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All There Is with Anderson Cooper

Anderson Cooper takes us on a deeply personal exploration of loss and grief. He starts recording while packing up the apartment of his late mother Gloria Vanderbilt. Going through her journals and keepsakes, as well as things left behind by his father and brother, Cooper begins a series of emotional and moving conversations about the people we lose, the things they leave behind, and how to live on - with loss, with laughter, and with love. 

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When Anderson Met Audie
All There Is with Anderson Cooper
Nov 18, 2022

Anderson is pleased to present the first episode of Audie Cornish's new podcast: The Assignment... but first a conversation on the intimacy of podcasting with Audie and Anderson.

Fiery Twitter threads and endless news notifications never capture the full story. Each week on The Assignment, host Audie Cornish pulls listeners out of their digital echo chambers to hear from the people who live the headlines. From the sex work economy to the battle over what’s taught in classrooms, no topic is off the table. You can find The Assignment wherever you get your podcasts.

Episode Transcript
Anderson Cooper
00:00:00
Hey, it's Anderson Cooper. I want to take a few minutes to introduce you to a new podcast from my friend and colleague Audie Cornish. It's called The Assignment, and Audie's with me now to talk about the program and also talk with me about my experiences making All There Is. Because before I started even making All There Is, Audie was the first person I talked to about and really the only person I talked to about podcasting. So I'm- it's such a pleasure to be able to talk to her about her new podcast and stick around after the conversation to hear the first episode. How's it going?
Audie Cornish
00:00:30
Hey, how are you?
Anderson Cooper
00:00:31
I'm good. I'm good.
Audie Cornish
00:00:32
I love talking to you now at the end of your process.
Anderson Cooper
00:00:36
Yes.
Audie Cornish
00:00:36
Because I caught you originally- maybe the middle to end it was in that...
Anderson Cooper
00:00:41
I'd started making recordings in my mom's place, but I hadn't actually, like, taken a step into forming it into a podcast, I don't think.
Audie Cornish
00:00:49
So you've already done it in kind of memoir form. You've already talked about it in your medium of choice, which we'll talk about. What was it that you thought this could do for it, like taking it on in audio? Was it just having the tapes?
Anderson Cooper
00:01:04
It was more- I mean, honestly, I didn't really think about... I mean, when I started, I didn't plan on making a podcast. I was just sad in my mom's apartment going through her things. And I'd been reading Victor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. And he'd- he had talked about narrating himself through situations. And not to compare my situation all to his, obviously, but it's something I've done in my head a lot like distance myself from something to narrate- to to get through things and narrate myself through them and sort of observe myself as a human being doing something. And so that's how I started making recordings and then decided that it's ridiculous that I don't know anybody else who's talked about going through their parents' stuff. And I don't know who to even call to talk about going through my mom's stuff. And so I thought I should just start doing that. And I'm too shy to actually, like, call up people and just ask them for advice on- like, I would never call up Stephen Colbert and say, "hey, can we talk about, you know, this thing I'm going through in my life?" But to be able to say to somebody, you know, "I'd like to interview you about this," it was.. For you, what what what is The Assignment, first of all?
Audie Cornish
00:02:15
Well, I mean, one of the reasons why I wanted to talk to you is because the assignment does something similar to what you did, which is you talk to people about their personal experience. And I think in the news business, we're really used to kind of bringing someone on as an anecdote, and then we're like, "okay, go back to your life while we get back to the rest of news," sentence caps. And I really felt like, you know, some of the best conversations I've had while reporting were with those people in that experience. And how can I expand that? And is this the right medium to expand that and to like let that breathe a little bit?
Anderson Cooper
00:02:54
I listen to the the OnlyFans episode.
Audie Cornish
00:02:57
Yeah, this is one coming up, folks.
Anderson Cooper
00:02:58
And what I loved about it was-
Audie Cornish
00:03:00
And just to give people the background, we're going to be speaking with what I call the "original gig workers." But some people in the OnlyFans economy, people have sort of migrated into the business of, I guess, what you would call sex- sex work online.
