Race and education reform — Full interview with Shaun Harper | VIEWPOINT


Shaun: My mission is learning and racial justice. And, you know, like yelling at people and
attempting to embarrass them and all that stuff is just not…is not going to help me
achieve what it is that I’m going for. Rick: Hey, I’m Rick Hess, Director of Education
Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. I’m honored and privileged to have with my
friend, Shaun Harper, of the Allen Chair of Urban Leadership at the University of Southern
California and the man who’s been asked and tapped to build a large new center for thinking
about equity and promoting equity in K-12 and higher education. Shaun, you’ve been studying this stuff for
a long time. You’ve been working with schools and colleges
across the country. What are a couple things that people can miss
when they talk about the role of race in school reform and school improvement that get lost
just amid the hurly-burly? Shaun: Sure. Sometimes reformers attempt to address racial
inequities in a raceless way, without explicitly naming race, without explicitly naming populations
by their names, right? So in other words, I’ve seen people attempt
to carry out reforms by saying that there are certain populations that are persistently
underserved or chronically, you know, absent or whatever without saying, “We’re talking
about black kids,” or, “We’re talking about Latino kids.” I think that it’s really important to name
what it is and who it is that we’re talking about. Rick: And so two questions, so, one, why do
folks shy away from naming? And, two, what’s the advantage of naming? Shaun: I think that we’ve been conditioned
to stay away from what could be misperceived as racially explosive language, right? So by naming a particular group, it sounds
perhaps like you’re singling out that group. So that’s one thing. And the second part of your question, the
advantage of doing so is that we cannot have a strategy if we’re unwilling to name what
it is that our strategy is attempting to achieve and who it is that we’re attempting to reach
with that strategy. Rick: You know, so a lot of your work is now
trying to apply things that you’ve learned about what happens in schools and colleges
to training leaders in these organizations too. What are a couple of things that people sometimes
get wrong when they’re trying to do the right thing to tackle some of these difficult questions? Shaun: Yeah. So sometimes people…particularly around
racial equity, people attempt to embarrass white people for not knowing better on, you
know, particular things. I tend to be much more of a patient teacher,
and I understand that white people, like the rest of us, are by-products of our educational
upbringing and that we all have been socialized to one degree or another to think about the
racial other in a particular way and that, you know, part of learning has to necessarily
entail some patience for racial mistake-making. So I just see people be less patient and just
like jump down people’s throats and try to embarrass them. I don’t think that that is a productive way
to, you know, achieve what it is that we’re trying to achieve. Rick: You know, and something you and I have
talked about over time is for somebody like me, a conservative who, you know, wants to
live in a colorblind society and worries about racial politics, when I hear something like
racial mistake-making, like what does that mean in your mind, and how are we seeing this
differently or talking past each other? Shaun: Rick, what color is my shirt? Rick: Light blue. Shaun: Okay, so you’re not colorblind. Colorblindness is I think a bad way to…a
dangerous way to go about reform because, essentially, it’s the whole racelessness that
I was talking about earlier, right? You know, you are a guy who cares very deeply
about reform. You have to be willing to see color in those
efforts and in the things that you are…that I know that you’re so committed to, right? Yeah, yeah, colorblindness is… Rick: So given this…so given that that’s
your response, when somebody says, “It sounds like fighting for equity or being sensitive
to the role of race feels like I’m supposed to sign up for a set of political beliefs
about the right way to think of it.” So how do you think about that? Shaun: Sure. I certainly don’t want to impose my beliefs
on others. I do wanna challenge people to think and to
grow and to perhaps consider, you know, a set of perspectives that are more justice-centered,
that are more reflective of communities of color and honors the realities of race and
the realities of people in communities of color. But I can’t force them to, you know, think
differently, right? But I certainly wanna challenge. Rick: So what are…you know, so especially
as you’re training folks out there, as you’re working with, you know, passionate young advocates
to improve higher ed or K-12, what are some of the things that you help people do that
seem to be constructive, that help to promote this reflection, generate constructive discussion
as opposed to not moving the ball? Shaun: Sure. So I’ll give you a concrete example. We have a series that we call the USC Equity
Institutes, which are five-week virtual education experiences for K-12 leaders and higher ed
leaders. And the instructors who teach in the institutes,
you know, we teach them that patience, right? We also teach them, you know, ways to ask
questions that both push but also, you know, support people in where they are. We absolutely insist that, you know, jumping
down someone’s throat or attempting to embarrass them is not the right way to promote and stimulate
learning. I’m a person who believes that more dialogue,
not less, is what our country needs. So we try to teach, you know, the people who
are the instructors for these institutes, as well as all of the folks who are on my
team at the USC Race and Equity Center, we try to teach them how to listen, right, and
how to be an appreciator of perspectives that might be different than ours. Rick: Or drive us… So like, you know, because…sometimes there’s
people’s perspectives, and you’re just like you don’t get it. So when you do those kinds of trainings, are
there couple of things that you find yourself suggesting over and over that have seemed
helpful to people? Shaun: Well, definitely for the participants,
I insist that they bring their honest selves. Like sometimes we are afraid to be honest
