Episode 44
Teaching Truth with Jesse Hagopian

In this episode co-host Li Sumpter receives a history lesson from Jesse Hagopian, Seattle-based educator, activist, and die-hard advocate for antiracist education. He shares childhood memories that impacted his view of himself, his future path, and his role in the Black Freedom Struggle – a fight that has deep roots in Seattle and the very high school Jesse attended as a youth.  He is a true master of the art and science of education guided by great icons of critical pedagogy like bell hooks and Paulo Freire. Jesse is an organizer with the Zinn Education Project, author of the upcoming book Teach Truth the Attack on Critical Race Theory and the Struggle for Anti-racist Education and co-editor of the books Black Lives Matter at School: An Uprising for Educational Justice and Teaching for Black Lives.

​​Li Sumpter (Co-Host): So welcome back to another episode of Future Memory. My guest today is Jesse Hagopian. He is a Seattle-based educator and the author of the upcoming Teach Truth: The Attack on Critical Race Theory and the Struggle for Antiracist Education. Hagopian is an organizer with the Zinn Education Project and co-editor of the books Black Lives Matter at School: An Uprising for Educational Justice and Teaching for Black Lives. Welcome, Jesse.

Jesse Hagopian: Oh, thanks so much for having me. Good to be with you.

Li: Thank you for joining us. Well, I want to get started with some questions about your own education and how you got started. I was curious about what your own early education and high school experiences were like. As a youth, what ways did you relate to or even resist to your own classroom curricula?

Jesse: I was very alienated from school growing up. I felt like it didn't really speak to me. I didn't feel like I was intelligent. I can remember very clearly a parent-teacher conference in third grade where the teacher brought us out into the hallway with me and my mom, and she took out my standardized testing scores and there was a blue line that ran through the middle that was the average, and then there was the dot far below that line that represented my reading scores.

And I knew from that day forward until about halfway through college, I knew that I was not smart, and I had the test scores to prove it to you. And school just felt like a place that reinforced over and over again that I was not worthy, that I was not intelligent. And there was very little that we studied that was about helping me understand myself, my identity, my place in the world as a Black, mixed-race kid.

And really, it was just a fraught experience, and I took quite a bit to get over that. I was sure I was going to fail out of college, that I wasn't smart enough to go to college. And I think that it was finally the experience of a couple of professors in college that showed that education could be more than just eliminating wrong answer choices at faster rates than other children, that it could be about understanding the problems in our world and how we can collectively solve those problems.

And then I realized I did have something to contribute. Then I realized that I did have some perspectives on what oppression looks like and how it feels and what we might need to do to get out of it, and I was hungry to learn about the systems that are set up in our society to reproduce inequality. And that was a real change for me. But growing up, my mom would tell me, "You're good with kids. I think you're going to be a teacher." And I said, "That's the last thing I'm going to be."

Li: Oh, really?

Jesse: School is just so arduous, and why would I want to come back? And then she was right. I came back to my own high school. I came back to Garfield High School, where I graduated, and I taught there for over a decade now.

Li: I think that's an amazing story, coming full circle to teach back where you got your first experiences in the classroom. And going back to that, I was wondering if you had any standout memories, like I did, with the actual content. You were saying you didn't relate to it so much, but I remember very clearly a moment with my mother coming to the school when I had a moment in the classroom around Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, things like that. Do you have any standout memories of content that really either made you feel excluded or exploited or any of these things that really stuck with you?

Jesse: For sure. I mean, there are many experiences that I think shaped my approach to education throughout the years. I mean, one of my firsts is from kindergarten. I remember very clearly one of the boys called me the N-word. And I didn't really know what it meant, but I knew it was directed at me and not the other kids. So I went and told the teacher, but there was parent-teacher conferences going on and parents were coming through, prospective parents, to look at the school, and the teacher got just beet red in front of the parents and was very embarrassed that I had said this, and said, "Oh, yeah. We'll deal with that," and just sort of pushed it aside and never came back to it.

And the message that I got was that I had done something wrong, like I had disrupted the education process and that it was wrong for me to have done that because nothing was taken care of. And that's something that still sits with me and I think guides a lot of my approach to how to handle situations in the classroom. And I can remember the first time I had a Black teacher and that I began to learn about Black history in sixth grade, an incredible educator named Faith Davis, taught us about ancient Egypt. And it was the first thing I really got excited about learning, and I was amazed by all these accomplishments that Black people had done.