Anderson Cooper
00:03:14
Yeah. Yeah, I actually I knew a couple of people who have, like been very successful on OnlyFans. I don't know them well, but I- I know them-
Audie Cornish
00:03:22
That's what everyone says, Anderson, sure.
Anderson Cooper
00:03:23
Yeah. No, my- my- well, anyway, it's a long story, but immediately you can tell the approach is like from the inside out. It's- it's, as you said, it's not sort of just having some voices in to illustrate a point and then moving on, sort of. It's all crafted around these voices. It's like you've taken the innards and you've pulled them outside, and it's it's very compelling in that way.
Audie Cornish
00:03:51
It gets at something that I liked about your show, which is the intimacy of it, which in your case, I think comes from the subject matter. It's incredibly hard to talk to people about the things you spoke to them about. But this leads me to my question, which is about intimacy in our discussion about which is the more intimate medium-
Anderson Cooper
00:04:10
Audie and I had a dinner.
Audie Cornish
00:04:11
Yeah.
Anderson Cooper
00:04:11
Let's just say what happened. When- when I didn't really- I didn't really know- I didn't- I mean, I knew Audie's work, but I didn't know her personally.
Audie Cornish
00:04:18
No, that's when we met.
Anderson Cooper
00:04:18
We ended up having a dinner together. That was a very- ended up being a very long dinner after a show one night.
Audie Cornish
00:04:25
Because I ask a lot of questions.
Anderson Cooper
00:04:27
And- but it was great. And it was just very- it was a really great dinner. And I really liked her and, um-
Audie Cornish
00:04:33
But it came out of me being like, "I don't know how to do TV. I don't know what I'm doing. Tell me what you do to make this feel less crazy." Because when- to me in a studio, a TV studio, it's lights, giant monitors with your own image being broadcast back at you, people speaking in your ear.
Anderson Cooper
00:04:52
Yes.
Audie Cornish
00:04:53
This camera guy, that camera guy, a desk and then the anchor, so to speak. I think I really fully understood the concept of the anchor in all of that.
Anderson Cooper
00:05:02
The anchor. It's such a silly term.
Audie Cornish
00:05:04
The anchor of it. Whereas at, you know, public media, we're like, we're hosts. It's like this intimate little party. And so I was saying, it's not intimate at all.
Anderson Cooper
00:05:12
See, I- I-
Audie Cornish
00:05:13
It was driving me crazy.
Anderson Cooper
00:05:13
Right. I view television differently. I do think television can be extraordinarily intimate. I think there's you know, it's- I think you get- I think people get get stuck looking into the- looking at the camera lens and that piece of glass and they get stuck in the front of the camera. Someone once said to me- producer David Borman was talking to me a long time ago about you're not looking at the front of the camera, you're looking into the back of the camera. You're looking through through the camera. Through the back of the camera. And-
Audie Cornish
00:05:41
Which now I'm always trying to do. You should see me with my little eyes searching around.
Anderson Cooper
00:05:47
Well you don't want to be searching. You just want to be reaching you through.
Audie Cornish
00:05:50
So how is it different? You're sitting down with people and having, you know, you have to be vulnerable in the conversation you are having as well. I'm finding that as I'm doing The Assignment, I have to share more than I have in the past, where I've been more a distanced observer in a way. Because you know what it's like when you're reporting and you're trying to get people to talk, you have to give of yourself. So did you find this space any- how did you find the space different?
Anderson Cooper
00:06:21
You know, I don't know. I thought the the intimacy of being in the room with somebody was really interesting and different than a television interview. I mean, in television, there are there are more things going on in one's mind, or at least in my mind during an interview. I mean, there's questions about light, you know, there's questions about lighting. There's questions about sound. If I'm shooting a story in a place where something- you know, I've been in situations of in a children's hospital in Maradi, Niger, in a malnutrition crisis with dying children. And there is the horror of what you are seeing and the sadness of it. And at the same time, part of your mind is also thinking of "is the sound recordist, is the sound person recording the sound properly and getting the sound of the the fluid dripping the IV or the, the, the this person's breath coming in and- raspy breath coming in and coming out." All these things which are horrible to think about in that moment and yet they're also part of television production. In recording for the podcast I don't think there is that same level of- it's just you and the microphone. So there's not there's not a lot of moving parts to it.
