The "Algorithms of Oppression" embedded in tech - Dr. Safiya Noble

Dr. Safiya Noble was studying Library Science when an academic colleague suggested she google ”black girls.” The top search results were images that perpetuated negative stereotypes, misogyny and exploitation. That discovery was the beginning of an investigation that eventually became Safiya’s book, “Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism”.

Immediate access to powerful search engines is seen as an empowering force in this world, but what if our reliance on search engines is perpetuating oppressive ideas and hateful ideologies--even swaying elections?

And when you’re done, come on over to The Inflection Point Society, our Facebook group of everyday activists who seek to make extraordinary change through small, daily actions.

Subscribe to “Inflection Point” to get more stories of how women rise up right in your feed on Apple Podcasts, RadioPublic, Stitcher and NPROne.

We rely on listener support, please contribute today to fund the transcript of this episode!

More recommended reading: The Googlization of Everything (and why we should worry), by Jesse Daniels

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When Teachers Are Trusted To Teach: Gabe Howard, Saint Ann’s School

What happens when teachers are given the freedom to inspire a lifelong love of learning? In this episode, I talk with Gabrielle Howard, who recently retired as the head of the Lower School at Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn, after 35 years.

We’ll talk about why she dedicated her life to fostering a love of learning in young children, why she let them swear in her office, how a school without grades can produce high-achieving graduating classes time and time again, and the deep value of listening to kids. 

 


TRANSCRIPT:

Lauren Schiller:                  From KALW and PRX, this is Inflection Point. I'm Lauren Schiller with stories of how women rise up. I think it's fair to say that I talk with amazing women in every episode of this show. Sometimes they come from far off lands, and other times they're in my own backyard. Today's guest is all three of those things. As the long standing head of the lower school at St Ann's school in Brooklyn, now widely considered one of the top K-12 schools in the country.

Lauren Schiller:                  Gabe Howard changed the way an entire generation of kids embraced learning. So she's amazing, check. She comes from England, far off land, check. And lucky for me and a first for this show, we're related by marriage, own backyard, check. At the same time we were discussing recording this interview, Gabe was preparing to retire from St Ann's, so I had some competition for her attention and a high bar to reach in my questions since her most important constituents got to her first.

Lauren Schiller:                  Gabe told me that her favorite interview so far had been with a couple of third graders who asked her, as you prepare to ride off into the sunset, what kind of horse do you have? I am not sure how to top that, but I did want to know more about, Gabe Howard. And Gabe Howard is a third grader herself, and how that led to her lifelong dedication to education. So, that's where we started our conversation. Gabriel Howard went to school in a small town in England.

Gabe Howard:                     I went to very strict schools for all of my education. And I really loved to talk, and you weren't allowed to talk. I was always in trouble for talking.

Lauren Schiller:                  I began to see just how important her story is. Not only because she helped to shape a new approach to teaching kids.

Gabe Howard:                     Well, I fell in love with the school. Children's voices, what the school was all about. It wasn't about being quiet and not talking too much. It was all about, "We want to know what you have to say."

Lauren Schiller:                  But like many immigrants, her vision of America was a bit idealized.

Gabe Howard:                     Having grown up during the war, and been exposed to Marcel and other Americans magazines I thought, well that is definitely the place to be. So I feel it on suburban houses, and refrigerators and ham and big cars and none of that happened.

Lauren Schiller:                  And also sometimes the things we have to learn from the people we love can't reveal themselves until we just sit down, face to face and talk. Now often the story you hear from women in Gabe's generation is, well, I wanted to be an actress or I wanted to be an engineer, but in the end I had to teach because that's what was realistic. In Gabe's case, she wanted to teach deaf children but didn't.

Gabe Howard:                     It would have meant that I had to go to university at a time when 2% of the eligible population at the University. It was a really different time. And I suppose also it was probably a phase, that I wanted to do that to some extent. You know, I certainly didn't continue to push for it, anyway I didn't do that. I designed bathing suits.

Lauren Schiller:                  It's true she could even visit Marks and Spencer in London and see who was buying which of her designs, but the desire to teach still lingered. Eventually Gabe, got married, moved to America, had children and did go back to college, but between getting her undergraduate degree and going to Grad school, she needed to find work and teaching was work she could do while her kids were in school.