And then after that class, it just sort of disappeared for a long time, and I never learned about anything else that Black people had done, and it made me wonder, "Is that why I score so poorly on these tests? Because I'm Black? Because I don't see other people like me in the advanced classes? And maybe those aren't for us. Maybe it has something to do innately with my race." And that's such a disempowering feeling, and I wanted to ensure that no other kids had to go through that kind of humiliation.

Li: No, that's a great point that you bring up because I think we had similar experiences. I was actually recently going through some old photos at my mom's house, and I came across my elementary school class photo, the classic one, everyone's lined up, shortest to tallest kind of thing. And there I was, the only Black child in a class of 25 white students. And I think at that young, innocent age, I didn't really understand what I was up against, and today's youth and teachers are facing so many challenges in the classroom today, things that I don't think either of us could have really imagined.

And so, as I was exploring the amazing tools and campaigns that you've been authoring and spearheading, like Teaching for Black Lives, Black Lives Matter at School, and the Zinn Education platform of so many resources, I think, "What would my early school experience have been like if these tools were available?" Right?

And I'm wondering, would you have thought the same thing? Because when I think about these amazing tools that are being offered, I just imagine, and we're not even talking about the digital stuff. I'm just talking about the things around critical race theory, these ideas, just about things that are showing a representation of Black folks. Like you said, even just having a Black teacher and what that meant for you. So even thinking about, what if the tools that you are all creating today were actually in your classroom back at Garfield when you were youth?

Jesse: Oh, wow. That would've been incredible. I mean, at the Zinn Education Project, we have scores of free downloadable people's history lessons that center Black history and struggles against structural racism. And these lessons tell history from the perspective of people who have been marginalized, who have been pushed out of the centers of power. We look at the founding of America from the perspective of those who have been enslaved, not those who were doing the enslaving. We look at American history through the eyes of those who are organizing multiracial struggles for racial and social justice, not the ones that are trying to maintain segregation and hoarding wealth in the hands of the few.

And I would've just lit up to be able to have a teacher say that your family's history matters, that struggles that your family went through shaped this country, and whatever semblance of democracy that we're able to hold onto in this country is the result of the Black freedom struggle and the result of multiracial struggles for social justice. Instead, we got the message in American government class that democracy is something that's handed down from those in power and those on high.

I can remember, at Garfield High School, my American government teacher assigned a research project, and I did a project about J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI director. And it was the only paper I think I ever really tried on in high school. I was very disengaged from school and didn't see any point in it, but this research project captured my imagination because I learned about some really despicable things that someone in power had done.

I couldn't believe that J. Edgar Hoover had led a campaign against the Black freedom movement, had targeted Martin Luther King, someone who we're all supposed to revere, and yet our government was wiretapping and even trying to get him to commit suicide and some pretty despicable things. And I poured myself into the research and I wrote the best paper I had done up until that point, and she gave me a C with the notes that the claims I was making were unsubstantiated.

Li: Wow.

Jesse: And it's clear that she just didn't agree, that she didn't want to hear that a white man in power had misused it. And that was a strong message I got that some ideas are off-limits, and it doesn't matter how hard you work. If you go against what makes a white teacher comfortable, then there are consequences for that.

And after that, I really didn't want to try anymore. I didn't feel like my opinions mattered, and I would've loved to have a teacher help me understand how we can live in a society that calls itself the freest nation on earth, and yet was based on enslavement of Black people and genocide of Native people, continued with Jim Crow segregation to where up through my dad's generation couldn't vote if you were Black.

And then in our own generation, we have mass incarceration. And how is it that racism continues to change in focus and character, but is a constant in American society? And I wasn't able to learn that until much later, and I would've loved to have some of the resources that the Zinn Education Project provides today.

Li: Yes, you and me both.

Jesse: Yeah.

Li: And that brings me to my next question about one of your ongoing campaigns is Black Lives Matter at School. And this year, the 2023 Creative Writing Challenge prompt was, "How can a school community support you in being unapologetically Black?" How might the young Jesse have answered that same question?

Jesse: Wow. Well, the young Jesse would've been scared to answer that question.

Li: Really? Say more.

Jesse: I think that because I was so worried about what it meant to be Black and what that meant about my intelligence, that being unapologetically Black was very foreign for me for far too long. It was hard to come to loving my blackness, and it was a long road to get there. And I'm just so glad that the Black Lives Matter at School movement exists, because so many children like me who are scared to embrace their blackness because they're afraid that it could make them labeled as lesser, not as beautiful, not as deserving of love, not as deserving of care, and everything that all of our kids deserve.

