When we think of equitable teaching and learning we must first get our assumptions right. Instead of thinking of teaching as a process of transmitting knowledge, we need to think about teaching as a process of transforming hearts by making a connection through culture and representation. Those of us invested in teaching and reaching children know that the hardest work we will ever do is to ignite their natural intellectual curiosity while nurturing their sense of belonging. However, according to an at-risk youth and college dropout turned award-winning educator, Brandon P. Fleming, “We can’t reach people we don’t understand”.
On this episode, nationally acclaimed Assistant Debate Coach at Harvard University, Founder/CEO of the Harvard Diversity Project, and author of MISEDUCATED: A Memoir, Brandon P. Fleming, shares his story of struggle, success, and service which has inspired millions around the world. Strong and well-built Executive Function makes it possible to overcome personal adversity, but evolved Executive Function skills make world transformation possible.
About Brandon P. Fleming
Brandon P. Fleming is a nationally acclaimed Harvard educator and author of MISEDUCATED: A Memoir. His story of struggle, success, and service has inspired millions around the world. An at-risk youth and college dropout turned award-winning educator, Fleming is Assistant Debate Coach at Harvard University and Founder/CEO of the Harvard Diversity Project. Fleming was recruited to join the Harvard debate faculty at the age of 27. Harvard later approved Fleming’s proposal to establish a new department within the university system called the Harvard Diversity Project – an unprecedented pipeline program of the Harvard Debate Council. Fleming now leads an executive staff and board that has raised over a million dollars to enroll over 100 students of color into Harvard’s international summer debate residency on full scholarship. Fleming recruits underserved youth with no prior debate experience who he then trains to compete against hundreds of elite debaters from over 25 different countries around the world. For four consecutive years, since the program’s inception in 2017, every cohort trained by Fleming has won the international competition. News of the achievement instantly went viral and broke national headlines, being featured on CNN, ESPN, GMA, and many more. Fleming has established a groundbreaking organization that is pipelining Black youth into Ivy League and elite colleges & universities. Fleming’s story, erudition, and achievements have enabled him to use his voice to inspire and impact lives in places ranging from federal prisons to global platforms such as the United Nations General Assembly. At the age of 29, Forbes Magazine named Fleming to the Forbes 30 under 30 list. In 2020, The Root Magazine named Fleming one of the top 100 most influential African-Americans in the United States. And in May 2021, North Carolina Wesleyan College bestowed upon Fleming the honorary Doctor of Humanities degree.
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. As I have said this many times the podcast is fueled by three goals. Number one, what is executive function? How can our prefrontal lobes help us to take reign of our life and help us discover our mission and guide our behaviors, actions, thinking emotions, in alignment with that big picture or life's mission. Second, is to really, really connect the plight of the current self, and how to make that current self passionately caring about the future self, because every single sacrifice you make today is for that future self. And lastly, how to create a personal playbook, so that we can learn from the wisdom of many people who have gone through life, people who have dedicated their lives for researching, understanding, and finding solutions. So we don't have to do that ourselves. But we can literally vicariously learn and adapt all these new ideas to become better people. So that we can create a world that is welcoming and embracing of all. So with that in mind, I'm very, very excited about our guest today, because you know, in this work of executive function, and childhood brain development, we often talk about Adverse Childhood Experiences are often known as ACEs. Research shows that children who experience eight adverse childhood or more have devastatingly negative outcomes. And sometimes this kind of conversation sounds very sterile to me. And also it sounds like out there and happens to people. And not knowing these people and not making these children part of our everyday life, we may be creating a gap in our understanding, but most importantly, a compassionate ability to create a vision for the success of these children. And those who are interested in children learning growing up, and empowering people should really not leave conversations about systemic racism, domestic violence, substance abuse, any problems related to parenting or a gaps in parents capacity to understand their children. Feeling like an imposter when you discover