks. I have only one, but he is one TED Talk is on the platform. TEDx talk is on the platform, Ted Talk Ted platform. So congratulations, and welcome to the podcast.
Dr. Anindya Kundu: Thank you. So it's lovely to be here. Thanks for having me.
Sucheta Kamath: Absolutely. And I cannot proceed without congratulating you on your wonderful new news. So how are your twins?
Dr. Anindya Kundu: The twins are good. They are about three weeks old right now. I'm a first-time father. So you know, life is full of exciting challenges and a bit of chaos right now. So, you know, bear with me, if I if I'm not as eloquent as I, as I was planning to be?
Sucheta Kamath: Well, since you perform at 200%, this will be just 183% you'll be fine.
Dr. Anindya Kundu: All right. Appreciate it.
Sucheta Kamath: You know, you describe a small event of attending a lecture by Dr. Pedro Noguera, who also has been a guest on our podcast and who was your advisor at NYU. And you said that changed your life. And your notes on that lecture read that according to the International PISA scores, the US ranking is in the 20s. For the overall student achievement, and if you control for poverty and look at the US scores in the wealthiest 25% of the communities, then the US ranks in top three. Wow. So now that you yourself have become a researcher and a man of wisdom in the in this domain? What is the insight we should carry forward? From these stats?
Dr. Anindya Kundu: Yeah, that's a loaded question. And also, it proves that you've really done a deep dive into my book, you found some important footnotes there. At the time, actually, when I went to 10th, like a small seminar talk given by Dr. Noguera, he didn't know who I was, at the time, I was working at the Department of Education. As like academic consultant during Common Core rollout in New York City. We were trying to help the schools get excited about these new standards and assessments. But as like it was one of my first jobs and being on the policy/bureaucratic side. I wasn't able to really I didn't have the language to describe what I was noticing going in the schools when principals and their staff would talk about understanding the need for new assessments and, you know, testing and all the things that go along with that, but not having the resources to implement it. They you know, they understood the need, but they were saying that there was a complete like block when they don't have professional development time to implement what was being asked of them. So, you know, with that kind of like struggle, I went to the lecture and heard Pedro talking very openly about the the kind of gaps outside of education that affect in school outcomes. You know, sociology of education kind of puts this framework together that shows that schools are more complicit in furthering social inequality than breaking it down. And that's because of the ways in which schools are situated within tax brackets, wealthier schools have better outcomes, I just, you know, trickles all the way down through history, it was an intentional process that was made for some people to be able to maintain status and power, and we still see those effects today. And so the question I think, is like, what can we do about it? And that's kind of what my research is about, I think there are solutions that are free to implement that require the right kinds of vision approaches, and fundamentally just belief in all students potential, regardless of how students are their behavior or, or their, you know, approaches are manifesting, we have to understand that all students have potential and can develop an excitement and thirst for learning. And if we have that approach, I think we can, you know, overcome challenges related to poverty. And I think that is really fundamental to student agency, which is the fundamental concept that I study as a researcher.
Sucheta Kamath: You know, one sidebar of that story to me is, you know, that that's exactly when do we, you know, actualize our true potential is when we find our passion. And I think to me, that struck to me how you find that found that moment that shaped the trajectory of your career, you know, and you you already were thinking about this, but that just unlocked some inner secrets, right?
Dr. Anindya Kundu: Yeah, definitely. Because I actually had to ask Pedro, that that day, I was like, you know, you're such a prominent researcher, how do you not get jaded being a researcher, if you think there are all these problems that we're having trouble overcoming. And he said, his job as a researcher was to inform public discourse to then hopefully inform policy, like research to policy is a bridge that's hard to hard to close the gap on, but we can do it through advising the public perception, which is why it's great to have conversations like this one.
Sucheta Kamath: I love that. So since the title of your book, is The Power of Student Agency: Looking Beyond Grit to Close the Opportunity Gap, let's start with the term agency. And what does it mean and why there is power in it?
Dr. Anindya Kundu: Yeah, I think agency fundamentally is a positive term. And we need more of that in education. Thinking about agency forces us to think about the potential that all students have, as well as the social context that the students are a part of agency is one of sociologies, founding concepts, the fundamental question in sociology is, you humans have agency to navigate their own life course? Or are they more at the whim of social structures, like the neighborhood, they grow up in their racial background, their family's level of education, or income, what is more important the agency someone has, or the social structures and you know, most of sociology would say it's a it's a, it's a blend of the two. But I like the term agency, because inherent in that definition, the structures are implied, you can't think about agency without thinking about the structures. And so we have to think about, you know, where did a student maybe grow up? Who are they as a person? What is their identity? What is their background, in order to think about how can we support them to reach their full potential and get to where they're capable of going?
Sucheta Kamath: I love that. And I think you also write that fostering someone, someone's agency means helping them help themselves. So urgency begins with the student, but ultimately, and it's so interesting in in my field, we call it advocacy. So and speaking on behalf of yourself in an enlightened self interest way Is that another sociology term is agency. And, and the other observation I have made through all the literature now have come across in sociology, for example, in cognitive rehabilitation, or helping people regain skills after a loss or insult to the brain, you are helping them understand their true potential in spite of, and I feel it's missed boat when we don't talk about true potential without any loss. You know what I mean, without an insult to the brain, so that should be the forefront of every educational process.