Now, these students are celebrated in our Week of Action that happens the first week of February every year, and also on our Year of Purpose. So every month, we're revisiting the principles of the Black Lives Matter Global Network and we're highlighting different aspects of the Black freedom struggle. And this would've been transformative in my life, helped me come to love my blackness much earlier. And I hope that for many thousands of kids across this country, they are having that experience.

Li: I love that answer. Thank you. So Garfield High School in Seattle is where you actually attended school as a youth and were also a teacher for over a decade. It's the place where your role as an activist also took root. So history was made here, not just for you as an individual, but really locally and then nationally. So why do you think this was happening at Garfield? Why Garfield High School? And what's the culture and social climate of this school that made it such fertile ground to spark local protests and now national change?

Jesse: Yeah. I love that question because I bleed purple and I'm a Bulldog to the core. Garfield is a special place to me, and I think the history of the school is a lot of the reason why it was a fertile ground recently for social change. Garfield High School is the school that the founder of the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party graduated from in 1968, Aaron Dixon.

Li: Wow.

Jesse: It's the site where Stokely Carmichael came to speak as the Black Power movement was rising. And before that, Martin Luther King came and spoke at Garfield High School in his only visit to Seattle. It's the heart of the Central District, which was the Black neighborhood in Seattle that was redlined so that Black people could only live in that area. And for that reason, it developed a culture of resistance, and it's an important part of the Black freedom struggle throughout Seattle's history.

And I think that in recent years, we've been able to revive some of that legacy in some of the struggles we've participated in. In 2013, we had a historic boycott of the MAP test, the Measures of Academic Progress test. And this was one of the myriad of high-stakes standardized tests that the kids had to take, and studies show that the average student in K-12 education now take 113 standardized tests. We used to take one in elementary, one in middle school, maybe a couple in high school, and now they're taking standardized tests just constantly.

And this was a particularly egregious test that wasn't aligned to our standards. And finally, one educator at Garfield, Mallory Clarke, said she wasn't going to administer this test anymore, and she contacted me and wanted to know if I could help, and we began organizing the entire faculty at Garfield. And we called a meeting in the library and we asked everybody, "Is anybody getting useful information out of this test that's helping them with creating their curriculum?" And nobody found this test useful.

And then Mallory said she wasn't going to give the test anymore, and who would join her? And we took a vote, and it was unanimous. Everybody said they were going to refuse to administer the test. And so, we organized a press conference in Mr. Gish's room, and we invited the media to come learn why we were going to refuse to give the standardized test, and one of the reasons is because of the legacy of standardized testing based in eugenics. Right?

Li: Mm-hmm.

Jesse: Standardized testing was created by open white supremacists. A man named Carl Brigham created the SAT exam out of Princeton University, and he was also the author of a book called The Study in American Intelligence, which was one of the Bibles of the eugenics movement. And the book concludes by lamenting that American intelligence is on the decline because we have more Black people than Europe does, and he fears that intermixing of the races will degrade the intelligence of Americans. And so, he created the SAT exam as a gatekeeper.

And lo and behold, these tests prove that white native-born men were smarter than everybody else. Right? Well, they designed the test to show that, and then they get the feedback that they were looking for, and that's why people like W.E.B. Du Bois, Horace Mann Bond were some of the first opponents of these bogus IQ standardized testings that started to be grafted onto the public schools at the behest of the eugenics movement.

And we knew this history. I'd read Wayne Au's book, Unequal By Design, that explained the racist history of standardized testing, and then we saw it playing out in our own school. We saw how English language learners would get low scores and it would make them feel deficient and unintelligent. But it wasn't measuring their intelligence. It was just measuring their proximity to white dominant culture, the English language, and not their intelligence. And we had so many examples of the way these tests were abusing kids, and we refused to do it. And the school district threatened the faculty of Garfield High School with a 10-day suspension without pay for the tested subject teachers in reading and math, and even our testing coordinator refused to administer the test.

Jesse: Kris McBride was an amazing advocate for the MAP test boycott. And even the first-year teachers, who didn't have any tenure protections, none of them backed down. And at the end of the school year, not only did they not suspend any of the teachers because of the overwhelming solidarity we received from thousands of educators and parents and students, not only around the country but around the world, who had heard about our boycott, at the end of the year, they actually suspended the test instead and got rid of the MAP test for all of Seattle's high schools, and it was just a resounding victory.