success after setback, and finally mental health. So with all that in mind, I am beyond stoked to invite my fellow Atlantean an incredibly inspiring young dude, who probably will age me by saying those words so I apologize, listeners. Welcome Brandon P. Fleming. He is a nationally acclaimed Harvard educator and author of a fantastic memoir, called Miseducated, his story of struggle, success and service has inspired millions around the world. And at risk youth and I hate that word, but I hate it in the sense, we sometimes just use that as a way to describe conditions without really understanding the humanity behind it. But he's going to help us with that. And a college dropout, turned out to be an award winning educator which I have seen him at a Georgia, you know, in Georgia educational platform, hear him inspire hundreds of educators, which was like chilling experience. And Fleming is an assistant debate coach at a Harvard University and founder and CEO of Harvard Diversity Project. And this particular Harvard Diversity Project is an unprecedented pipeline program of Harvard Debate Council, where children from underprivileged backgrounds are given an opportunity to create a path through debate, the very essence of human experiences to be able to express yourself and with his guidance, discover this path. His bio is long, so bear with me because I want to tell you a few more things. For four consecutive years since the program's inception in 2017, every cohort trained by Brandon has won the international competition, every single cohort that is not exceptionalism that is considered incredible talent and skill and skills can be developed. That's been my motto. And lastly, I will say that, you know, his students have matriculated from Harvard, Yale, Stanford and other schools alike with full scholarships. He has become the very educator that if walked into his life would have changed his life. And I'm so glad that he did not hold them responsible, but has moved ahead with great courage and an incredible compassion for all. So welcome, Brandon. Welcome to Full PreFrontal. How are you?
Brandon P. Fleming: I'm doing good. I'm so excited to be here with you. Thank you so much for having me.
Sucheta Kamath: Yes. So before I question you about your early years years, I would like to read this beautiful poem by Joshua Dickerson, it goes something like this, I woke myself up because we ain't got an alarm clock. Dug in the dirty clothes basket, cuz ain't nobody washed my uniform. Brush my hair and teeth in the dark, cuz the lights ain't on. Even got my baby sister ready, because my mama wasn't home, got us both to school on time to eat a good breakfast. Then when I got to the class, the teacher first cuz I ain't got any pencil. Your childhood by no means was easy. Your mom was a career military woman and was often deployed for assignments. Your stepfather was abusive. I like to describing describe him as headmaster of the school of hard knocks. And your life is marked by highs and lows, and yet the shine light within you always manage to shine. So tell us a little bit about your childhood. And where did this courage come from?
Brandon P. Fleming: Yeah, again, thank you so much for having me, I appreciate any and every opportunity to be able to engage with other professionals in this field that is dedicated to helping young people be seen and understood, I think that is central to my story is that there was a time where I was not seen. And there was a time where I was not understood. I call the book Miseducated because in one way or another, so many of us are trapped in the cycle of Miseducation. And when I say miseducated people typically tend to think about me as a student. When I say miseducated people tend to think about, you know, adults as as teachers in the classroom, but education starts at home. And so my miseducation traced back to the home in which I was born and raised and conditioned. And, and the truth is that there are so many people who are products of their environment, who will become labeled, and we make assumptions and judgments about their, their ability, their their agency, their intellect, and, and really, you know, their performance, what we see in the ways that that people perform, I think has more to do with their environment than their ability. And so for me, um, the the giftedness was there, the the intelligence was there. But it was stifled, you know, by horrific conditions in which I lived, where I had to deal with the abject abuse of a man who was a Baptist preacher by day and by night, he was a cocaine addict. The things he did to me, and the things he said about me, I believed him, I believed him, and it begin to shape my consciousness in the way I saw myself, and the way that I saw the world. And so that was the mentality, that that really commandeered my entire life. And I spent much of my life believing something about myself, that was not true. And that is the case for so many young people. And that was led me down a very turbulent path as a kid.