Dr. Anindya Kundu: Yeah, I would hope so as well. It's interesting because, again, great job finding that definition in the book that's like the late lay definition, but again, helping someone to help themselves should be free to implement you know, it doesn't require some kind of expensive privilege summer camp, but what we do know in sociology is that students who grow up in middle class or upper class neighborhoods or have parents who are wealthier, they kind of in their experiences develop an entitlement where they feel like they can ask adults questions. You know, they go to the doctor, they feel like they can ask the doctor questions and that stays with them. Whereas students who grew up in lower income neighborhoods may not feel that they have that same ability, or that it's like welcomed of them. And a lot of time, it's really not based on like, what we see from disciplinary actions in lower income schools where students might be reprimanded for, for speaking out of turn. So that's how bias also plays into this a little bit. So, you know, all of these topics are like interwoven and interconnected. And I think we have to kind of break down barriers to help more students succeed.
Sucheta Kamath: Yeah, so let's talk about the student needs. You know, we think about education, but we don't think about poverty as something to consider in education. As you know, I put my children through K through 12 education, I don't think I thought about poverty, or the needs of those students other than my work. But in my interview with, you know, Dr. Pedro, he mentioned that we know that the poverty will shape educational experiences for kids, but we are, we do very little to address it. And he also said that we know that the culture shapes educational experiences for kids and influence how they learn things, but we do very little to address it. So let's start there, your work has shown about the needs of the marginalized students and their communities. So can you walk us through as to what are the kind of marks of that community's needs? Are those students? How can we understand that right?
Dr. Anindya Kundu: Sure. So obviously, in the book, this would be a little more fleshed out with dozens upon dozens of examples and stories I love. But yeah, but the simple aspect is, I think agency benefits from pathways that are rooted in social capital, very fundamentally social capital or resources or opportunities that will help students develop their own networks. And that could be as simple as helping students again, learn to ask for help, or meet people and shake hands and like, learn that meeting people is a very important aspect of life, and then also cultural capital. And a simple way of thinking about cultural capital would be thinking about a student's identity and background and holding that as something that has value and using it as a bridge to help a student get to somewhere else. So thinking about students, giftedness is looking a variety of different ways is a fundamental example of cultural capital or having mentors in one's life that are culturally competent. And then the combination of those things help students develop better basically goal orientation and visualization of what their future could look like. And so I'll just tell a quick story. You haven't read the book pretty thoroughly probably know this story. But a great example of this happening in a young person's life is a story of J Stud. So J Stud grew up in a in a low income neighborhood of Jamaica, Queens. He had, he was raised by his a single mother and sometimes his grandmother, he used to walk by, you know, gangs on his way to school. And he was what I would say, tract towards special education, which is often what happens to a lot of our young people of color in low-income neighborhoods that may be manifesting behavior and like acting differently than what is expected of them. And so, you know, he never really bought into his school experiences until 10th grade English class when he was again, a special education student, and he would sit in the back of his class, scribbling away at a notebook all day, every day until finally his English teacher asked to see what he was working so furiously on and she looked through his notebook and saw pages upon pages of beautiful rap lyrics. And, you know, she took this as a moment, being culturally competent, recognizing various forms of, of giftedness, and offering herself as a social capital bridge to say, hey, J Stud, this is actually really talented. If you actually start coming to my class more often and doing the homework. I have a friend of mine who works at a recording studio, we'll get you in there to record a few songs on a CD. So that's like the blend of social capital and cultural capital. And it worked for him. He Yeah, he's like, took total advantage of this opportunity that a, you know, a student with low means wouldn't have access to his grades improved. He performed a song for his fellow classmates, they gave him a standing ovation. And that moment became one of the most pivotal moments of his life. And he learned how to network with other people at the recording studio, to the point where he realized he was interested in the finances of the recording studio. Fast forward. Long story short today, he's a managing director at a financial institution in New York City. And he also gives back to his community by living in Jamaica, Queens, so those kids can see you know, someone living there wearing a suit and going to work and doing something very valuable and productive. And so that's like, you know, a very short story of agency and action, but it's also how agency can be free to implement, you know, we help our students by offering them us as a resource. And, you know, help them like see what they could be.