Audie Cornish
00:07:36
Though I'll tell you my dirty secret, which is sometimes I am editing people in my head because I'm so used to conversations having to be edited down and you know, people are discursive and they go off and and this has been really exciting because it's forced me to come out of my own head the way you're talking about, like stop trying to edit and manage this conversation that you're in and just be in it.
Anderson Cooper
00:08:02
Yeah. I mean, do you is there something- of the conversations you've had is there something- a moment that stands out to you?
Audie Cornish
00:08:08
For me, like in our opening episode about these activist parents who have run for election and now on school boards. For me, it's the moment where they themselves have to pause and think and you hear a little bit- like you hear that silence, which is very powerful, while they say, "well, is that what I mean?" You know, and it's very rare that we let people have the grace or space to think. Right? It's like, "don't do that, because if you falter, you know what I mean? Like you could go viral." And there is a moment where I'm kind of pressing them about whether or not they kind of want to roll back school policies. And they and it's interesting, we end up going back and forth over just the phrase 'rolling back.' And to me, that is so revealing.
00:09:07
The perception is that people in your position are trying to roll back certain policies. Whether that is discussions around social issues, etc. do you see yourself as rolling back excess?
00:09:21
No, I don't. I think unless you're talking about just maybe over the last five or six years.
00:09:28
That's what I'm referring to.
00:09:29
But I mean, I'm talking about the activism in the classroom where the teacher's bringing their own political-
00:09:37
So the answer, it sounds like, is yes. Yeah, anticipate roll backs of-
00:09:40
I mean, I thought you meant like roll it back to- I don't know.
00:09:45
So let me re-ask. At this point, would you like to see a rolling back of classroom discussions based on the current events of the last five years? So LGBT issues, for one. Certainly how race and history are discussed in the classroom is certainly another.
00:10:03
I think what we would hope to be done is just to adhere to the standards of providing each side without bias. So if you want to-
00:10:11
Okay, but do you see why I'm asking? Like if if you feel like something has gone to excess it sounds to me like the remedy is to pull back.
00:10:20
Or you can say that they haven't been following what- let's see. You got people going on the extremes, you know, so-
00:10:31
And you want to roll those people back.
00:10:33
Yeah, I don't- I don't know if rolling back is the right term. I'm I'm I have to agree with Amy. It's about getting back to basics and teaching the standards.
Anderson Cooper
00:10:48
What's so interesting to me about that is that we are in this age where everything people are talking at each other and in bumper sticker slogans and people have the slogans down. But when you actually just sort of try to lower the temperature and actually listen to what somebody's saying and respond to them as a human being and sort of start to just explore what they're saying it's disarming to people and sometimes they don't know how to put away the bumper sticker slogan and actually express what they actually think or even explore what they actually think.
Audie Cornish
00:11:23
Yeah. And they're- people are on guard a little bit, you know, and rightly so. Their words can be weaponized against them, etc. And the goal of the conversation, at least my opinion, is not to change minds. You know, I don't have that kind of sense of just like the power of conversation. It's more like, what would this conversation be like if we actually listened a little bit? You might come away with different understanding. You might come away with a better understanding of how to talk to people you disagree with, which battles to fight over the course of a conversation and how to open some doors instead of close them. And I'm hoping to make the strange, familiar, right, like that there will be a lot of communities that people hear from that they'll go, "I did not think I had anything in common with a sex worker," you know, or like "I did not- I didn't know what was going on for gender affirming care doctors." Like, "I've only seen it in the headlines." I think we've got a lot of interesting shows coming up.
Anderson Cooper
00:12:22
You can check out The Assignment wherever you get your podcasts and follow so you won't miss any episodes.