Sucheta Kamath: One particular experience that you had, which took me back to India and over, what can I say? Can you talk about this exercise, so to speak, he would have you do, which is to write on a piece of paper 1000 times, and I'll let you describe it. It brought tears in my eyes. And I just think, first of all, I like to think about such individuals, as you know, there are people into buckets, Psych-wise, and psych-fools, you know, he fell into that second category, he had no understanding, forget human condition, but children's minds and how painful that must have been. Can you share that with us?
Brandon P. Fleming: And Sucheta, what we all struggle with what many of us struggle with, whether we're talking about teachers, whether we're talking about parents, whether we're talking about people in general we struggled to understand the science behind child rearing, you know, and and and this warrants a deep conversation about punitive measures that we Take two to correct behavior, you know, and so for me, you know, did I act out as a kid? Yeah, you know, I probably did. But every single day, when I got home, he made me write sentences, 1000 sentences a day, so and I will not be the bad child that I know. I'm told before I could do my homework before I could eat dinner before I could play out. So before I could do anything, I had to write those sentences. And so you just imagine what those sentences what that particular action told me about myself, it was encoded in my mind, that I was bad, you know, kind of like what you mentioned, that label of at risk, you know, all of these labels are now being attached to me. And I would struggle to detach myself from them for much of my life. And so, you know, I would write those sentences. And after I wrote those sentences, I would take it to his room and he would take it and he would rip it. And he would just erupt into a rage and begin to just beat me senselessly. You know, and so, you know, that, that created this sense of anger, in my mind, in my heart, you know, not only was I angry with him, but I was, I was angry with myself for for merely existing, you know, and it started, like it said, started to shape me psychologically, you know, and, and a lot of times, you know, when we look at child rearing, we have to think about the ways of conditions begin to shape children psychologically, and emotionally, and then how that manifests and presents itself physically, you know, in different behaviors.
Sucheta Kamath: And, you know, when very, you'd write so poignantly about this, that one powerful tool he used, which you as a child would have never understood, to fight, because you don't even know life, you don't have life experience is isolation. He not only isolated your all four siblings from the world, but he also isolated you all in your house. And I, that was so telling, because where do we, you know, you need an opportunity to confide or run it by people and say, Is this normal? Is this something I should be rising against? But when you take away that power, and I think that's why, you know, Susan Engle is one of the researcher who studies creativity and innovation on children's mind. And when I read your beautiful anecdotes, it reminded me one particular stood out was how you discovered these many ways to talk to your brother who's on the in the other room? Yeah. So you had this one creative mind? Absolutely ready and exploding with ideas and exploration and completely stifled conditions? You know, so how do Why do you think you did not get the support of adults around you? First of all, he was incapable he was the one causing harm your step father, but you had a very loving biological father, your mom did not provide that, where do you think adults are missing out? What are they failing to investigate?
Brandon P. Fleming: You know, everyone had their own issues, you know, and again, I think what I depict in this narrative is is the cycle of miseducation, you know, and the cycles that we all go through, and, and how our lack of healing causes us to hurt other people. You know, when you look at each character in that story, and my story, you know, you see how in, in some way or another, each person was hurting, and hurt people end up hurting other people. You know, my father, you know, as I share, who seemed to be the quintessential father, you know, in the beginning, but then when I became kind of wayward, you know, he felt for, for me, the same disappointment that his father felt in him. And, and he felt whenever he disappointed his father, there was a disconnection between him and his father. And so that same thing manifested in our relationship that when he felt like I wasn't what he wanted me to be, he disconnected from me and no longer, you know, wanted to deal with me. You know, and, and my mother who was looking for love and all the wrong places, you know, much most of when I look at my childhood, almost everything bad that happened to me, had to do with her choice, and, you know, and, and she was looking for that, you know, and so many people say, Well, why didn't she just leave him? It's because when when you are vulnerable, you become susceptible to anything that brings you temporary relief, you know, and so forth. She was looking for healing, but unfortunately found it in the wrong places. And so she wanted to be a godly woman. And so this, this evil man, you know, wielded the Bible as a weapon, you know, to justify what he was doing. And to convince her to remain silent and inferior, you know, by by telling her, you know that to be a virtuous woman, you know, she needed to concede to his methods of punishing us and, and she'll obey, you know, because she thought that was the right thing to do. You know, and she was just mis educated. You know, it wasn't, it wasn't a matter of her heart. You know, I don't think my mother's heart was wrong. I believe she was, she was misled, you know, and that's the truth, but so many people. And that's what you see in this book.