Sucheta Kamath: You know, I think what was striking about that story and all the other stories that you write write about is so much work needs to be done to build social and cultural capital, but already is being done. And one of the myths that you bust and and this reminded your work reminded me of, you know, one of my favorite podcast is On the Media. And in 2016, they did a five part series on Busted, it's called Busted: the poverty myth, and five poverty myths, they busted through research and data. And it's a remarkable, we'll use this in the show notes to add. But they talked about, you know, black men can are absentee fathers, for example, right? You talk about that. Or there's a myth that everybody in America has equal opportunity to pull themselves by the bootstraps. And then they showed the, the zip code destiny, right. So what what was remarkable about the story that you said that the, there is a desire, if we, our fundamental assumption needs to be that every child has a desire to be a better human being. And so let's start with that. And if somebody and then another, you know, person of wisdom on my podcast has said, A misbehaving child is a misunderstood child. So if you take that fundamental framework, then you need to look at misbehaviors as lack of opportunity to understand how to behave better, but that's just getting behavior cooperation, but really think about how can they tap into their personal potential. So when you talk about this potential, this idea of potential, let's talk quickly about the role of mindsets. And so, you know, I had another guest, Camille Farrington, who wrote a in 2012, she and her colleagues wrote a report called teaching adolescent to become learners the role of non cognitive factors in shaping school performance, a critical literature review. And it's interesting, I was asking her about why called non cognitive factors, because she said, they cannot be measured through tests. Or they typically are measured through cognitive tests if the students take them. But according to that report, they identified four particular mindsets, you know, that play an important role in influencing and defining student success. And if you allow me like to read them, so I belong to this academic communities, the first mindset, my ability and competence grows with my effort was second mindset. Third was, I can succeed at this. And the fourth one was this work has value for me. And so every story that you told me, told us the book kind of talks about how in variety of ways children demonstrated their inculcation of those mindsets. So tell us a little bit about your understanding of mindset. And how are these children harboring those mindsets are becoming these mindsets, in spite of all the hardship they're enduring?
Dr. Anindya Kundu: Right? No, I love that. I love that fourth one, especially because how can you get young people motivated if they don't see the point of the effort that they're putting in? And I think that that, that what that one is, the one that makes sense to start with is like, what is the relevance behind what I'm learning or what I'm being asked to do, which especially can be harder for students who feel like they are underrepresented, or somehow disenfranchised. And so for, to me as a sociologist, I think mindset benefits from representation and opportunity. And so what I mean by that is that we have a system in this country where our stories of success, or the majority of billionaires we come across, or where we see successful stories happening tend to look a certain way and young people growing up in the inner cities of New York or Philadelphia, of you know, New Jersey, they don't necessarily feel like they're a part of that American success story. There's research out there from Rosalind Mickelson, it dates back to the 1990s, where she found that all young people have a very strong level of abstract belief of education, which means that they all believe that education does provide them an opportunity to climb the social ladder. But what she also found is that lower income students have less of a strong concrete attitude of education, which means they don't necessarily think that it works for them specifically. So that is so disheartening to me. And why is that? Well, the concrete is based off of reality, are my parents going to college or did they drop out of high school? What are my peers doing? And so, in lower resource neighborhoods were college career readiness scores are just fundamentally lower and students may have to help out with siblings or take a job. After high school, the concrete attitudes are not necessarily being strengthened. So I think that's what we have to work on is understanding all students believe in the idea of education, but they don't necessarily think it's going to work for them. And I think through representation, we can flip that narrative. So you know, in the book I talk about, my work is mostly trying to take stories of what's working and show others that it is possible despite constraints, and so the schools that I mentioned, like Medgar Evers College Prep, and James Baldwin High School, those schools based on the names, they're about helping young people develop racial pride to take pride in being a minority student, and to think that academic excellence is a requirement for them. And so what's happened over a decade is that those schools through visionary leadership, develop the staff that also fundamentally believe that. And they also offer awesome, awesome things like teaching, having classes that the students like to take, and that the teachers want to teach. So agency of the teacher as well, some of those include Islamic art and mathematics, and also my favorite Dracula and gender identity. So together this, he had Soliris like, together, the students and the teachers are working together collaboratively. And they also got rid of the Regents Exams, you know, standardized testing, we know through decades of research is also kind of a topic related to power and privilege, like whose knowledge are we rewarding. And so they got rid of the state requirement for regions and instead have students do like a revise and resubmit. Like almost like a doctoral research project per each assessment area. And so they have peer reviewed processes. And they basically get to present all of this, like research that they've done over the course of the year. And so I think we have to allow students to like, break the mold of what they're learning. And then when students do well, all of that goes up on the school wall. So students are like, celebrating each other's accomplishments, mentors from the neighborhoods are invited to come in mentors of color. So students can kind of relate to them and see themselves in the mentors. And so I think, you know, fundamentally, students have to like, go to a school where they think that success is not just like something that's asked for them, but expected of them through what I would say, warmly demanding, like mentorship and culture.
Sucheta Kamath: Absolutely Fabulous. That those examples. And, you know, this reminded me of another researcher also, which is Daren Graves, if you're familiar with his work, who talks about, you know, schooling for critical consciousness. And in the studies, in their studies with his partner, they studied six schools with similar principles and student agency. And what was remarkable is about informing students about the oppressive practices in and around them, that can influence the outcome for not just themselves, but for their communities. And just informing that can enlighten them to take, activate their agency. And so you come from another side of that activating agency through saying that these things are expected of me and they are expected because I'm capable, right now.
Dr. Anindya Kundu: But I'm thinking you're on to something that we can't gloss over the issues that students are dealing with. And one thing I like to say is that students are very aware of you know, their realities, and also the realities of the world. Like, why don't we invite them to the table to talk about current events, to talk about things that are affecting their day to day, and also treat them with respect and also not gloss over the fact that, you know, there are challenges out there, but you know, you have to be age appropriate and how you choose to talk about, you know, structural limitations, but there is room for, like valuable and productive dialogue that allows students to kind of feel liberated by going to school, and that's kind of a Paolo Friere. An idea is that education can serve as liberation. If we also think about students as having limit situations, but acknowledge that, you know, they can break out of those limit situations, if we kind of don't treat don't treat them from a power position. And so that I think that's a fundamental philosophy that that my work is also kind of tries to align with.
