Trailer: Dr. Pamela Cantor Introduces The 180
Chris Riback: I’m Chris Riback. Welcome to The 180, our podcast that explores how to transform 21st century education, how to turn it around using 21st century science. In these conversations, I’ll talk with some exceptional people rethinking and redesigning K-through-12 education – how our children should learn – in America. Helping me with the introduction: Dr. Pamela Cantor. Pam is Founder and Senior Science Advisor of Turnaround for Children, and she championed this podcast because she sees the promise – the essential opportunities for each child – emerging every day from the Science of Learning and Development.
By the way: If you like what hear, I’d appreciate if you’d take a moment, go to Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen, and, if you’re so moved, leave a 5-star review. It’ll make a big difference in helping people find the podcast. Ok, here’s Pam…
Chris Riback: Pam, thanks for joining me. I appreciate your time.
Pamela Cantor, M.D.: Thank you, Chris, it’s great to be with you.
Chris Riback: What is The 180 Podcast and who is it for?
Pamela Cantor, M.D.: This partnership with Working Capital Review is going to feature preeminent voices in American education, health, neuroscience and child development. We’re going to hear ideas and explore the challenges and opportunities and together see the future of 21st-century education using 21st century science.
Chris Riback: And what for you is the connection between designing 21st century education and a 21st century education system with 21st century science?
Pamela Cantor, M.D.: I think it might be surprising for some listeners to understand that our American education system was actually never designed to develop the whole child or the learner inside that child. Specifically, it really has not been designed based on an understanding of human development or learning science.
So when we think about a new system, here are some of the questions we have to ask. Is talent plentiful or scarce? Well, we know it’s plentiful and we know it’s diverse and that all children have the potential for growth and contribution, so the task of education is actually to discover that talent and to build skills.
And what about skills? Are skills malleable or are they fixed? Well, today we know that skill development is malleable.
And what about our genetic endowment? Do genes define who we become? Well, today we know even that’s not true. The context, the environments, experiences and relationships in children’s lives drive the expression of our genetic endowment. So this new knowledge is revolutionary and potentially transformational.
Chris Riback: Pam, the term “whole” is thrown around a lot now. What do you mean when you talk about schools designed to educate the “whole child?”
Pamela Cantor, M.D.: What is often not well-understood is that a “whole child” is a being that is unfolding, and that unfolding requires an enormous amount from us – us as parents, us as schools, us as communities and there are a lot of things that we should get right about what we do with this unfolding being in order that they become a “whole child.” A child that is fulfilled, a child that knows who they are and who they can be.
To me any definition of “whole child” has to convey that we accept the responsibility that who any child becomes is contingent – it’s an entirely contingent process on the settings, the conditions, the relationships that are provided around that unique being.
Chris Riback: Pam, I can hear it in your voice. Why are you so optimistic about what’s possible for children?
Pamela Cantor, M.D.: The thing that perpetuates my optimism comes from two places. One is medicine. I practiced as a doctor. I worked with children that had significant challenges and watched them not just get better, watched them succeed, mightily succeed. So when you have that kind of experience, nothing can dissuade you from the belief about what is possible for human beings, if they get the right supports, if the conditions in their lives are optimized.
Then the other thing is knowledge. And to me one of the stunning things is how could there be a roadmap about how learning happens and how development happens that takes you to a very, very optimistic place – the malleability of the brain in relation to context, how people can change based on the conditions, relationships that they’re exposed to.
What the new science tells us is that no matter what your starting point is that intentionally well-designed settings, using the knowledge that we have today about how kids grow and learn, means that any child can grow, learn and achieve.
So equity is possible in a way that we never thought possible before. And the fulfillment, the unleashing of the potential in each and every child is possible in a way that wasn’t true before. The science itself is optimistic. So what our task is, is actually to design the kinds of conditions that would make this true.
Chris Riback: What’s at stake?
Pamela Cantor, M.D.: When I look at what is at stake right now, here are some facts to put on the table. We know that by any measure our education system is doing less and less well by comparison to other systems in the world. So if you care about economics, if you care about the standing of our country, if you care about kids being prepared for 21st-century jobs, we’re not doing what we need to do well enough.
Then there’s the fairness issue. The assumption that kids and talent are a bell curve means that you have decided in advance that the purpose of education is to select. It is to find out who has the talent and invest in them and then you have this group that you assume fits an average and so would you give them an average-based education. And then there are kids who struggle because of adversity, because of other kinds of assaults on their development and you accept the fact that they are just going to do less well.
So all of these things mean that there are some kids who will profit in a system that we have. But many, many kids will not.
Chris Riback: What are you hoping the audience gains or takes away from listening to this podcast?
Pamela Cantor, M.D.: So I think when they hear the voices that we’ve brought together, they are going to hear something that either validates something they know to be true, challenges something they thought was true, and pushes them to understand that every single one of them is a brain-builder. Every single one of them has the ability to influence, literally at the level of children’s brains, the development of skills and the unleashing of children’s potential.
Chris Riback: Pam, thank you, thank you for the work that you do and have done and thank you for inspiring this podcast. I’m excited for it, and if you’re ready, let’s launch the 180.
Pamela Cantor, M.D.: Let’s do that, Chris, thank you.