Lauren Schiller:                  And that's how she became acquainted with St Ann's school in Brooklyn. St Ann's was an experimental school that rebuffed all the usual norms about how to teach kids and who could teach them. And in particular, it rebuffed and still does, a speak until spoken to norm that Gabe herself a grownup with.

Gabe Howard:                     I did not love school. And I think that one of the worst things you can do to a child is to beat the desire to converse out of them. And while I wasn't literally beaten, I was sitting really shamed into not talking as much as my inclination would have it. I think they made conversing not come as naturally as it had, when I was little. Maybe that happens to everyone, but I do remember being over time, told that I talk too much.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, let's talk about what happened between the time that you arrived, decided to stay and then actually did enter education as your career field.

Gabe Howard:                     I went to college. I went to Long Island University because that was where my then husband was teaching, and I could go free. And they would have me with very few academic credentials. So I got a degree and then I was going to go to graduate school. But in between getting a degree and going to graduate school, I wanted to make some money, and I had two small children at that point, and teaching was something I could do without having to pay a babysitter because they were in school when I was in school.

Gabe Howard:                     And I ended up teaching in a private school. But initially I wanted to teach in public school, but I couldn't teach in a public school because I wasn't a citizen. And I didn't in fact become a citizen until a lot later, when I'd never voted in my life, and I wanted to vote for Bill Clinton, so I became a citizen, so he's responsible for a lot of shit.

Lauren Schiller:                  So it wasn't until the 90s that you-

Gabe Howard:                     I'd been here 36 years before I became a citizen. And that's the longing for home, that's the saying, no, I'm not really English anymore, I'm an American now.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. So, you were telling me that you came over on a visa because your husband at the time was a scientist?

Gabe Howard:                     Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  Can you talk a little bit more about how that worked?

Gabe Howard:                     Yeah. It was a little after the time that Sputnik had gone up and America was looking for European scientists and he had a PhD in physical chemistry and we had both of us always wanted to go to America.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, I should probably say that the man you came with, who was your husband at the time was not a citizen, but you've been here in America for a while and were then dating an American. And so you could have gotten citizenship at anytime by marrying him. But you chose not to.

Gabe Howard:                     I guess I didn't want him to become a citizen that much. I mean I didn't really want to become a citizen. I wanted to vote, you know, it was the vote. It was the never, having, had that voice, that motivated me and that the voice that a lot of women work really hard to get me.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah.

Gabe Howard:                     To have.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. But I am curious about that choice to not get married until very recently.

Gabe Howard:                     Yeah. Yeah. I don't know, we had a good thing going, you know. It didn't seem necessary and then suddenly it did. And I think part of that is just aging. You know, I had visions of being in the hospital dying and Marty couldn't come and see me because we weren't married.

Lauren Schiller:                  Now he can.

Gabe Howard:                     Maybe that would never happen.

Lauren Schiller:                  Okay. Well, let's get back on track. Let's go back to England. What was your life like back in England?

Gabe Howard:                     Well, it was pretty deprived. I mean, I was ... given the possibilities, I was one of the lucky ones. I wasn't shipped off to live with another family. I lived with my mother in the house that we had always lived in. And since it had always been that way, I took for granted that. There wasn't a lot of food, and you couldn't always have what you wanted and you certainly couldn't have candy or sweets as we called them at time.

Gabe Howard:                     But there weren't many cars, and that's a good thing. They certainly was a lot less packaging and that's a good thing. But it did look really sort of super luxurious and so on, and that was interesting. I suppose I was about nine when I started wanting to come to America.

Lauren Schiller:                  Wow. That's a lifelong aspiration.

Gabe Howard:                     Yeah, and then I wanted to go home.

Lauren Schiller:                  Once you got here.

Gabe Howard:                     Once I got here. I wanted to go, but that's not entirely true because I love New York. I mean from the get go. I love New York and we actually arrived two days before Kennedy was shot and that was ... Well, I mean it sort of goes without saying that that was stunning, that was stunning for everybody. To me that shooting was so unusual in those days, that nobody ... Harold Macmillan was prime minister in England at the time and that nobody would shoot him unless they mistook him for grouse or something like that.

Lauren Schiller:                  So that was your introduction to American culture?

Gabe Howard:                     That was my introduction to American culture, yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  So what were your impressions when ... I mean that must've colored everything about your impressions when you arrived versus what you imagined it would be?