Sucheta Kamath: Yeah, read the word to read the world. Know what he said, right? Sorry. There, you know, I had a recently had an opportunity to participate. My software. We were the sponsors at the Georgia School Superintendent Association Conference. And they had a very interesting format. They had students participate from entire state of Georgia, from different walks of life, different backgrounds, different experiences, and it was so interesting. They said exactly what you said. They said, invite us to the table. Since we are involved in our education, please consult us.
Dr. Anindya Kundu: I agree. I agree. I mean, how radical does that sound? Like some cities, I think, are actually trying to put their money where their mouth is on this, like Chicago, you know, they have an adult advisory board for the School of Education, but they also have a Youth Advisory Board. And so, you know, how can we create a larger table, not just more seats at the table with students, because, you know, I'd love 10 years from now, they're going to be influencing the policies that will be affecting us. So let's kind of give them the experience on the earlier side.
Sucheta Kamath: I love that. So schools are often interested in student engagement, but the way I see it, it is more like student compliance, getting students to sit down, pay attention engage. And the students who struggle to regulate their attention or do not do prolonged meaningful work with deeper focus, by themselves often get in trouble or punished. And you know, the work by Okonofua, from a, you know, University of California, Berkeley, has done a lot of work with empathy based approach in the way we reprimand or discipline kids. And that can actually have profound impact. And I'm just curious, you also talk about our mentioned, you notice that in your educators involved in these educational scenarios that you're talking about? So talk to us about when approaching marginalized students, what role does empathy and compassion play?
Dr. Anindya Kundu: Yeah, I think it plays the consummate role of relationship building, you know, it's it's hard for a student to see themselves as a learner have school be somewhere they're excited to go if they're constantly feeling like there's some weird power dynamic there where they just have to sit and act a certain way and behave a certain way. And again, I would say that more affluent schools that are based in a more liberal arts pedagogy, students are moving around, they're interacting with each other, and with the teacher on a more level playing field. And sometimes the more authoritative paternalistic kind of models are found in schools where the, the funding is beholden to testing outcomes. And so that's, again, something on a larger scale that we have to work to address. But, you know, I think empathy is is incredibly important. And it's important in as something we must introduce into our policies, like, you know, you mentioned school discipline, it doesn't make sense to me, or to Pedro or others who study this, to take school away from a student who's misbehaving and then send them somewhere where they're not necessarily going to be as productive or supported in a holistic way, we should actually figure out how to bring more opportunities to have a disengaged student want to come to school. And so what it comes down to interests, I think, how can we cater to all students interests in a way that will get them excited about schooling? And that also benefits from thinking about where our students from what matters to them? What matters to their parents? Have them get parents involved? What is the community look like? You know, our teachers in a school? Are they driving home? Right? When the bell rings? Are they driving home to some neighborhood 20 miles away, that looks nothing like the neighborhood that the school is a part of? That's a question related to empathy, too, I think. So these are why policies sometimes you know, having more men of color go into schools to be teaching are incredibly important because again, representations students can see themselves in certain teachers. At the same time, I don't think that faculty has to look a certain way to teach a student body that looks a certain way. But what we do need is empathy and interest because I have a friend who you know, taught at an inner city school in New York, and they were having trouble engaging with the students in their class. But then they started showing up to you know, play basketball in the in the school yard after school, and he's a very good basketball player. And that was a fundamental way that the students started to relate to the teacher, they start joking around about crossing each other up or blocking each other. And that got them excited to go into his class and learn science. And so, you know, meet the kids where they are academics will follow. But we have to get them interested and excited about school first.
Sucheta Kamath: Yeah, and you summarized it well, it's all about relationships and who has relationships when we get to know take the time to know people only then we have a relationship, you know, a lot of my I came across your work with the debate around grit. So, you know, after Angela Duckworth book, the grit, the power and passion of perseverance, in which she gives this formula, right, which is talent multiplied by effort equals skills and skill multiplied by effort equals achievement. But there was an important factors that were left out and because particularly there was a whole sensation, the country that country and culture that loves formula, and something that can be bottled, immediately became something, you know, you write a book, you you read something to children, or you come up with a postcard, you know I don't know. So. So you and Petra wrote an op-ed talking about that grit alone doesn't tell the whole story. So tell us from your work, which sounds like also got shaped after that, to really, as you started shifting the conversations in the culture because culture loves, loves these immediate success formula, as you said, and then almost like the narrative became let's teach children who come from deprived backgrounds, how to become grateful, but that's not the story. Right? So what is their story?