Audie Cornish
00:12:30
Thanks, Anderson. Okay. Before we start a little bit of personal history. My mother was an elected school board member and in my small hometown outside of Boston, and this was back in the mid-nineties, that meant she spent long nights at meetings and salary fights with teachers unions or with parents angry over a lot of things. Fast forward to today and I have a kindergartner and I can't get these images out of my head of parents raging at school board members last year.
Archival tape 1
00:13:05
Thank you, your time is up. Your time is up. Your time is up. My time is never up because I am a parent. We're using our three minutes of free speech.
Audie Cornish
00:13:17
This wave of parent activists were upset about how schools handled the pandemic, handled teaching gender identity, handled issues of race.
Archival tape 2
00:13:27
Diversity is a code word for anti-white..
Archival tape 3
00:13:32
Since when did the public school system take it upon itself to become the moral authority from which our children learn their values?
Archival tape 4
00:13:40
After so much deception, radical politics and eruptions of violence, we are pulling our son today from this school district. Who will be taking responsibility?
Audie Cornish
00:13:51
But the thing is, it wasn't some pandemic induced moment. It's the latest chapter in a long running movement. And the historians who study this stuff say school battles are really just proxy fights for what it means to be American. So I wanted to know more about these activist parents. What drove them to activism? And now that they have power, what do they plan to do with it?
April Carney
00:14:18
We need more critical thinking, and we need to be teaching our kids to think for themselves and to have their own opinions. And we need to be supportive of that.
Audie Cornish
00:14:25
Unless a parent thinks it's inappropriate, then they can make a phone call to a tip line. Right? And say, I didn't like the way they went down.
April Carney
00:14:32
Well and that's a discussion to be had between the school board and the parent. And it's uncomfortable, but we need to be having discussions.
Audie Cornish
00:14:40
I'm Audie Cornish. This is The Assignment. I'm not going to pretend that the parents rights movement is new. I grew up outside of Boston in the decade after the school busing crisis when parents angry over mandatory integration fueled riots in the late seventies and I was part of a voluntary busing program. So I get it. Covering education over the years, I found that most of these stories were really about power.
Adam Laats
00:15:10
The analogy that works for me is the family dinner.
Audie Cornish
00:15:13
Adam Laats is a historian of education at Binghamton University, and he studies the power struggle over what belongs in the classroom.
Adam Laats
00:15:20
If we think about public schools as America's dinner table, where everyone comes and has to sit down and has to get along for a certain amount of time. It makes sense that this is where all the underlying tensions, all the long festering angers get expressed from time to time.
Audie Cornish
00:15:37
And without going too far down the historian rabbit hole, one of the most interesting of those times he told us about wasn't Boston in 1974, but Kanawha County in 1974. That's in West Virginia, and that's where a school board fight about so-called multicultural textbooks spiraled into a boycott.
Archival tape 5
00:15:57
But the violence continued.
Audie Cornish
00:15:59
And bombings.
Archival tape 5
00:16:00
And then, shattered windows. Chairs scattered about. What was left of Mrs. Katherine Albright's first grade room at Midway Elementary School at Campbell's Creek, West Virginia.
Audie Cornish
00:16:12
All right. But let me back up, because like I said, it all started with textbooks, 325 of them.
Archival tape 6
00:16:18
By the way, I feel it's a God given responsibility for me to educate my children.
Audie Cornish
00:16:24
Now, that's from a school board meeting, it was on June 27th, 1974, in Kanawha County.
Archival tape 7
00:16:29
We feel that in no way can this type of literature benefit and further our children's education.
Archival tape 8
00:16:34
We do not want any teacher to assign any of this material at any time for any of our children to read.
Audie Cornish
00:16:45
West Virginia had recently tried to modernize its curriculum. And remember, this was a tumultuous time in the U.S. with civil rights and women's rights and the Vietnam War all in the mix. And around the country there was a progressive push not only to integrate classrooms, but also to integrate reading lists.