Gabe Howard:                     I'd say yes and no. It was just part of the whole remarkable experience of being here. And it was ... the weather was so blue and so cold, and coming from England I had to some extent expected that if you had blue skies, you had warm weather and it was absolutely freezing and so blue.

Lauren Schiller:                  So you surpassed your year, when you thought you would go home and I mean, once you got past that, do you still miss England? I mean, did at that point, were you wanting to go back for real? Are you really just were nostalgic about it?

Gabe Howard:                     Yes. You know, I have an immigrant's longing for home and I expect to always have it.

Lauren Schiller:                  When you were growing up in England ... so you got married, but was it a choice of ... I mean, now when you think about that time, it's like going to college versus getting married, whereas now people don't really think about that as a choice. Was that actually something that you had to make a decision about doing?

Gabe Howard:                     No. I went to an art college. I did dress design at Alaska college of Whilock, and I had done that by the time we got married, but we had known each other since we were 17, so it was like a high school relationship.

Lauren Schiller:                  Wow. I didn't know you had a degree in dress design. Do you ever use that?

Gabe Howard:                     No.

Lauren Schiller:                  No. You're not sketching?

Gabe Howard:                     No.

Lauren Schiller:                  Never.

Gabe Howard:                     No.

Lauren Schiller:                  Wow.

Gabe Howard:                     I mean, I did do swimsuit design for a while.

Lauren Schiller:                  You did, professionally?

Gabe Howard:                     Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  Oh my goodness.

Gabe Howard:                     When I lived in London. That's what I did. I worked for a supplier of Marks and Spencer's.

Lauren Schiller:                  That's so cool.

Gabe Howard:                     It was fun.

Lauren Schiller:                  Do you still have the drawings that you made, the designs that you made?

Gabe Howard:                     No.

Lauren Schiller:                  Do you have any of the bathing suits that made?

Gabe Howard:                     No. I can remember them though. And the office that I worked in was close to the Marks and Spencer's that is on Oxford Street. And you could go down in your lunch hour and watch people buy the swim suits that you designed.

Lauren Schiller:                  That's amazing.

Gabe Howard:                     Or not buy them.

Lauren Schiller:                  Did you ever look at anyone and say, "Hmm maybe that wasn't the right choice for you?"

Gabe Howard:                     I'm sure I did.

Lauren Schiller:                  No judgment, no judgment. How did you get connected with St Ann's to start with? Because it was it's early days.

Gabe Howard:                     Yeah, it was the time on a tradition of nepotism. I had a friend who was friends with the person who was the recurrent head of the lower school there. And she said, "Oh, you have to meet my friend Jim Madison." So I met Jim Madison and he hired me and I stayed for 44 years.

Lauren Schiller:                  That sounds great.

Gabe Howard:                     I was going to teach for a year.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. You have a lot of one year plans that seem to extend. What's your next one year plan?

Gabe Howard:                     I'm going to die for a year.

Lauren Schiller:                  So we have 44 more years of Gabe Howard. Thank goodness. Can we talk a little bit about the ... just to get to the philosophy of St Ann's and where it all sprang from. So Stanley Bosworth, he was the original.

Gabe Howard:                     He was the founding headmaster.

Lauren Schiller:                  And it was his concept at the school or?

Gabe Howard:                     It was his concept.

Lauren Schiller:                  How did he talk about what he wanted the school to be?

Gabe Howard:                     Well, one of the things that made it work was that he talked about it all the time. He talked about his passionate desire for literacy and for intellectual endeavor and for poetry and for art and for music. And he believed that those things and a few others I haven't named, are what make life and children sacred. And he knew that children were sacred, and that was how the school progressed. And because he said it all the time, everybody, everybody was kind of on board with it. It wasn't never on it.

Lauren Schiller:                  I know. From a far St. Ann's is totally Nirvana.

Gabe Howard:                     It wasn't Nirvana and it was bloody hard work, and it was underpaid. But you've always felt like you were doing something important and valuable and that's what kept me there so long. And if I wasn't there, where would I go?

Lauren Schiller:                  What was the affiliation of St Ann's school with St Ann's church?

Gabe Howard:                     The members of the church ... so members of the church wanted to start a school because the public school in the neighborhood, they didn't like the private schools that were there already. By then there were a couple of them or the public school. And so they wanted to start a school, and so they had to find somebody to run it. And the person who is in charge at the church was a man named Carmen Hawkwood. And he and Stanley, although they were strange bedfellows, not that they ever went to bed, Stanley was fiercely heterosexual.