Sucheta Kamath: Do you feel, you know, what was another thing was striking to me, you know, particularly take pandemic, and there was so much conversation about student engagement. And they were the educators somehow, you know, there were chitter chatter about engaging kids engaging kids, which generally means getting them to focus on work, and doing the work, whether it makes any meaning to them. And to me, if I had a Brandon in my class, I would not know why he's not engaging, but what will be visible and tangible to me, he's not engaging. So I can either cajole him, or I can just, you know, strong arm him, or I can neglect him and say, he's not, he's not one of those I can educate. So I do think that well, how did you present in the classroom? How did you, because you your bag of skills, and talent, and incredible pain that's inflicted upon you on everyday basis. But and then you understand that society requires you to pretend and just show up with well put together somehow. So that's a lot of pressure on the young man. I mean, you're barely nine years old when you're experiencing such traumatic experiences. What was your profile in the classroom?
Brandon P. Fleming: I was disconnected. You know, I'm just like, so many young people are, you know, so, where we struggle, as educators often is not in our content, we struggle with connection. Yeah, that's half the battle. So many educators, they know their English well, you know, they know those books, they know that literature, they know their math, you know, their arithmetic and all that they they know their history, they know their science, but they don't know people. They don't know, connection. You know, and and so often we accuse young people of being disinterested. Young people are not disinterested, young people are disengaged, there's a difference. It's easy for us to say, Oh, they're just not interested or, or they just don't care. Because that that negates our responsibility to to engage them. Which means we have to know how to meet them where they are. And the challenges with so many young people's in the classrooms like me, when I was a kid, every human is, is in this never ending search for meaning. We're all looking for we're all looking for meaning. But here's the thing in school, it's it's so obsolete. It's so obscure, you know, to find meaning in school, when Has anyone ever be become passionate about something? That's not possible? Yeah, it doesn't happen. And so what what happens is we have completely removed self out of education, I did not see myself in what I was learning in school. And so there, it created an impasse, because I could not my teacher could not establish a sense of relevance between the content and the person that she was trying to teach. You know, and it's an it's a difficult endeavor, because every, every person is different, right? And so I think we underestimate the complexity and the immense level of skill that's required of a teacher to be able to take that content and be able to connect that content to every person sitting in that role.
Sucheta Kamath: Oh, my goodness. I think it's a it's a real hard job for educators. But I think you nailed it. I think that connection should be prioritized over anything else. And that may be the missing point there. You know, you were very talented basketball player. So you you were able to pursue that and I think having that your brother who also was and having a partner to practice with eventually finding your group that really shaped and then you rose to this An incredible talent and skill set where you were recruited to play division one basketball right? At Liberty University. So that's why we are talking to you is, you know, every, every accomplishment when you rose with an accomplishment, there was a setback? And what, what relationship did you develop with failures? What kept happening? Every success came with a failure, or maybe barely a success, but lot more failures? How did you handle all that?