Dr. Anindya Kundu: Yeah, no, it's, uh, there's so much to this answer. So I agree, I think. I mean, Pedro wrote that op-ed in 2014, when grit was becoming like, the word of the day, and it was being implemented by KIPP schools and charter schools. And, you know, everyone was talking about like, True Grit and how students really just needed to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, which is nothing new in American history. But you know, what we kind of wanted to introduce back into the conversation is, again, that social context. So the equation that you mentioned about talent, multiplied by effort, or whatever it is, is exactly that's what's missing is social context. Because if we even at a classroom level, if we say that student a is achieving because they have grit, but student B is not, we're fundamentally blaming the student about their shortcoming. We're saying they're lazy, possibly, they're not interested. But maybe that student B is greedy in other ways, maybe they're helping three or four siblings get ready for school, before they themself can get ready for school, maybe they haven't been able to have a value, like a solid breakfast at home, or their parents are fighting or they came from a broken home. There's so many factors that we're not sure of, that we can't just gloss over, because academic outcomes are so much a part of what happens outside of the school as well. And so that's kind of in a very simple way, what we wrote about in the op-ed, it's funny, Angela Duckworth has become a very near and dear mentor of mine since then, at the time, I kind of reached out to her after that op-ed got popular, because I was looking for a third dissertation committee member. And she, you know, she had come across the paper, and very quickly, she was like, Sure, I'll chat with you on the phone next week, how about Thursday at five. By the way, I don't think poverty doesn't matter. And I was like, Oh, crap, I hope she doesn't like I we're not going to get into some kind of an argument. But, you know, we talked for like an hour and realize that we both care a lot about young people and young people's capacities. And as a psychologist, it wasn't necessarily her charge to be talking about social factors, nor was it necessarily her fault, this large, over application of grit. And since then she is also very much more inclusive of social factors behind her work. I also now you know, grit as a part of my framework, I think we can get to grit if we think about students agency, first. grit is a natural outcome when we kind of treat students with respect and understand where they're coming from. And then, you know, give them the opportunities to display their actual talents and skills. So it's all kind of interconnected, it's interdisciplinary, that's how students learn. And that's what needs to be introduced in the in the larger culture of American society to is that we need social opportunity to then also help get to the individual outcomes.
Sucheta Kamath: I love that I love that the conversation has gotten so deep and, and, and particularly, you know, it's just the functional context is so important that we don't operate as a single molecule floating in the universe. You know, it is an interaction. You know, this reminds me of a poem. I was I was searching as you were talking by Joshua Dickerson, which says 'Cause I ain't got no pencil. I don't know if you've read the pencil, you will love it because it says, I woke myself up because I ain't got an alarm clock, dug into the dirty clothes basket cuz I ain't nobody washed my uniform, brushed my hair and teeth in the dark, cause the lights and on even got my baby sister ready, cause my mama wasn't home, both on school, both to school on time to eat us a good breakfast. Then when I came, I got to class the teacher fussed because I ain't got no pencil and just touched my touches my heart every time I read this. That is the perspective that we need to really have. Right?
Dr. Anindya Kundu: That's amazing, right? Because there's there the other thing about greatest that a student can be gritty in like, let's say their science class because they like the science teacher, just a little bit more than their math class. So that level of grit it we also have to think about grit being context specific. And so students display grit in many different ways. Like that poem, that kid has great by helping them getting ready for school J Stud he had grit for rap lyrics. It was just about how can we connect that to English, which, you know, wasn't that hard necessarily have a connection to make? And so how can we celebrate our students for who they are, but also, you know, encourage them to show and bring their best selves to the table. Because, you know, we need, we're gonna need the most educated citizenry we can to tackle continued issues like you know, the pandemic, and whatever is going to come our way, and we don't know where that talents gonna come from.
Sucheta Kamath: Yeah, so in your book, you say, I quote, there is the responsibility on our part as a society to destigmatize mental illness and for our young people to focus holistic efforts on prevention, rather than work on dealing with problems after they have surfaced. So I'm shifting gear, because after we determine that every person has a potential, but there is a great strain on those, when much is asked when not lot is given, and that can be draining and can take a toll. Right. So how does mental health? How do mental health challenges look different in the underprivileged communities? And what role do they play in their ability to find success? And meaning?
Dr. Anindya Kundu: Yeah, no, that's a great question. And tying it back to your previous question, there can almost be an unintended consequence of grit or effort, like, you know, we're asking these young people to show up to the table and put in just hard work and things will align for them. Without realizing that, you know, without the social support, grit can wear you down, it's like you need if you're like a toy car, and grit is the batteries at the end of the day, you still have to charge the batteries of the car for the car to go. And so I think that's what why we need to think of people's like, interests, what they care about what they love, and lubricate that like desire to learn. And mental health is a very strong part of this. So you know, in the 50, young people I studied, most of them admitted, having some kind of mental health challenges related to working super hard or related to the adversities or traumas that they experienced growing up. And what makes that even worse is feeling like you can't talk about it. And so one of the first things that help students with their mental health is having a safe, open space to be able to talk about how they're feeling, aspirations, struggles, challenges, obviously, resources, like more counselors in schools would be very valuable. And again, which schools have more counselors that are better, well trained. I mean, we know the answer to that. And so mental health can become an additional challenge for young people who are navigating so much like, you know, the story of Joe in my book that was like he was homeless with his sister and his mom, they were sleeping in the subway, sometimes in cardboard boxes in New York. And, and basically, his aunt took him in to live with her in Edison, New Jersey, and put him in a nice, like, you know, stable home. And he still, like woke up in the middle of the night missed his family, and was like dealing with a lot. And obviously, his school got a lot better because Edison was a suburb. But those were traumas that he didn't have an outlet to talk about. And so how can we think about, you know, having students have access to better mental health resources, not necessarily putting them on the spot, but providing the access, de stigmatizing the, you know, application of the resource is is incredibly important. And representation matters. Like it's really good now that we have NBA players or football players talking about their own mental health struggles, because it's no longer like Naomi,
Sucheta Kamath: Osaka.