Lauren Schiller:                  Just to be clear.

Gabe Howard:                     And he was gone by the time, I think the school was seven years old by the time I got there and Carmen Hawkwood had returned to England. But there were stories of him walking the halls and wearing a purple robe and smelling of lavender and telling Bible stories to the kids. But there was the friendship between those two men, other than that st Ann's Leeds has a very large Jewish population was not an episcopalian school and that was a few years later.

Gabe Howard:                     That was ratified in a way because the church, and the school separated. Although we have celebrations in the church, it's available for graduation and concepts and it's a really beautiful, really beautiful old church.

Lauren Schiller:                  So how did you think of your ... coming into this school which sounds completely different from your own experience of school. Like what was your role as the teacher and how did you figure out how you wanted to be that person having not personally experienced anything like that before?

Gabe Howard:                     I'd always loved kids and even when I was a kid myself, I loved littler kids. And so teaching in a way came very naturally to me and I wanted to know what they had to say. And so I listened to them. I had things that you could teach, you could and you still can teach anything you want to teach at St Ann's in the lower school. You can teach if you want your curriculum to be the Middle Ages, you can teach that.

Gabe Howard:                     If you want it to be ancient Greece, you can teach that. If you want it to be surrealism, anything you want it to be. I mean, as long as you can engage the kids in a passion for learning and as long as they ... along with that learn to read and write and compute and talk and listen to each other. Then I felt that was just fantastic.

Gabe Howard:                     And it is, and it keeps teachers there, because there's so much autonomy. It's really satisfying. And, when you're in a classroom, you know if it's not working. And anybody who walks in, who knows anything about anything to do with teaching would know that it's not working and when it's working it's equally tangible.

Lauren Schiller:                  And as a private school are there test requirements like we have in public schools where you there has to be some sort of measure of the kids progress?

Gabe Howard:                     No. What really happens is in the end they go to college.

Lauren Schiller:                  You have to wait years to know if it worked.

Gabe Howard:                     And if they don't go to college and if they don't go to, the college is that people expect them to go to, then I think that you would soon be out of business.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah.

Gabe Howard:                     In that sense there is a measure. And the kids take the same tests everybody takes. They take the SATs and-

Lauren Schiller:                  The advanced placement tests.

Gabe Howard:                     Yes. But there are no grades. And that's huge because, you know kids will measure themselves and some more than others, but kids will measure themselves against each other anyway. But if you take away the tangible grade expression of what you're doing, then you minimize the competitiveness instead of exacerbating it, you minimize it.

Lauren Schiller:                  Well this idea ... so just thinking for a second about the ultimate measure of how well the school "did for the child," being, did they go to a good college, did they go to the college that their parents wanted them to go to, or the student themselves aspire to go to?

Lauren Schiller:                  I feel like the notion in New York is that if you don't get your kid on the right list for the right preschool while they're still in Utero, you may as well just say goodbye to the entire potential for success for the rest of their life and so much anxiety around that. But it seems like that goal and the philosophy of St Anne's actually don't like ... I wouldn't actually connect those two things together, that the goal would be to end up going to a good college.

Gabe Howard:                     I think, if there wasn't enough kids going to good colleges, then people would question the validity of the school. But in reality, the goal is you leave as a person who ... leaves St Anne's already, as a person who has interests in things they want to do and that they can become an accomplished and happy person. In that way it's transcendent and not just dependent on getting into a good school. But as a New York City, private school, if kids wouldn't going to good colleges, then it would not be considered the success is, even though that an ephemeral success compared to the real success.

Lauren Schiller:                  It's aspiring to think about what happens when teachers are given the freedom and resources to guide their students for discoveries, rather than just toward higher test scores. What happens when we take the pressure off our schools to achieve and instead lift them up. So every teacher, regardless of how wealthy the students are, can inspire a lifelong love of learning. Coming up after the break, we'll go inside the classroom with Gabe Howard.

Gabe Howard:                     You can set them free, and adults just as much as children like to be set free.

Lauren Schiller:                  Hey there. It's Lauren. Before we get back to it, I want to let you know about our new Facebook group, for everyday activists. If you're someone who wants to connect with other ordinary people, seeking to make extraordinary change, come join the Inflection Point Society together. We'll have important conversations and come away with simple daily actions to help each other rise up. Search for inflection points society on Facebook or go to facebook.com/groups/inflectionpointsociety.