Adam Laats
00:17:05
The word they used at the time, a more multicultural set of authors for literature. So, for example, they intentionally included more black authors, but they also included authors that wrote nontraditional poetry. So like E.E. Cummings.
Audie Cornish
00:17:19
The school board had been prepared to approve these new books suggested by the state, but there was one member who objected and her name was Alice Moore.
Alice Moore
00:17:29
We've got to let them know that the parents want advice on what their children are studying in schools.
Adam Laats
00:17:33
Sweet Alice as she came to be known in the controversy. She was an experienced conservative activist and she ran for school board because she wanted to make schools more traditional, more conservative, in her words, more American and patriotic.
Audie Cornish
00:17:47
After Alice Moore objected to the new curriculum, rumors spread through the county and there was no Facebook at the time, but there were paper fliers passed around by parent groups, and these fliers claimed the new books promoted reverse racism and criminality. Let's call it Fake News, 1974.
Adam Laats
00:18:07
So in June, the school board meeting was packed, it was in a gymnasium and the windows of the gymnasium were packed. You know, people were sticking their their heads in to try to hear and see.
Audie Cornish
00:18:18
There were more than a thousand people. Parents, teachers, pastors, representatives from groups like the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. And then here comes the part that's going to sound familiar.
Archival tape 9
00:18:30
We absolutely refuse to have the liberal point of view pushed upon our children.
Archival tape 10
00:18:35
We, the parents, are the taxpayers. We pay your salaries. We elected you to office.
Archival tape 11
00:18:41
The undersigned, citizens and taxpayers of Kanawha County hereby petition the Board of Education to deny the use of certain textbooks in the schools of this county.
Audie Cornish
00:19:01
If you listen close, you can hear the boos on the tape there. The audience cuts in so often that the chairman keeps threatening to clear the room.
Archival tape 12
00:19:12
Please be quiet.
Audie Cornish
00:19:13
After 3 hours of back and forth, they decide to buy most of the textbooks. And the vote is 3 to 2. There was no way that fight was going to end just like that. Not with the history of this county.
Adam Laats
00:19:25
It has a real strong, powerful tradition of labor activism. So when school politics got heated, the people in Kanawha County, you know, as as labor activists, but also as miners, they had not only traditions of of boycotts and picket lines, but they had also things like dynamite. And they used it.
Audie Cornish
00:19:49
Things more or less moved in that chronological order. You had nearly 10,000 people stay home during the boycotts. Kids, bus drivers, truckers, yes, coal miners. And then someone graffitied Nazi symbols onto school buildings. Then some people took shots at school buses on their way to pick up the students who were still going to school. And then the bombs planted at three elementary schools and dynamite thrown into a school board building.
Archival tape 13
00:20:19
In Kanawha County, West Virginia there was violence today in the continuing demonstrations against the use of controversial textbooks in the schools. The Charleston Gazette said in an editorial today the county is near anarchy.
Audie Cornish
00:20:34
Okay. So we aren't at this point yet, but the argument about parents rights, it's back and the argument about political indoctrination in the classroom is back. And as more progressive ideas about race and gender take hold in the mainstream, some conservatives have felt their grasp on the definition of what it means to be an American slip. And in the past few years, we've seen an increasing number of parents elected to school boards who want to focus on their right to determine how we should teach our nation's history and how and if schools should talk about race and gender. So next, we're going to hear from two people at the center of it.
April Carney
00:21:16
It makes it sound like we're going to go back to Jim Crow laws or something like that. It just sounds like this negative connotation when actually all we want to do is have school be a place where you're focused on reading, writing, arithmetic.
Audie Cornish
00:21:35
More in a minute.
April Carney
00:21:42
I think I speak for most parents right now that have decided to stand up and speak out at school board meetings being called domestic terrorist. You know, I'm a mom. I'm a small business owner. I just want to be able to advocate for my children.
Audie Cornish
00:21:59
That is April Carney. She's about to be sworn onto her local school board in Duval County, Florida. She and a bunch of other people earned the endorsement of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is like not subtle about where he stands on culture war issues in the classroom.