Brandon P. Fleming: You know, that there was a time where I felt like, God was so cruel for allowing me to experience such success in basketball. Only to snatch it out of my hands, it was kind of like he was dangling this dream in front of me that looked like I was going to obtain, and they just yank it away and say, cite this plan. You know, and, and I felt that was so cruel. And I never understood him. Like, why would you take away from me the one thing that pulled me out of the streets, the one thing that saved my life, quite honestly. And, and here's one thing, that chatter that I realized not only about our failures, but even our successes, they were never about us. Know, your failures and your successes. Were never about you. They were always about the people that you will be used to reach our failures, not successes mean absolutely nothing. If we do not use them to make somebody else's life better. And yeah, I mean, it's so true, because, you know, I, you know, and I reference God, I don't know if everyone here, you know, listen to this, yes, spiritual power, you know, the universe, serendipity, call it whatever you want, you know, but um, I believe we try to not and I believe this with my heart, that God has a way of breaking us in the places that he wants to use us to help heal the world. And I think that's what all of my pain was about that I was everything that I had been through, I think I had to learn how to repurpose my pain, and use it in a way that would edify others, to save others from the things that I needed to be rescued from myself. You know, I think that's what all of us are, be because how else do you become passionate about anything? You know, you you don't just become passionate about something because of your successes, you become passionate about something because of the process that you that you underwent on your journey. It's all about journey. So when, you know so many people ask, How do I find my passion? I ask them what has been your journey? You know, what, where have you fallen? Where have you had to fail forward? You know, that those are the ways that we determine what we are meant to deposit in the earth? Is we had to figure out, you know, what gifts have we been given? What process did we go through to discover those gifts? And that will teach us exactly how to use them? And who to use them for?
Sucheta Kamath: You see, that's why you're an inspirational speaker. Yes. Oh, my goodness. Repurposing our pain, what a beautiful way to really even describe executive function, executive function is re thinking about our condition, and kind of designing a self directed problem solving, right? But what if you're stuck by your pain, but you can repurpose your pain, pain can be motivated. Wow, that's so fantastic.
Brandon P. Fleming: That's why so many people who start organizations, you know, they start organizations that are centered around some of their pain points throughout their lives. So you might survive cancer, and then start an organization that will help cancer survivors, you might have been an at risk an at risk student, and then start something that helps people who were just like you, at the end of the day, our passion is connected to our personhood, whatever pain is central to who we are as people. That's where our passion begins to develop, mean on. So I think that's the case with so many of us.
Sucheta Kamath: Well, you illustrated that beautifully through your life and such a young life. So as we think about your success, you know, one thing that crossed my mind that you know, should we think about your success as an exception to the rule or the norm? I sometimes feel that people of color have to work very hard to get the same opportunities. And once they do, they fall into the bucket of minority exceptionalism and how how should society avoid such traps and give these kinds of opportunities or not give but understand that everybody can thrive, it is a matter of opportunity and not innate, you know, ability or inability ease.
Brandon P. Fleming: Yeah, it absolutely is, you know, Forbes quoted me on their social media the other day and it started an uproar. Yeah, what happened that I said something and and half the people were like, Yeah, that's it. And the other half the people were so angry, you know. But but it came from because for Forbes didn't wrote an article about me and on their social media, they they put, you know, their favorite quote from that article. And it said that anything that black and brown people have not achieved is not due to ability, it is only due to access. And and I believe that I believe that it is proven Absolutely. Anything that people have, you know, that we have not achieved people of color, it's not due to ability, it's not because our ability is inferior. It's because we have not had access to the same resources, as those who typically have the means to afford those resources. You know, and so here's the thing, but the crazy thing is that, you know, we have people who are intolerant of words like equity, because they believe everyone should be held to the same standard. But what does it look like me holding you to a standard as somebody else who has far more resources, far more resources, my thing is fine, if you want to hold people to the same standard, that's perfectly fine. Just make sure that they both have the same access to the same resources that will allow them to reach that standard that you set. You know, I'm saying so so. So there's a responsibility on both parts. But but one of the things I talk about often is that, you know, nowadays, you know, we talk so much about about privilege, and, and we've turned privilege into this nefarious term. There's nothing wrong with privilege. Privilege can be beautiful. As long as we understand that, with privilege comes the responsibility to serve that. And then that's what we have to understand. You know, there are people who mismanage privilege, but I want my children to be privileged, I'm pretty sure you want your children to be privileged. But with privilege comes a responsibility. And that's what people don't teach. That's what people don't understand is that if I am in a position of privilege, it is my moral responsibility to use that power to use that position to pull other people up to, you know, and so when I made it to Harvard, I could have just been content, I could have just been excited, I made it to an Ivy League, I'm teaching at an Ivy League institution at 27 years old, you know, I could have just been, I could have just been content with that. But I understood that my being there, my access to that privilege had to do with something that was far bigger than me. I knew there was a reason that I made it there, that was reason as far bigger than me.