Lauren Schiller:                  I'm Lauren Schiller and this is inflection point. I'm talking with Gabriel Howard, who recently retired as head of the lower school at St Anne's school. Where she was for 35 years. At the time that you started working with St Anne's even though they'd been around for seven years. The work that you were doing, I feel like was really groundbreaking.

Gabe Howard:                     When you're in a situation where teachers feel trusted and they have autonomy, then they have a big investment in making it work. And they also have to be people who are intelligent and literate and have interests of their own and people who love kids and who have a sense of humor, and if you have people like that, then you can set them free and adults just as much as children like to be set free.

Gabe Howard:                     And so, if you're studying the revolutionary war at one year, and you get tired of it and you decide you want to do Arabian Nights, then you can change it and there is no red tape you just do it, because you're trusted. And then it reinvigorates your teaching to do something like that. You have to study it, making a curriculum is a huge undertaking. And so you know, you're going to be studying it yourself as well, and then the kids bring themselves to it and that really the joy of it.

Lauren Schiller:                  What was your moment of discovering what that could feel like for you?

Gabe Howard:                     That was a really long time. I think it goes back to when I told you that I went there for a year and then I fell in love with it, and I fell in love with the freedom and the trust and with the children who wants you listening to them, listening to them with each other and listening to them with you. They kind of show you the way. And I don't mean by that, that they plan the curriculum, although in some schools they do, do that.But they certainly, guided in different directions. And an art project can be something just amazing that came out of something that a kid has done.

Lauren Schiller:                  Can you get specific?

Gabe Howard:                     Yeah. I mean, they'll sit with a pair of scissors and a piece of paper and suddenly you have a puppet or you have a train or you have a dinosaur and then everybody wants to do it. Or you can ... they just build things and little kids are ... although I'm not working at St Anne's anymore, I go into a preschool one day a week and play with the three year olds, and the stuff that may come up with is absolutely phenomenal and they make art all day long. And all the time they're learning, dexterity and appreciation and they feel like artist and they feel like poets.

Lauren Schiller:                  So you went from being an assistant teacher to running the entire lower school?

Gabe Howard:                     Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. But you spent a significant amount of time in the classroom and you still would meet with the children one on one even after you were in the administrative role.

Gabe Howard:                     Yes.

Lauren Schiller:                  Right. So in this freewheeling free spirited school, I'm sure that there were still kids who were biting, scratching, kicking, swearing, you know, doing all the things that little kids do to find their boundaries. How did you handle those kinds of situations?

Gabe Howard:                     Well it took a lot of swearing right?

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah, let's do it. I love swearing on the show.

Gabe Howard:                     The thing about a so called bad language in the classroom is not really the language, but that it gets everybody riled up, and you don't really want a whole class of kids riled up about somebody saying, fuck or whatever they say. So I had kids, if it happened which ... and it didn't happen very often but if it did, and the teacher would send a kid to me because they weren't responding to that saying, you can't say that in the classroom. I would tell them, they could say it in the office. They could come and say whatever they liked, because I didn't care what they said and they would look. And so I said, "So, go on."

Lauren Schiller:                  Well, it's not as much fun when you're given permission.

Gabe Howard:                     I think it's a little unnerved. And it just kind of ended. It wasn't really a great way of saying ... I said, I don't really care about the words, but I do care that you don't listen to your teacher and you need to listen to your teacher. And this is why she's telling you this because it makes everybody Giddy, doesn't it? And they go, "Yeah." That's an example of a way to not really be punitive, but to change behavior. And I had one little boy once who took me up on it.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. Just one out of many.

Gabe Howard:                     He just sat there and he swore like the truth, for about four minutes. But he didn't come back and do it again.

Lauren Schiller:                  I mean it ... St Anne's is ... I would say considered an elite private school and people are banking their entire children's lives and where they go to school from the time they start in preschool, in New York City especially. So, when it comes to the admissions process and the selection, I imagine that there are some people who will try and do anything to get their kid into the school. Are there any crazy stories and anecdotes about what parents have tried, that would be just let's say a cautionary tale to others who might try and do the same, that didn't work?

Gabe Howard:                     Oh, well. We don't accept bribes.

Lauren Schiller:                  Are there people who tried to bribe? You're not answering.