Ron DeSantis
00:22:16
Florida is the state where woke goes to die.
Audie Cornish
00:22:21
Amy Cawvey was also recently elected to her local school board. This was in Lansing, Kansas, and she's gotten criticism for some of the stances she's taken as well.
Amy Cawvey
00:22:31
Immediately, since I had questioned critical race theory and I had spoke at the school board, I was immediately, you know, being called a racist and messaged things that I was a racist and it got pretty nasty. But we just I just tried to stay strong. I worried about my daughter. I worried that they would maybe call her a racist at the high school because of that.
Audie Cornish
00:22:54
Amy Cawvey has been on the board since January. Her governor, who is a Democrat, actually vetoed a parents rights bill there, and then her district passed their own version anyway. So this year, both April in Florida and Amy in Kansas, well, they started the school year in, let's say, changed environments.
Amy Cawvey
00:23:14
I actually think we had one of our best starts to the school year yet, so I'm very happy with that.
Audie Cornish
00:23:21
And April, what about you?
April Carney
00:23:23
I'd have to agree. I think that we are off to a great start. I think there is a very comfortable, transparent feeling going on the beginning of the school year this year.
Audie Cornish
00:23:32
I feel like you guys are both on the edge of smiling. Are you feeling good?
Amy Cawvey
00:23:36
Yes.
April Carney
00:23:37
Yes.
Audie Cornish
00:23:38
Vaguely victorious. Neither of these two women had run for office before they ran for school board. But then 2020 hit and school closures gave them a new perspective.
April Carney
00:23:50
This is April, I have to say. You know, we were we were only closed for a short period of time here in Florida from March till the end of that school year. And I have to say, that was just enough for me to get a tidbit of how hard it is to be an educator. It was a struggle. It was frustrating. I had said to my husband, I said, you know, I really hope we go back to school next year because I don't want to ruin my relationship with my two girls. You know, I'm not an educator. That's not what I do for a living. And so I think it put parents in a pickle.
Audie Cornish
00:24:24
Amy, I hear you nodding. I don't know if you have a question for April or a story to share with your 16 year old.
Amy Cawvey
00:24:31
For her, it was the social isolation from not being in school and then the depression that sunk in. It really affected the mental health, I think, of the kids.
Audie Cornish
00:24:42
So but then all of a sudden you're home, you're feeling a little bit helpless. What makes you decide, "you know what? I need to, like, do something about what I am seeing. I see problems and I want to do something about it."
April Carney
00:24:57
This is April. For me it was actually when we opened back up the following year, we went through a whole process- our our district went through a whole process of online board meetings with the superintendent. I didn't feel like I was being listened to when I would stand up at school board meetings and speak for my 3 minutes. So, you know, if you have a school board meeting where 65 parents stand up and say "we no longer want our child to be forced to wear a mask" and then they vote against you, that's how you feel like you're not being listened to. I also spoke at our school board meeting too, before I was elected, and they sent out the the survey to the parents to ask if they wanted their children to go back to in-school learning and over 80% responded, saying that they did want their kids to go back and then they weren't going to vote for them to go back five days a week. They just disregarded that.
Audie Cornish
00:25:54
Amy also spoke up at another school board meeting about critical race theory. The school district was arguing that they were not using the legal theory taught at the college level, but that they wanted to take a comprehensive look at slavery in the U.S. Amy worried that would include materials from the New York Times 1619 project. And then there was this one book in particular that really bothered her. It was being used at the school approved social justice club.
Amy Cawvey
00:26:21
It was "This Book is Anti-Racist" and it had clear CRT, you know, ideals in that book.
Audie Cornish
00:26:30
Yeah, I think this is the book by Tiffany Jewell. "This Book is Anti-Racist" and the full title is "20 Lessons on How to Wake Up, Take Action and Do the Work."
Amy Cawvey
00:26:40
It's very much an activist book on how to teach your child, you know, to do that in different ways.