Sucheta Kamath: And it's such a intricate balance. You know, I wonder if you struggled with the imposter syndrome, you know, being honored by Forbes 30, under 30. It's what a privilege, what a what a way to recognize and acknowledge your contribution to the field and to, to life and and become an inspiration through that lived life experience and continuing to do so. But I bet you have this narrative inside that, for all the suffering you went through where you were told, or you actually thought you probably couldn't do all the things you're now able to do. So I wonder if you ever struggled with that, and how do you handle it?
Brandon P. Fleming: I used to struggle with that. I don't struggle with that anymore. Because I know who I am. And I know who I am, because I've discovered my voice. You know, the one of the things that I tell my students all the time is that where a man or a woman has no voice, they do not exist. You could even be present and still not exist, because inferiority is an induced consciousness whose physical manifestation begins with silence. But it is your voice that declares your presence because you can be in a room and be ignored. You can be in a room and still be invisible. But when you find your voice and when you learn how to use it, that is when you are able to declare I am here. I am here. I will be seen. I will be heard I will be acknowledged. That is what I do. Learn how to do and that is what I teach other young people as well. When they find their voices, they find their identities, they find their presence and they find their power.
Sucheta Kamath: And Brandon, in essence, that is what education is all about absolute education is or every element of education, whatever we call education, should be that uncovering of the voice that you call your own. And that says, I have arrived, my presence is acknowledged, so powerful. So, you know, I forgot to mention this. Rather, when you're talking about privilege, I would love to get your reaction about this way of thinking about privilege, you know, NBA player, and this is my favorite description of anybody I've ever heard talk about white privilege. You know, John Ameche, I don't know if you have heard him speak. But he says, and I'm quoting him now that privilege is a hard concept for people to understand. Because normally, when we talk about privilege, we imagine immediate unearned riches, and tangible benefits for anyone who has it. But white privilege, or indeed, all privilege is actually more about the absence of inconvenience, the absence of an impediment or challenge. I love this definition. Because I think in that way, if you talk about a child or student from minority or even young professional, or me, as a woman, and of a minority coming from another country, it was just there was no absence of inconvenience.
Brandon P. Fleming: You know, but can I tell you something Sucheta. And this might be an unpopular opinion. But I don't, I don't allow my students to sulk about their disadvantages, because we all have them. We all have that there's no such thing as an as, as a society filled with equality. They were all born in different conditions, with different resources with different chances of success. You know, I tell my students, you know, one of the things I talk about in the book is that moment that I had with my professor, you know, you know, the moment that I had with my coach, who looked at me and said, We don't complain, son, we compensate. He said, We don't complain, we compensate. In other words, he said, I understand your disadvantages, but what are you gonna do about them? What are you going to, so that changed my life forever, where I never allowed myself, it didn't matter what disadvantages I had, it didn't matter what circumstances, I thought I could overcome the mall because I saw it as my responsibility. You know, I didn't expect anybody to give me anything that I knew I was going to have to work to pull myself out of anything that I need to be pulled out of. And, and I think that's, that's a mindset that we all should should have. Now, it's something that has to be inculcated, it's something that has to be taught, you know, but but my professor asked me, she said, What do you want to do about your own disadvantages? And, and that, that way of thinking it changed my life forever, because she, she helped me understand my power in that moment, where I would never have to be limited to any condition or or circumstances that anyone else put me into, but I had the power to rise above anything. And that changed my life forever.