Li: Yeah. That's a triumph. That's a triumph for sure.

Jesse: Yeah. Right?

Li: And I was watching some of the news coverage, and it was just, like you said, quite a victory to have that test obliterated, really, just removed completely from the system, and also then making way for this idea of multiple literacies and ways of learning that are more just and equitable for all students. And I love to see that, like you said, it begins just with one person. Shout out to Mallory and everyone who followed that one teacher. And like you said, that's all it takes, but then just to see the students really take lead in their own way was a beautiful thing.

Jesse: Yeah. Yeah. It was cool that the students, when they knew we weren't going to administer the test, they sent administrators in to try to get the students to march them off to the computer labs to take the test, and some of them just staged to sit in in their own classroom, refused to get up and leave, and then the ones that went just clicked the button on the computer through very quickly so the score was invalidated.

So the BSU supported us and the student government supported us, and it was an incredible solidarity that emerged in this struggle. And it wasn't about not wanting assessment. I think as you said, we wanted more authentic forms of assessment, ones that could actually help us understand what our students knew. And we started doing much more performance-based assessments.

Li: Right.

Jesse: When you get your PhD, they don't want you to eliminate wrong answer choices at faster rates. They want to know, can you think? Can you create?

Li: Right. Are you a critical thinker?

Jesse: Right. Yeah. Can you critically think? Can you make a thesis and back it up with evidence? And so, that's what we began doing. We wanted to have kids develop a thesis. And it might not be at the PhD level, but it'll be at a developmentally appropriate level for them, and then back it up with evidence and then present that evidence to the class or to other teachers and administrators and defend their position, and that, I think, was a real victory for all of our students for authentic assessment.

Li: And went down at Garfield.

Jesse: Yeah. No doubt. No doubt.

Li: So another question I got for you. Part of the work of Monument Lab is to engage community in the current state of monuments and public memory in this country and beyond. Have you made any connections to this parallel movement to take down monuments that stand as symbols that continue to uphold oppressive systems and then honor the same false histories that you and your comrades are fighting in the classroom?

Jesse: Yeah. Definitely. I think one of my favorite assignments I ever gave my students at Garfield was to research the debate over monuments around the country and think about, "How do we decide as a society who to honor, and who should be honored, and who shouldn't be?" And all the students got a big chunk of clay and they created their own monument to replace one that they thought was inappropriate. And so, many chose Confederate monuments or monuments to any slaveholders, including the hallowed Founding Fathers, that many of my students didn't hold in reverence given that they could have been owned by George Washington.

And so, at the University of Washington, we have that statue of George Washington. Some people wanted to replace that with a statue of Aaron Dixon, who graduated from Garfield High School, founded the Black Panther Party, went to the University of Washington, and they felt far better represented our community as somebody who started the Free Breakfast Program in Seattle and who founded a free medical clinic that's still open to this day, just a few blocks away from Garfield High School, where many of our students receive free medical care to this day.

Li: Oh, that's amazing.

Jesse: So creating themselves some beautiful monuments to really honor the people that have made their lives better rather than just powerful people who imposed their will on our society. And I just think it was such an incredible moment in the 2020 uprising when all across the country, people said, "We are no longer going to honor slaveholders and perpetrators of genocide." It was incredible to see them dump the statue of Columbus into the Bay in Baltimore and teach the whole country a lesson, a history lesson about the genocidal attack of Columbus on Native people and how we need to find better heroes.

Li: I like that. Find better heroes. You've dedicated a bunch of your recent efforts to resisting House Bills 1807 and 1886 introduced by state Republican Representative Jim Walsh. As you put it in your article that I read, these bills are designed to mandate educators lie to Washington students about structural racism and sexism, essentially forcing educators to teach a false, alternative history of the United States. Can you break down the basic proposals of these bills and their connection to, say, recent book bans, critical race theory, and resources like The 1619 Project?

Jesse: For sure. Many people imagine that the attack on critical race theory is mostly in red states or it's just a product of the South. But instead, people should know that actually the attack on critical race theory originated from Christopher Rufo, who ran for city council in Seattle, and he is still a resident in Washington state, and that every state in the nation, except for California, has had a proposed bill that would require educators to lie to students about structural racism or sexism or heterosexism.