Audie Cornish
00:26:45
And which part of it to you is the most objectionable?
Amy Cawvey
00:26:48
Well, it was a partisan book that the country is inherently racist, informed on racist ideals, and that if you're not anti-racist, that you're racist. I mean, it was a very strong book that I think- what I want is to keep that out of the classroom, focus on the core curriculum.
Audie Cornish
00:27:10
There are so many things now that fall under that category, like one of the criticisms about some of the bills about what to teach in classrooms is that they're so wide open to interpretation.
Amy Cawvey
00:27:22
Mm hmm.
Audie Cornish
00:27:22
Like, what is the circumstance where someone can talk about race or racism in the classroom and who decides that?
Amy Cawvey
00:27:28
One part with ours is that our parents, if they they can object to an- a learning material in our parents bill of rights. If the material- they feel that that harms their beliefs, values or principles. So in some instances it may be that the lesson is still taught that their child does a different lesson. And part of our parents bill of rights also does say that that we expect the teacher and educator of each child that they will endeavor to present the facts without distortion, bias or personal prejudice.
Audie Cornish
00:28:00
And who decides that? So if if there's a history of slavery in the country, is that a fact?
Amy Cawvey
00:28:05
I mean, you should be teaching about slavery, of course, but you could you know, you wouldn't, I guess, when you would throw in your own personal bias or prejudice is when you would say that- for instance, how the 1619 project did.
Audie Cornish
00:28:22
Yeah. April, I don't know if you want to help here. Obviously, in Florida, this has been talked about a lot. What's your sense of what's the dividing line?
April Carney
00:28:30
I think that in the classroom, when you're opening for discussion, you're presenting the facts, I think that you have to be able as an educator, to talk about both sides of the topic. Right? I mean, I think that you need to be able to sit there and moderate your students and open them up to critical thinking. What do you feel about this? What do you think was wrong that happened, you know, during slavery in our country? Do you feel that we are growing from that experience? Do you feel the opposite? I think that that's the issue.
Audie Cornish
00:29:02
But under these parent bills of rights, like, can they do that? Or have you created a scenario where raising those kinds of questions is subject to challenge by a parent who feels they're inappropriate to ask?
April Carney
00:29:16
I don't feel that that's the case. I think that the issue at hand is that there's only one side that's being spoken about. It's not being presented in a well rounded manner.
Audie Cornish
00:29:30
Right. You've got to teach the history without teaching any of that other kind of context or how do you think about it?
Amy Cawvey
00:29:35
Well, it just that- falls into how it is being taught, whether it's being taught with bias. Are you teaching American history with the overarching theme that this is a racist country, it's still a racist country? Or are you teaching just what has happened and let the child form their own ideas on what has happened throughout history and the changes that have been made and that have occurred, good or bad, since then and let them form their own opinions through critical thinking?
Audie Cornish
00:30:11
The perception is that people in your position are trying to roll back certain policies. Whether that is discussions around social issues, etc. Do you see yourself as rolling back excess?
Amy Cawvey
00:30:26
No, I don't. I think unless you're talking about just maybe over the last five or six years.
Audie Cornish
00:30:33
That's what I'm referring to.
Amy Cawvey
00:30:34
But I mean, I'm talking about the activism in the classroom where the teacher's bringing their own political-
Audie Cornish
00:30:42
So the answer, it sounds like, is yes. Yes. Anticipate roll backs of-
Amy Cawvey
00:30:45
I mean I thought you meant like roll it back to- I don't know.
Audie Cornish
00:30:50
So let me ask at this point, would you like to see a rolling back of classroom discussions based on the current events of the last five years? So LGBT issues, for one. Certainly how race and history are discussed in the classroom is certainly another.
Amy Cawvey
00:31:07
I think what we would hope to be done is just to adhere to the standards of providing each side without bias. So if you want to-
Audie Cornish
00:31:16
But do you see why I'm asking? Like if if you feel like something has gone to excess it sounds to me like the remedy is to pull back.