Sucheta Kamath: Well, then this will be an interesting question for you to reflect upon. You know, you made it from the hood to Harvard. But what about all those who wouldn't? Couldn't or didn't know how? The question really is? Why do we not have more Brandon Fleming's? You know, what, are people school systems or institutions not doing? Because? Is this your personal message? Or that you discovered on your own? Or did you have systematic support from every encounter systems that you encountered that was designed to keep you at a disadvantage? That's a different story, right?
Brandon P. Fleming: Yeah. The reason we don't have the reason why we don't have many others is because we don't teach them. We don't teach them well. They are miseducated. Yes, they could. Someone can make it out of the hood and make it to Harvard and become wealthy and still be miseducated. The reason why is because they are miseducated about the reason for their power, they are miseducated about the reason and the purpose of their privilege. Carter G. Woodson, talked about it, you know, the title of my book was actually inspired by Carter G. Woodson's classic work, the Miseducation of the Negro. And he criticized black scholars and black leaders who became elite. And they made it to these elite communities and they never looked back. And he said that that's why he said that's the reason why we're stuck in this position. Not because we're not making it out, but because those of us who make it out aren't coming back. And yes, those people don't understand the purpose of their privilege, the purpose of their privilege was not for them to dwell on an island of success all by themselves, the purpose of their privilege was to climb that ladder and reach back. And so for me, you know, the success of my life is not that I made it, you know, on the Forbes 30, under 30 list, the success of my life is not that I made it to Harvard University to the success of my life, is that I made it to Harvard University, and I came back from our people, that's a success of my life.
Sucheta Kamath: And, and you're showing them the tools that they can to learn. And there's a formula or there's actually path to acquisition, the acquiring of the tooth tools, that's called learning, and then you can show them that they too can do it. So let's talk about your, you know, your your vision acknowledges that education at best could be a pipeline to prosperity and not, and I'm quoting you at the UN speech that you gave, Pipeline to Poverty. So what is that? What what are the ingredients that are a must in this education?
Brandon P. Fleming: I think, um, first, it's it's self discovery. We, as educators must understand that the purpose of education is self discovery. It is it is to help people discover more about themselves, and to help people discover more about the world. You know, Socrates once said that the fundamental question is, how should I live? At the end of the day, education is teaching people how to live. Sucheta, when we look at the world's best leaders, and when we look at the world's worst leaders, guess what they both have in common. They both began in somebody classroom. They began as somebody classroom, where their philosophies of education, and their philosophy of life and their philosophy of leadership was born in somebody's classroom, somebody miseducated Hitler, somebody miseducated Mussolini, you know somebody miseducated Stalin, somebody taught them, we are all a product of the ways in which we have been taught. And so at the end of the day, we got to teach people how to discover something about themselves and how to live their lives. Are you going to live your life for yourself? Or are you going to live your life others? You know, and I think that that is central. It's it's self discovery, and its autonomy. That's the other, you know, because I tell my students, you know, the purpose of me teaching you is not for me to feed you for the rest of your life. The purpose of me teaching you is for me to teach you how to feed yourself. That's the goal for me to teach you how to live your life in a way that that is not filled with self indulgence, but but in a way that is filled with altruism.
Sucheta Kamath: I love that. And, you know, I do want to now ask you about this as we come to an end that you have chosen to empower people through debate and debate to me, you know, the discovery, if you look at the brain evolution of the brain, when humans developed symbolic language, that was an evolution of the prefrontal cortex. So what is the power in this capacity to express and debate and make yourself understood that you have found this power, and you're empowering your learners? What does debate do to your students?
Brandon P. Fleming: Sucheta there is one central thing that shapes all of humanity. And that is ideas, ideas. What debate teaches, is it teaches us how to come up with ideas, and it teaches us how to challenge them. Because at the end of the day, we want to come up with ideas, but how do we also advance ideas? You know, how do we how do we challenge ideas? self correction, is essential to debate. You know, love is central to debate because it all points back to our ability to question and so much of what we see when we look at history and the abuse of power. That abuse of power was never changed until somebody decided to question it. And that's what we're doing. That's what we're doing. We're teaching these young people how to look at the world. How to identify The world's problems and how to be the solution.