Gabe Howard:                     I suppose as a cautionary tale, I would say don't send too much paperwork, don't huge numbers of letters from people who want to tell us why we should take a child or lots and lots and lots of the kids work. Some of the kids work is fine, if there's a huge file of papers and you haven't admitted the child yet, then it sort of rings bells, cautionary bells.

Lauren Schiller:                  So don't try too hard.

Gabe Howard:                     Right. Don't try to hard. And it's important to find the right school for your kid. And you know, the reason I'm sure there isn't a school in existence that is the right school for everybody.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah, great. But then you read admissions for a while. So what was the spark that you looked for in the kids that came through because he would talk to the kids before they came into the school.

Gabe Howard:                     I did admissions in a different time. I did admissions in a time when Stanley and I were out beating the bushes, looking for kids. And St Anne's was that school in Brooklyn.

Lauren Schiller:                  That weird [inaudible 00:34:05] school.

Gabe Howard:                     Weird school in Brooklyn with a crazy headmaster.

Lauren Schiller:                  Okay. I would just say, how was it characterized at that time?

Gabe Howard:                     Yeah. We took kids that we don't take so much now. We took kids who had been kicked out of other schools, and kids who were very unevenly talented, and we made it work for them. So it was ... you looked for ... or at least I did, I'd looked for divergent thinking. I look for kids who would say really surprising things and wrong answers are often much better than right answers. And so, when you're actually seeing the kid, you can take that into consideration, when you get IQ scores that had been done somewhere else, then the people who scored the tests, can give credit for wrong answers. And I mean in the sense that, the wrong answers are often ... the really great wrong answers come from really creative kids, and that's an important thing to look for. Yeah, it was fun doing admissions when we were beating the bushes.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah, what a different time. At that time did you run into any naysayers who said, "I would never send my child to that school."

Gabe Howard:                     I said that.

Lauren Schiller:                  You said that about your own children. So they were not there while you were teaching at the beginning?

Gabe Howard:                     Not at the beginning, and I was a naysayer. When I looked at the school for my children, and in those days, they didn't show you the school, which was a little suspect.

Lauren Schiller:                  You can go inside.

Gabe Howard:                     You can actually go and see this school, but you went into Stanley's office and listened to Stanley. And I said I would never send my children to a school run by a man, like that.

Lauren Schiller:                  Why?

Gabe Howard:                     Because, he was crazy. But then he hired me and I wasn't so fussy when it came to getting a job. So yes, there were naysayers and and rightfully so, it's not right for everybody. And if you want to get very measured in the sense of a measurement feedback on your child on a regular basis, if you want to be able to go online and look up how they did today. St Anne's will drive you crazy.

Lauren Schiller:                  So I feel like we can't complete this conversation without talking about poetry in the classroom.

Gabe Howard:                     Yeah.

Lauren Schiller:                  That's because the reason I know you, is because you met my father-in-law when you were both teaching at St Anne's, you could say poetry brought you together when he walked into your classroom.

Gabe Howard:                     Yes. He came to teach poetry in Justin's classroom and his son's classroom with whom you were familiar.

Lauren Schiller:                  I am familiar.

Gabe Howard:                     Then he was open to coming to other classrooms too. He wasn't getting paid at this time and the person who hired me, Jim Madison said, "Does anybody else want him?" And I said, "I'll have him," so I did.

Lauren Schiller:                  Sight unseen or after you've just given him a little once over.

Gabe Howard:                     Well, yeah. A little bit once over.

Lauren Schiller:                  So he started coming into the classroom?

Gabe Howard:                     Yes. And then he started coming in more and the poetry that we did, we put up on the walls all over the school, the pathology that the kids had written. And that informed the whole school of what was going on and kids would stop on the stairs and read the poems that had been written by these really little kids and many of them will hilarious. And then he just started teaching more and more. He went till he ended up teaching all of the lower school classes.

Gabe Howard:                     And then when his third graders moved to middle school, he moved to teach just a handful of them. And then it got more and more and more until poetry at St. Anne's became kind of mythic and then he got an enormous amount of support from Stanley who deeply loved poetry. And knew poetry and he would ... one day he called Monte at like 12:00 at night or one in the morning and said, "Bring me Hannah Jones," because he just read a poem by Hannah Jones.

Lauren Schiller:                  Right now-

Gabe Howard:                     Sometimes I leapt out of bed, ran over to Hannah Jones.