And even in California, the one state that hasn't had a proposed bill, they have many local school districts that have one of these educational gag order policies in place that seek to coerce educators to lie to students about American history, about Black history, about queer history. And Washington state is one of the many states that has had proposed bills by Republican legislators that are trying to deceive students. They were so frightened of the 2020 uprising and all the questions that young people were asking about our deeply unequitable society that instead of working to try to eliminate that inequality, they just want to ban people from understanding where it comes from.

So in my state, last year, they proposed House Bill 1886 that would make it illegal to teach about structural racism. And I found it deeply ironic that the House bill was numbered 1886, because that was the same year as a mob of white people in Seattle rounded up hundreds of Chinese people and forced them into wagons and hauled them to Seattle docks where they were placed on ships and illegally deported. And the chief of police helped this riotous white mob illegally, Police Chief William Murphy, and he never had faced any penalty for it. He was acquitted, even though this racist attack on Chinese people was carried out. Right?

And our students have the right to learn about this. They should know that this happened in our city, and too many don't grow up learning the reality of that anti-Chinese attack. And then when hate crimes skyrocketed in our own era in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, you saw hate crimes increase by several hundred percent against Asian Americans, and people wonder why. There's a long history of this Yellow Peril narrative in American society that has labeled Asian Americans and Chinese Americans as the other, as dangerous, as dirty, and our students need to learn about that if they're going to overcome those racial divisions today.

Li: And what would the passing of these bills mean for the next generation of youth and their futures, and their education? What's the status of these bills now?

Jesse: Well, thankfully, the bill in Washington state did not pass, but they are proliferating around the country. 18 states have already passed bills that seek to coerce educators into lying about structural racism, denying the fact that our country was built on structural racism, of enslavement of Black people, and genocide of Native people, and the exploitation of labor of immigrants, hyper-exploitation of Chinese labor on the railroads and Latinx labor in farms, and they want to hide this history.

And you saw it in Florida when they banned the AP African American Studies course. In Virginia, they're trying to rework the state standards to hide the legacy of structural racism and the contributions of Black people, and they are trying to send us back to the era of the 1940s and '50s during the second Red Scare known as the McCarthy era. In the McCarthy era, hundreds of teachers, thousands of teachers around the country were fired after having been labeled communist.

And then the Red Scare had the overlapping Lavender Scare, which was the attack on LGBTQ people, and that was especially intense against educators, and Florida had a particularly pernicious attack on queer educators. They had the Johns Committee there that would interrogate teachers about their sex lives and then fire them, remove their teaching certificate so they could never teach again. And this is what people like Governor Ron DeSantis in Florida are trying to revive with the Don't Say Gay bill that has outlawed any discussions of LGBTQ people for the younger grades, and also his so-called Stop W.O.K.E. Act that imposes anti-truth laws on Black history.

And in Florida now, it is a third-degree felony for an educator to be caught with the wrong book about Black people or about queer people in their classroom. You can get five years in jail and a $5,000 fine for having the wrong book. Thousands of books are being banned all over the country, and they are rapidly trying to bring us back to that Red Scare, Lavender Scare era where they could just label you a communist or today label you a critical race theorist and push you out of the classroom.

So we're at a crossroads right now, where everybody has to decide, "Are we going to build a multiracial struggle to create a true democracy? Or are we going to submit to this fearmongering and this racial hatred and allow them to turn back the clock?" And I hope that people will value social justice enough to join our struggle.

Li: I'm just blown away by all the things you're saying, and it's really powerful because I come from a family of educators. Both my father and my mother are educators. My brother and myself are both educators. So I see it not as a job, but like a vocation. And it really sounds like you and the folks that you're in community with, in solidarity with in Seattle and beyond are really making amazing strides and asking such critical questions that could determine the future of our country.

Jesse: No doubt.

Li: For me and so many other educators, Paulo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed and bell hooks' Teaching to Transgress were defining transformative works that greatly impacted my trajectory in the world. And I wanted to know, can you share what books or even creative works that inspired the path that got you where you are today?

Jesse: Yeah. I love that question. Definitely those two books are at the top.

Li: Oh, you like those books? Aren't they at the top?

Jesse: I love those books. Yes.

Li: I love them.

Jesse: Yes.

Li: I mean, and I'm sure you reread them because I'm always rereading those books.