Dr. Anindya Kundu: Yeah, exactly. Naomi, Osaka, Kevin Love from the Cavaliers. And a lot of you know, I think that matters for young people is like, thinking that they're not alone, because none of us have succeeded in anything alone. And that's the challenge, especially for young people from lower privileged backgrounds is they think they have to go it alone, but it's like, nobody has to go in alone, there is help. Hopefully, you know, we just have to help them find it.
Sucheta Kamath: And you are such a sociologist, all about connecting and creating culture of connection, which is in itself can be deeply meaningful. And and I think struggling just becomes easier when you know, you're understood, and your struggles are not unique or unmanageable. I think that exactly beautiful message.
Dr. Anindya Kundu: And I will add to that also, like storytelling, allowing students a place to tell a story in a safe way. It doesn't have to be about them. That can be cathartic. Helping students do new things, trying new things, and allowing them to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes. And also something like volunteering because like you said, like, when some when a lot of the students that that I studied, they talked about volunteering their time as being one of the most important things they can do because it helps them develop that perspective that you know, I can make a positive impact. And there are others who are also having a ton of different challenges in their lives and together we can improve, you know, life for everyone.
Sucheta Kamath: So as you you have already jumped into my next answer to my next question or the solution. So, you have mentioned a lot of them. But I do have a question about your conclusive chapter was titled fighting the normalization of failure. So, I think you do make a social commentary about you know, these expectations and and when, when somebody is not succeeding, we look for reasons why they are not rather than if those with surrounded by resources, we are always saying what is blocking your ability to succeed? So, as a culture, what message do you have for us as a culture? What are we getting wrong about the needs of all Americans? If all Americans are citizens and equal, then why all opportunities are not created equal? And what what social commentary, are you? Then the narrative of that social commentary needs to change as a sociologist? What do you think?
Dr. Anindya Kundu: Yeah, that's a that's a tough question. It's a million-dollar question. I don't know if I have a million dollar answer. But I think it's as simple as caring about the education or the outcomes and opportunities of other people's children, like actually caring about all young people. It's, you know, it as a new parent, and someone who's been interested in or involved in the success of young people for a long time, we have to think that the success of all young people is going to benefit us as a whole. And it's kind of hard, because in a capitalist society, you know, in a competitive community, we tend to think in terms of winners and losers. But fundamentally, econ, psychology, many different fields show that education is the one arena, that is not a zero-sum game. In fact, more people being educated across communities will lead to better outcomes. more educated communities bounce back quicker from recessions, the more young people, we can educate our community GDP will grow, you know, significantly, and so little things that actually show that we care about the education of other people's children can go a long way. And, you know, what that sometimes looks like is maybe volunteering time or effort or donating materials to schools that don't necessarily have them socially? How can we motivate veteran teachers to go teach in underserved schools like, those are some policy types of issues that we should try to think about. Because you know, that that is something we still have to tackle as a society is that even if we say we all care, our incentive structures aren't necessarily aligned to having great schools and lower resource communities. And so we have to say that we care about those things in who we vote for, and who becomes our council members in how we can kind of bring community resources to schools that don't have it. And so even the schools that I study that are Title I schools, they enlist the community, they, you know, have adult education classes for their parents, teachers are staying a little bit extra, just because the students have a safer place to go. members of the community are offering after school programming or health care services, just it's a really a community model. And that's kind of what we have to bring to education for it to work for all students. And again, fundamentally have to think of that as a social necessary. Good. I think.
Sucheta Kamath: You know, and I mean, I'm so glad that you came up with an answer, because that can be discouraging, if you didn't have an answer. And also, I do see the stories so hopeful, I think, in spite of being marginalized, the amount of incredible good work they these children are doing and becoming a contributors to their, to the society, I think we should take that business so seriously and afford that to every child. Right, not restrict be restrictive. And I do want to now take a little lateral shift, you know, because your work was so focused on poverty and marginalized children and their and you showed the researcher how they, the story is compelling one and imagine if the resources are provided to them, they can do even better. I had a researcher Dr. Suniya Luthar who studies challenges in affluent communities and schools. And one of the interesting story there is that children who have incredible access, they come from very high, wealthy communities and parents and their incredible demands on them to become successful. And that success of course, is defined by monetary, future monetary, great gains, right. So the education will lead to best job, best job will be best paying job. Best paying job will be you become the Joneses people are trying to keep up with. And this all leads to incredible stress and misery. And so I see so many principles that you talked about are so applicable to that community as well. So do you have you thought about what are the parallels. In fact, what I saw was children in, in more affluent communities have less responsibility? in you know, the lot is done for them, they don't have jobs or taking care of their siblings, they don't have to make the breakfast. And still they're struggling. So yeah, but these communities are not in conversation with each other. There is no real modeling at all. So what have you thought about if there is a way to connect the two communities and learn resiliency and and these amazing agency examples from each other's experiences will be beautiful.