Lauren Schiller:                  No.

Gabe Howard:                     No, it didn't.

Lauren Schiller:                  Hannah was a student at the time?

Gabe Howard:                     Yeah.

Lauren Schiller:                  It seems like that started off with the process of collecting the poems from these kids for at least from what I understand, it seems like it started off with listening to them and what they had to say.

Gabe Howard:                     Yes. Here we go again.

Lauren Schiller:                  Here we go again. Yeah. Again, if you could recollect with how that collection process happened or an example of how that happened?

Gabe Howard:                     Yes. He starts by going into the classroom ... going into the first grade classrooms, which is when he starts teaching poetry. On the first day of school and listening to what they're saying and writing down things they say. And then he puts it altogether and he goes back into the classroom for the next poetry time and he reads them what they have said and they get so excited. They say, "I said that, I said that. You said that." And it gives them the sense of how free of poem can be, and how much it can be just a part of your life and there's no constraints.

Gabe Howard:                     The constraints and the value of constraints come later. But that's how he started. And then when he goes in, they've already had two great experiences with him. And so he says, you know, "We're going to poem." They stand next to him and dictate a poem, and he doesn't take more than a page, because some people don't want to start and some people don't want to stop. And so, I suppose there is a constraint. At more than a page, you have to write it yourself and if he had six that's more, a little daunting sometimes.

Lauren Schiller:                  What's the best advice that you've ever been given about how to carry on even when there are loads of people telling you, "That's not how it should be done."

Gabe Howard:                     I think I'm not very good at taking advice.

Lauren Schiller:                  That's not a shocker. Well, what about ... I mean again, it's easy to look at the work at St Anne's now and think, well it's considered one of the best schools in the country. They're obviously doing something right. But at the time, when you started there in the early days it was going against the norm and you must have had to have some level of fortitude or something that was keeping you going in spite of hearing, that's crazy. What people are thinking over there, and how did you push through that?

Gabe Howard:                     People did say, yeah, people did say it's crazy and the sort of bottom line retort is that, it works for us and it may not work for you. And there are lots of schools in this world, and this is the way we do it. You know, I mean it ultimately kind of draw some line. And really if people do want you to do something differently, then they should find a place that does it differently.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. So that's-

Gabe Howard:                     If it's a profound difference.

Lauren Schiller:                  Yeah. I mean that sounds like having the conviction of your beliefs and sticking with them.

Gabe Howard:                     Yeah.

Lauren Schiller:                  Speaking with Gabe made me think more about education in general and right now when it comes to investing in schools, our national conversation has revolved more around revolvers and creating secure buildings and giving teachers guns to defend kids from active shooters? But what happens when we create environments where from a very young age, children are safe to be curious, to experiment, to investigate, and to express themselves, even swear inside these buildings.

Lauren Schiller:                  Investment in this type of education is the best investment you can make to teach kids to stand up and be heard, not sit down and be quiet. Many of you parents out there might be thinking of ways to thank your kids' teachers for their dedication to your children's learning, along with a thank you note, show your gratitude and advocacy for your children's teachers. They're researching how your local representatives vote on investing in education.

Lauren Schiller:                  And vote for candidates who make funding our public schools and giving our teachers a fair living wage's top priority. You can learn more about state education bills currently up for vote, who proposed them, and how your representatives voted at ncsl.org. I'll put a link in our show notes  at inflectionpointradio.org. This is Inflection Point. I'm Lauren Schiller.

Lauren Schiller:                  That's our Inflection Point for today. All of our episodes are on apple podcasts, radio public, stitcher, and NPR one. Give us a five star review and subscribe to the podcast. Know a woman with a great rising up story? Let us know  at inflectionpointradio.org. While you're there, I invite you to support Inflection Point with a monthly or one time contribution. Your support keeps women stories front and center.

Lauren Schiller:                  Just go to inflectionpointradio.org. We're on Facebook @inflectionpointradio. Follow us, and follow me on twitter @laschiller. To find out more about the guests you've heard today and to sign up for our email newsletter, you know where to go? Inflectionpointradio.org. Inflection Point is produced in partnership with KALW 91.7 FM in San Francisco and PRX. Our story editor and content manager is Alaura Weaver. Our engineer and producer is Eric Wayne. I'm your host, Lauren Schiller. Support for this podcast comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 

 

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