Jesse: Sure. Yes. I'm quoting them in the book I'm writing right now. So much of what I'm doing would not be possible without the theoretical framework that bell hooks gave us and that Paulo Freire gave us to understand how to use dialogic pedagogy to engage your students in a conversation, and educating isn't about filling their heads with what you know, the banking model of education, as Paulo Freire put it, right?

Li: Right.

Jesse: It's about learning from your students.

Li: Right. That relationship between this... I learned so much from my students, especially now that I'm getting older.

Jesse: Yeah. No doubt.

Li: You got to stay in the know with the youth.

Jesse: Hey, the students created the greatest lesson plan of my lifetime when they organized the uprising of 2020. That was mostly young BIPOC folks that organized that uprising and taught the nation what structural racism is and taught many of their teachers that they needed to learn something about it and they needed to begin teaching about it. Right? That's where this whole backlash to critical race theory started.

And I think that all of us in the struggle would do well to join in study groups around books that can help deepen our understanding of history and theory that will help us in these struggles to come. There are so many books that I could cite that have been pivotal to my understanding of the struggle. I mean, working at the Zinn Education Project, Howard Zinn's People's History of the United States has been really important.

Li: Yes.

Jesse: So I think reframing who the subjects of history are and...

Li: And the authors of history, right?

Jesse: Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. I think that Jarvis Givens book, Fugitive Pedagogy, should be read by all educators.

Li: Yes. I'm familiar, very familiar with that project, and it is super inspiring. Yes.

Jesse: Yeah. I mean, that book is just a key that unlocks the truth about why we're in the situation we're in right now, where they're trying to outlaw education.

Li: And all the overlapping systems, because you talked about that, like these intersecting oppressions and overlapping systems of oppression that are really creating something that it feels like it's impenetrable, but people are making strides.

Jesse: Yeah. No doubt. And I would just say that the book, Fugitive Pedagogy, just gives you that history of how Black education has always been a fugitive project. It's always been a challenge to the power structure. It's always been verboten. And starting in 1740 were the first anti-literacy laws in South Carolina banning Black people from learning to read and write.

Li: How about that? Right.

Jesse: Why was that? Because in 1739, the Stono Rebellion happened. A man named Jemmy helped lead an uprising of enslaved people, and he marched with a banner that read "Liberty" as they collected more enslaved people along the way during their uprising, and this terrified the enslavers. And they not only wanted to kill all the people that were trying to get their freedom, they wanted to kill the idea of freedom. They wanted to kill the ability of Black people to ever write the word liberty again.

And so, they imposed these laws to ban Black people from learning to read and write. And today's racists aren't so bold as to ban the ability for people to learn to read and write, but they do want to ban the ability to read the world, as Paulo Freire put it. They don't want us to be racially literate. They don't want us to understand how systems of power and oppression are maintained. And so, they're banning ideas now in the classroom. And once you understand the long history of the attacks on Black education, you can understand why it's happening again today.

Li: And even through the digital divide, right? This idea of being disconnected from these resources that are so much a part of education today that Black and brown communities don't always have really makes a difference in the education that they receive and how they learn as well.

Jesse: No doubt. I mean, that was emphasized during the pandemic, right?

Li: Exactly. So much was amplified during the pandemic, especially that digital divide.

Jesse: No doubt. No doubt.

Li: So, Jesse, I want to think about the future and speculate. In the best-case scenario, maybe a utopian future for education in the United States. Teachers often have to draft a wish list for what they want, the resources, the needs they have for their classrooms as the academic year comes around. So thinking about what you would want, the three essentials that would be on your wish list for the classroom of the future.

Jesse: Yeah. I love this question, because too often, images of the future are all about dystopias. Those are the movies and books we get, and there's not enough freedom dreaming about what's possible.

Li: I love that. Shout out to Robin D. Kelley.

Jesse: No doubt. Another essential book to read.

Li: Yes.

Jesse: So I think in the classroom of the future that provides a liberatory education for our youth, the first thing I think we might see is the breakdown of subjects and getting rid of these artificial divisions between the different academic disciplines. And so, school would look very different. Instead of going to math class in the first period and then language arts and then social studies, you might have a class called Should Coal Trains be Used in Seattle? Right? They were just debating whether we should allow coal trains to come through our city.

So it would be based on a real problem that exists in your society, and then you would use math and science and language arts and social studies to attack this problem. You would want to learn about the science of climate change and the math that helps you understand the changing climate. Right? We would want to learn the history of coal extraction in this country, the toll it's taken on working people who are minors and the toll it's taken on the environment.