Dr. Anindya Kundu: Right? I agree. I mean, yeah, I, my sample of students are lower income. But that doesn't mean that there aren't other students with a lot of challenges. Even if they're middle and upper class, it's like, growing up is hard. In general, how can we support young people as you're trying to find their way in the world is is something that we should always be asking, I think education and schooling and mentorship has to fundamentally be fun. And it also has to create room for, you know, to break the mold that you were saying for students to be able to follow whatever passion that they think that they're passionate about. And ideally, we have a society that's able to reward all kinds of passions. And so, you know, one example I'm thinking about right now is just like, a career in technical education. Right now, in New York City, CTE schools are typically lower income schools. But there's no reason that more affluent young people should not be going to CTE schools where they can learn a trade, even if they don't necessarily end up going into that trade, just being able to work with their hands and learning something like auto repair, or culinary arts, or software development, those things I think, are incredibly important to young people as they're developing their identity and cognitive development. And so we have to think about breaking down silos, destigmatizing, you know, vocational education, having more students across the board think that it's acceptable and good to possibly go to community college and get an associate's degree and maybe learn a trade before possibly going on to a four year college, you know, from affluent neighborhood, students are more more told to go get a liberal arts degree, study English, and somehow, you know, typically, that will land them some kind of middle class job, whereas lower income students don't necessarily think they can have the luxury of doing that. And so that's a, that's a social level problem. And so I think we can start with young people, how can we create environments for young people of different backgrounds to interact with each other to ask each other questions, because also, a lot of the time, a student from neighborhood A, which is higher income, may never really experience meeting a student from neighborhood B, which is lower income until maybe college or maybe never. And then we have this crazy political divide and discourse divide because there is less interaction among people. And so you know, I actually went to speak to a high school in New York once and I was speaking about, I was speaking about like, just segregation as, as today, like schools are still so racially and economically segregated. And it was like pretty much an all black school, and a young black woman than blacks high school student, she asked me like, why is this an issue? Like, I'm happy with the school that I go to? I love my classmates, what is the problem with this school being predominantly 100% black, and you know, I was kind of at a loss for words. And at the time, all I kind of told her was like, you know, if we're not going to school together, if we're not learning together, if we're not dialoguing together, then it was around the time of Eric Garner's, you know, unjust death, we're going to probably continue to see social inequities like this, because we have to grow up together to understand each other and really respect each other. And that was kind of a fluffy answer. But you know, I thought about it later. And I also had a student that year in my NYU class, who told the whole class like on one of the first weeks of class that she, on her way to school, walking from the Lower East Side to New York City, she would constantly like check the way she was walking, fix the way she was talking to feel more white and feel like she could fit in at NYU. And so, I actually think those two stories are very connected like the young woman in the all black High School, if she all of a sudden got accepted to an NYU because she went to an all-black high school, she may feel like my student didn't class, she may feel like it's not a place for her. And so it's also a personal problem. You know, at that point, like, we have to create environments and, and cultures and communities were like, we're celebrating all kinds of diversity. And that's not necessarily currently the case. Schools are still very segregated. It's something we don't talk about enough. And so we should really think about what can we do to kind of keep that from happening?
Sucheta Kamath: You know, because that's such an important point, you know, I serve. First of all, we had to form an ad hoc committee, not a permanent committee, and that's the best time to discuss the what is the word diversity and inclusion in our profession? Okay, first of all, not the topic of the day, and that was only formed, I have been a member of that for 20 years, okay. And never as a minority have been acknowledged to have different experience as a clinic clinician, the we're serving people who aren't dominant culture, having to assimilate accommodate, never has been part of conversation. And then if we don't have these inter exchange in intercultural exchanges, I feel that the burden to solve the racial inequity issue is on minorities. Right? You tell us how you want us to behave, may become the dialogue of the day, and we don't want that we want culture informed citizens who understand the experiences that are not only diverse, but are quite hurtful or disadvantages. Right. Yeah.
Dr. Anindya Kundu: I love that. I love that. Because what is it as someone who walks the same circles, it's kind of a continual tokenisation like, Oh, you were a minority, you must be an expert on such and such topic. We'll listen to you for a day and try to do the best implementing implementing of your work that we can without actually doing some more like deep, deep work. And it happens to young people to like, you know, I mentioned Joe's story, the Joe who's previously homeless in New York, and then went to Edison, New Jersey, the school is amazing. But what happened when he got there? He was one of the few Hispanic students in his class, and his teacher would often call on him to be like, well, how is this in your household being a Hispanic student? Like, what is your family mealtime like, and she immediately lost the ability to connect with him without actually knowing much about him, even though she may have had a solid intention. You're asking a kid who is homeless, what family mealtime is like, in his house, he's gonna feel like put on the spot, and you're not going to have the ability to genuinely connect with him. And so we need to have like places where there's like, organic dialogue, where people again, I think storytelling is important, feel comfortable and accepted and valued to tell their stories on their own terms. And then we need to figure out like, what can we do to, you know, create more success stories among everyone?