with ourselves about, you know, beliefs or missteps. I think it is important to be honest about
missteps that we’ve made and to share those missteps with other colleagues and sometimes
with critical friends who can help us process those missteps and learn from them and grow
from them so that we don’t do them continuously. But if we don’t name them and if we’re not
honest about them, then I’m afraid that we’re just going to continuously make the same racial
missteps over and over again. Rick: Do you feel like there’s a place where,
you know, you really learned from kind of how to get this right or a school or a college
where you’ve seen people really have this conversation in a way that really made a difference? Shaun: Yeah. So, again, with the institutes, we have now
piloted the institutes with four institutions and we’ve helped them get it right. We’ve helped them have tough conversations
that they’ve never had before in their professional lives and, for many of them, in their personal
lives either, right? We’ve heard almost unanimously from people
who’ve participated in these that, you know, these are really helpful constructive conversations
that are good for our school building or for our school district or our university. But, you know, again, I think that people
need support. They need tools and frameworks. But they also need a space, like a thoughtfully
curated space in which to talk with…sometimes with themselves individually, right, but then
also to talk with colleagues about some really vexing and persistent racial equity issues
in their schools. The thing that we do know is that doing nothing
and avoiding it ain’t gonna fix the problem. We know that for sure. Rick: So if I’m a reformer and I’m trying
to…I mean I’m listening to you and I’m like, “Okay, this makes sense. And I wanna in my community help folks kind
of have an honest conversation about this. And it’s gonna be people with different ethnic
backgrounds. It’s gonna be people with different political
perspectives.” How do I do this in a way that it doesn’t
blow up on me or doesn’t turn ugly, or is that just part of the risk you gotta run? Shaun: Well, you need to do a USC Equity Institute. We can give you some strategies and tools
here. Rick, I think that you have to do it like
a little humorous, okay? I mean let’s not make a mockery of the exercise,
right, but, you know, humor for me helps to put people more at ease and know that they’re
not signing themselves up to be attacked. That’s one thing. I also think that we have to give people really
delicious things to read because sometimes, especially in the beginning of this kind of
work, right, people are afraid to bring their personal selves. I do think that at some point we have to get
to the personal self, right? But in the beginning, it might be useful to
give people something to read and to react to because then they can sort of hide out
behind the, you know, what they’re responding to that you’ve given them to read or watch. You know, that’s very useful. I think it’s important to give people homework
and to check their homework and to let them know that, you know, there is a real serious
expectation that the homework gets done. And I think also, lastly, I would say, we
have to continue to ask the right questions. I’ll give you one concrete example. You know, people say they’re so deeply committed
to racial equity. One question that we ask in the institutes
is for people to take stock of their friendships and relationships outside of work, people
with whom they worship, men, you know, go to the bar with and hang out with on weekends. And, you know, it surprises people actually
when they do the stocktaking exercise that most of the people that they spend their time
with are of their same race, that they have very few substantive interracial friendships
and relationships. So that’s helpful. That’s the kind of question that then gets
people thinking much more intentionally about, you know, “How do I enact the values that
I espouse around these things both at work and in my life outside of it.” Rick: You know, what didn’t you know about
this stuff? What has surprised you over the years as you’ve
been researching and helping folks with this? Shaun: What has surprised me is that there’s
been a tremendous willingness and openness to be better and to do better. I fully expected people to be resistant. You know, one of the most frequently asked
questions I get, Rick, when people, you know, ask me about my work at the center, they say,
“Wow, that must be really tough. Like you guys must get like a ton of opposition.” Actually, we don’t. We get none. I mean we do the work very seriously, and
we do it very rigorously, and we ask tough questions and create meaningful learning opportunities
for people. But we don’t attack them, right? Like the goal here is learning. So I think because of that approach, you know,
like professionals, including white people, are delightfully open. You know, my belief, Rick, is that educators
want to be effective. They wanna be fair. They actually want to achieve racial equity,
but they just don’t know how oftentimes. They don’t have the skill. You know, they’re not genetically bad people,
right? So if you start from that place, you know,
I think, at least for me, like I just I get no pushback. Rick: I mean this sounds so different from
the way we talk about this stuff on cable TV or on the Internet or… I mean how does… I mean you’ve just posited like a really hopeful
vision of like how we can talk to each other and wrestle with hard stuff. So how do you reconcile that with like just
how ugly these conversations feel to me in the popular culture? Shaun: Yeah. I’m just unwilling to engage in that way. You know, it just doesn’t work for me because
I find it to be counterproductive to my mission. My mission is learning and racial justice. And, you know, like yelling at people and
attempting to embarrass them and all that stuff is just not…is not going to help me
achieve what it is that I’m going for. Rick: Awesome, man. Shaun… Shaun: Rick. Rick: …thank you so much for taking the
time today. Shaun: Thank you. Rick: Hey, everyone. That’s the end of our discussion with USC’s
Shaun Harper. Thanks for watching. As always, let us know what other topics you’d
like AEI Scholars to cover on “Viewpoint” and be sure to check out the rest of our videos
and research from AEI.