Sucheta Kamath: I admire that tremendously. And I think, if you think about debate is also this incredible cultivating this capacity to understand others Oh, yeah. And not discard dismissing them, and then holding your own ground strongly and saying, Let me tell you how I'm thinking about things. So having that courage to present your point of view. So, to me, it's like a really a human battlefield debate of the human battlefield, right. So, as we end, I'm going to share a quote that I love by Kofi Annan, and I want to get your reaction to it. He says education is a human right, with immense power, to transform on its foundation, rest, the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development. What do you think of that?
Brandon P. Fleming: Oh, human development is what stands out the most, because at the end of the day, we have to return back to the place where we put humanity at the center of education, humans, our humanity must be the central axis upon which education terms, that education is all about you. It doesn't matter what academic discipline we bring into the equation. One thing that will never change is you, you will always remain the most important in your education. And so if we want people to own their own educations, we have to put them back at the center of it.
Sucheta Kamath: Oh, my goodness. Absolutely. So as we end our discussion today, Brandon, I've been asking my wonderful guests. Do you have any recommendations of two books that have inspired you or you found incredibly informative or joyful? Can you share them with our audience?
Brandon P. Fleming: Yeah, absolutely. One book in particular, is it's by my good brother, Kiese Laymon, Heavy, Heavy: An American Memoir. That book really inspired me as, as I was writing mine. And you know, we were talking earlier offline about just how there are so many different worlds, so many different Americas that that exists within this microcosm of a nation. And so I think it's all about our ability to experience other people's worldviews, other people's experiences, but that's how we connect, we connect by hearing each other's stories. So that's one book I recommend. And another book, one that I'm reading right now that I find really fascinating. Is A People's History of the World. Oh, yes. Chris Harman. Yeah. It's, it's powerful. It's powerful. It's, I think it shows us how we should study history. You know, there's, there's a difference between reading history and studying history. You know, history repeats itself, because we don't look critically, you know, at history, you know, this one thing that I just read that blew my mind is he was talking about how 22 Centuries ago, there was a Chinese Emperor, who decreed the death penalty on anybody who use the past to criticize the president. Think about that. Think about that. And I'll let you I'll let you synthesize on your own. How we see that showing up today in this culture, no, but there are people who don't want us to study the past. There are people who don't want us to understand a lot of our proclivities, you know, throughout history, because there are a lot of people who are not willing to self correct. You know, and this is not new. This is not new. We've seen this throughout history.
Sucheta Kamath: Yeah, yes. And that's it. You know, to your point, I don't think we teach history that we're miseducated in history. Yeah, a variety of reasons. We are reading wrong history, and we are making sense of history in a wrong way. Yes, sir. I can say be so bold and say that, well, well, Brandon, you are a pure joy. And I am so lucky to get a chance to share this wonderful space with you and so grateful to have this platform to be able to ask these questions that I have been pondering since I read your book. Listeners you have to you have to particularly if you have anybody, you know teens and older consider is as a gift for holidays. So that's all the time we have today. Thank you again. Brandon Fleming for being our guest today, as you can see, these are important conversations we are having with incredibly inspiring and passionate experts with their unique perspectives. And we are making connection to executive function because executive function at the heart of executive function is one's ability to pivot and change the direction of your life by taking charge of your emotions, your thinking your your relationship with the world, and finding that power within you to guide your thinking and guide your connections. So we definitely need to stay in touch. If you love what you're hearing folks, share the episode with your friends and colleagues. Definitely share it with educators that you know. And leave us a review if you can. And once again, thank you for joining us and Brandon, I'm immensely grateful for your work and can wait to write I read your next inspiring story about how you're educating in the correct way if I may say so. Thank you.
Brandon P. Fleming: Thank you