Sucheta Kamath: I love that, you know, a funny thing. This is actually happened to me, somebody asked me there at least 80,000 Indians in Atlanta, and somebody should you must know, Prakash. He said, I said, Prakash, what does that even mean? It's like, you must know John. Right?
Dr. Anindya Kundu: Exactly. I might know, a Prakash. You know, but I relate to that.
Sucheta Kamath: But the assumption that I must know because I'm Indian is that was not even found. When you pose the question, so I want to end with this wonderful, you know, John, and he he's a was an NBA player who has become now this author, best-selling author. And I love the way he describes a privilege. And, and in here, because I would love to see your thoughts about the you know, whether we talk about white privilege or privilege. And so he says that privilege is a hard concept for people to understand because normally, when we talk about privilege, we imagine immediate, an earned riches and tangible benefits for anyone who has it. But white privilege. And indeed, our privilege is actually more about the absence of inconvenience, the absence of an impediment or challenge. And I love that definition. Because that that is, if you haven't had obstacles, you don't know those obstacles exist for other people. And once we define a privilege in that way, I think that can open up a dialog to talk about other people in needs of the others. What do you think about that?
Dr. Anindya Kundu: I think it's very spot on. I think what really can help us break down some of the racial class barriers is an ability to kind of understand where other people come from. And that is only really possible if we're given the space to interact with one on that one another and not let our preconceived notions of one another dictate how that interaction will go. Like. It has to be organic and You know, I mentioned this thing about like, teachers of color, like, there is research out there that just shows like one or two teachers of color helps all students of all backgrounds succeed in school. It's not just the students of color who are benefiting from that. But all students because they're now having a more robust outlook on life about like, people and the roles of people. And so there's no reason that we can't create those kinds of, you know, platforms earlier in life, mate, we can do it as early as preschool. And we can try to like create diverse preschool and early career like early childhood education, communities to and so I think that's the work is like, how can we have people interact with each other on a level where, you know, they'll realize, oh, okay, maybe you don't you don't know, Prakash There's probably a lot of Prakash's out there, you may not know any of them. Because Yeah, it is the same as asking someone Oh, you must know, you know, Martha, or something like that. But you know, it, the thing to know is that there may have been a decent intention there, you know.
Sucheta Kamath: Yes. No. harm, right. meant, yes. Agree.
Dr. Anindya Kundu: It's tough for me to say that having been in that same situation. But, you know, it's, it's an invitation to have a conversation. I think we need more of that.
Sucheta Kamath: But I think, to your point, you know, the, I have gotten this variation of this question in a variety of ways. And guess who has grown? I have, right? Or when I was novice and new to this country? I would say I would investigate which Prakash was there last name? Where did you meet them? Right? So I would take the responsibility, then I would get angry and just say, I would lash out and say, What do you think I'm Indian? So I know all Indians. Now I have some more mature version of saying, haha, that's funny, or, you know, like little subtle condescension. But that's not even right. Because again, the burden is on me to take ownership of their education.
Dr. Anindya Kundu: And we want that's more work. It's more work on top of people who often have are dealing with a lot, you know, so I don't know I we have to, we have to share the work. We do. You share it.
Sucheta Kamath: We do. Well, you have been so generous. And I know you have two beautiful babies waiting, and I'm sorry to take so much time. So as we would love to know, if you have some recommendations for our listeners, some books that you think will ADD value to their palate in understanding sociology, culture, everything you study and learn and talk about can be a novel, whatever.
Dr. Anindya Kundu: You know, I really like scholarship that is public accessible to the public things that people can read and understand it. That's how I tried to write my own book. So related to the things that we talked about today, Lisa Delpit is a foundational researcher, I think her book Multiplication is for White People is a wonderful primer that kind of makes us question our, our thoughts about which students are being expected to learn what material? So Multiplication is for White People, I think a great takeaway from that book is that we can all be warmly demanding mentors to expect the best of our young people. You know, this, this podcast is about executive function. A fun book, I think, is A Man Called Ove. It's a it's a novel. There's an internal dialogue of this old, old man, who's kind of not he's disgruntled in his life, but he also has to like work around his internal dialogue and how he acts with other people. It's a really, really sweet book. And then I'm also kind of a sucker for, you know, some of the more popularized like scholarship. So I recently read Adam Grant's, Think Again, all of this all this reading was before the twins, because now there's not much time for that. But Adam Grant's Think Again, was pretty good. I do like more of his older books, like Outliers a little bit better. But it's also making a book that makes us question like, what will you actually think and it gives examples of people who've rethought like, ways they've done things for decades, and how that actually leads to positive outcomes. And so those are some of the books I'd recommend to your listeners.
Sucheta Kamath: Well, thank you Anindya, you've been an amazing sport and a brilliant, you're brilliant scholarship has really meant a lot for me, and I bet our listeners will understand why. So thank you, again for joining us on Full PreFrontal podcast and listen, if this is your first time, please share the wealth. And if you are a repeat listener, please leave us a comment, join our newsletter, and keep in touch. We would love to continue to hear from you. So once again, thank you for joining all of us on Full PreFrontal, and here's to the next one. Thank you.
Dr. Anindya Kundu: Well, thank you.