We would want to use language arts to write speeches, to deliver your opinion to the city council about this. So we would have problem-posing pedagogy, as Paulo Freire put it, where the courses would be organized around things that the kids care about that impact their lives, and then we would use the academic disciplines in service of that.

I think in addition to that, my second requirement for this liberatory classroom would be about wraparound services, so that when kids come to school, they also get healthcare. They also get tutoring services, dental care, mental health care, food for their families. And schools could be really the hubs of community where people have their needs taken care of and are invested in to support not just the students, but their families as well.

And lastly, I think schools would be flooded with resources, so that instead of wasting trillions of dollars on the Pentagon so that the United States can go bomb countries all over the world and kill children and their families, we would take that money and flood it into the school system so that kids have all the state-of-the-art resources they need, from the digital equipment, recording equipment, music, art supplies, to funding the school nurse, to the auditoriums, and the music halls. I mean, you can imagine that the richest country on earth could have incredible resources for their kids if we valued education, if we valued our young people.

Instead, so many schools in America today are falling apart. The first school I ever taught in in Washington, D.C., an elementary school, I had a hole in the ceiling of my classroom, and it just rained into my classroom and destroyed the first project that I ever assigned the students, their research project, and they never even got to present the projects.

Li: No way.

Jesse: And our kids deserve better than that.

Li: Oh, they definitely deserve better than that. Right? Oh my gosh.

Jesse: We're in a society where 81 billionaires have the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of humanity, and that wealth divide means that our kids go to schools that are falling apart, and we would transform that in a future society that's worthy of our kids.

Li: Most definitely. And if I can, I wanted to add a fourth thing, because I remember something you said about performance-based assessment.

Jesse: Oh, yeah.

Li: And I think that would-

Jesse: I should put that in.

Li: ...definitely be essential, right? Make sure you get that one in. But last but not least, my final question to you is, what's next for Zinn Education? And more specifically, what is next for Jesse Hagopian?

Jesse: Oh, thank you. Well, I'm really excited about the June 10th National Day of Action. The Zinn Education Project has partnered with Black Lives Matter at School and the African American Policy Forum to organize the Teach Truth Day of Action on June 10th, and I hope everybody will join us on that day of action in organizing an event in your community. This is the third annual Teach Truth Day of Action, and the past ones have been incredible.

People have organized historical walking tours in their community to highlight examples of the Black freedom struggle and sites that were important in the Black freedom struggle in their own communities or sites of oppression and racial injustice that students have the right to learn about in their own communities. Some people went to sites where Japanese people were rounded up and incarcerated during World War II. Some people in Memphis, Tennessee went to a site right on their school grounds where there was a race riot and many Black people were killed.

In Seattle, we went by the clinic that the Black Panther Party started and gave that history and highlighted how, if the bill passed to deny teachers the right to teach about structural racism, we couldn't even teach about the origins of the health clinic in our own community. And so, there'll be many creative protests that happen on June 10th, 2023, and I'm excited to say we have more cosponsors than ever before.

The National Education Association is supporting now, and many other grassroots organizations from across the country. So I expect hundreds of teachers and educators will turn out to protest these anti-truth laws, and I'll be right there with them all helping to organize it and learning from the educators and organizers, who are putting these events on, and hopefully helping to tell their story in the new book that I hope to be finishing very soon about this-

Li: You're going to finish it. You're going to finish. This month, man.

Jesse: Thank you.

Li: This is your month.

Jesse: I need that encouragement.

Li: You got this.

Jesse: I hope I finish it on this month.

Li: Believe me. When I was so close to finishing my dissertation, everyone kept asking me, "Are you done yet? Are you done yet?" So I know, because I could see you cringe when I asked you that in the beginning. All I can say is, look, I mean, I'm just so grateful to have this conversation with you today. Thank you for joining me. And I also got to say, I'm sorry to say, Jesse, your mother was right. I think this was your calling. I think this might have been what you were set on this planet to do.

Jesse: It feels that way now. Thank you so much.

Li: Yes, indeed. So this is Monument Lab, Future Memory. Thank you to my guest, Jesse Hagopian.

Jesse: Hey, I really appreciate you having me on. I just felt your warm spirit come across and brighten my day. Really great to be with you.

Li: My pleasure.