21 thoughts on “Race and education reform — Full interview with Shaun Harper | VIEWPOINT”

  1. You both avoid talking directly about the subject. I need a do-over. "Racial mistakes" still don't make sense. "Thoughtfully curated space" what?

  2. OMFG We are all autonomous human beings each with our own mind and free will. A group of people do not collaborate in any way… If they do they generally have an advantage over those who do not. What I am saying is it is absolutely retarded to target groups of "under-served". If they have free will and desire they create their own opportunities. This just proves that the guilt of white Americans still runs strong and these people think they can control these populations and help them. One thing I have learned from life is you cannot help some one unless they first help themselves. It is no ones job to help another person. You do it out of the kindness of your heart. If these people believe they are entitled to help then this is a dangerous situation to be in. I unsubscribed because this has no thought.

  3. He keeps on asking the equity institute guy what he would prescribe to increase racial equity and he never seems to answer the question in a way that gives us a step-by-step model. He always introduces vagaries that make it difficult to understand what he wants done. Does "thoughtfully curated space" just mean to maintain a culture of honesty and discussion? Is that really all he wants?
    He never explains how any of this will help mitigate a lack of racial equity.

  4. You should teach people that you should judge people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. Radical. I know.

  5. For a layman like myself, focusing on race ("racial justice", "racial equity", "racial mistakes", "including white people", …) is a sure way to PERPETUATE racism.

    Being "racial colorblind" doesn't mean not being able to identify race. It means not letting other people's race dictate how we judge and treat them. Shaun Harper is totally focused on race, even turned it into a trade.

    Anyone interested in fighting racism should NOT go to Shaun Harper. They should instead turn to Morgan Freeman who, when asked "How do you end racism?" simply replied "Stop talking about it.".
    Then again, I'm white. Therefore I must be a racist so my opinion on racism doesn't matter.

  6. How about just say "equal opportunity, not equal outcomes". No matter what you say, if you're going for equal outcomes, then you don't have fairness.

  7. issues about race are in fact not about race. they're about environment, populations, education or lack thereof (im talking about parental education)
    Are black people on average less educated than white people in the US ? Yes, but why ? is it because they're black ? doubtful. is it because they were raised in an environment that perpetuates welfare dependence and criminality ? probably more so.I do not believe that nearly anything that is claimed to be happening to a population because of its ethnicity is an accurate description of reality. they are shortcuts made of buzzwords and easy-to-digest outrage.
    Are black people being discriminated against because of their dark skin ? Maybe. I do not know. But I wont assume that they are simply based on a surface level analysis of statistics.

  8. "I want a colorblind society"

    "What color is my shirt?"

    That is such an intellectually insincere response. Does he honestly believe that people who advocate for a colorblind society wish to remove the ability to see color from people?

  9. So, Dr. King's vision, his dream, is null and void, then, eh? And as far as patience and "pushing," how willing is this gentleman willing himself to be 'pushed?' How does he react to average IQ, since he's so determined to continue falling back upon race as a category for assessing the success or failure of education initiatives? Where does he come down on "experimentalism," and Dewey's ancient Prussian-modelled "so-called "progressive education?" You can't get a license to teach anywhere in the United States without buying into that single flavor of one demonstrably failed philosophy of education. I very much want to know how much he is prepared to listen if he wants to be heard.

  10. I enjoy AEI videos but this guy seems like a faux-intellectual SJW who never actually answers any of the questions asked.

  11. The topic seems relevant for today's culture. Not the best interview. Definitely like to hear this guy interviewed again.

  12. This guy is a true racist if he had his way he would have assassinated MLK himself. He wants to treat people based on the color of their skin rather than the content of their character.
    A true racist has never been so obvious.

  13. It could have went deeper in their discussion, but why does this video have more thumbs down than thumbs up. I don't think it was that bad. 🤔

  14. 3:38
    "What color is my shirt?"
    "Light blue".
    "Okay, so you're not color-blind."
    I.. I love this piece of rhetoric. It feels like a useful pun regardless of your political direction.
    Your objectives may vary, but I admire the skill it takes to make good rhetoric like this.

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