Amy Cawvey
00:31:25
Well or you could say that they haven't been following what- let's see, you got people going on the extremes, you know, so-
Audie Cornish
00:31:36
And you want to roll those people back?
April Carney
00:31:38
Yeah. I don't know if rolling back is the right term. And I'm I'm I have to agree with Amy. It's about getting back to basics and teaching the standards.
Audie Cornish
00:31:49
So getting back is the term you'd prefer to use?
April Carney
00:31:51
Yeah, I think it's back to basics. We need, like I said, we have so much learning loss that's happened because of the pandemic.
Audie Cornish
00:31:57
Right. But either way, it's a it's a going back of something. You want to draw back on what's happened.
April Carney
00:32:03
Yeah, I think we need to focus on what's important and that's, you know, educating our children to be able to graduate from high school.
Audie Cornish
00:32:11
Why are you guys scared to say this? And I'm not picking on you. I'm genuinely confused. If you've both seen an excess, you've seen something go too far, why the fear around saying, let's pull back from a thing that's gone too far?
Amy Cawvey
00:32:27
Well, it makes it sound like you want to roll back to the times when, you know, like, we're going to go back to Jim Crow laws or something like that. It just sounds like this negative connotation when actually all we want to do is have school be a place where you're focused on reading, writing, arithmetic. We're focusing on all of these other issues that can be addressed at home with the parents.
Audie Cornish
00:32:56
Well, thank you for letting me dig into that. I always want to make sure that I'm totally clear on what's being said to me so I'm not misconstruing things. I don't want to lose sight of kids in this. I asked students what they thought of political battles finding their way into the classroom. I gave them no direction on what political battle that might be, and here is one of them.
Student
00:33:21
How is it that my existence is a threat to other people? Because my existence, my identity, my sexuality, my gender, that's me. And the same goes for everybody else in this world. And no one else should have the right to try to silence me or silence anyone else, no matter how young, how old. It's such an important part of myself, and I know that for other trans kids it is an important thing for them too. And I think the fact that we can't even express that in schools where we're supposed to be safe, where we are encouraged to grow and be ourselves, I just think that that is completely unacceptable.
Audie Cornish
00:34:04
What do you hear in the voice of a student like that?
April Carney
00:34:07
I think that we're putting these kids under a microscope. And I actually think that by drawing more attention to the struggles they're going through, it's actually putting more pressure on them. I have a friend of mine who whose son is gay and has come home and said, "Mom, it's all day every day. It's nonstop. I feel like I'm being singled out and I really just want to be with my peers and go about my school day." And so I think there's a way to be inclusive without making it a spectacle. And I think that's what it's become. And in turn, it's actually having a negative effect on these on these kids that are struggling with their gender identity. And I think if there was less focus on it during the school day and more focus on academics and just being a kid, I think it might lessen lessen the pressure for her. I feel I feel for her. I do empathize with her.
Audie Cornish
00:35:14
Here's what else students are hearing. For instance, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, right? He was speaking before the Moms for Liberty Summit over the summer in July. And here's a sample of that speech.
Ron DeSantis
00:35:28
We also drew a line in the sand and said, you know, in the state of Florida, a parent should be able to send their kid to kindergarten without having woke gender ideology shoved down their throat. We're not going to have some first grader be told that, you know, yeah, your parents named you Johnny. You were born a boy, but maybe you're really a girl.
Audie Cornish
00:35:53
What's your response to that? And I'll start with you, April, because you were among the candidates that he supported.
April Carney
00:35:59
I think that a five year old who still believes in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny doesn't need to be taught about gender ideology. I think once you go through puberty and you start to figure out who you are and your hormones start to even out, then yes, if that's how you're feeling and if it was my child, I'd be completely accepting of that child. But I think at that age it's not necessary in the classroom. House Bill 1557 is about age appropriate curriculum. Not one place in that bill does it mention anything about singling out children for their, you know, persuasion. Its-
Audie Cornish
00:36:41
It's I mean, it doesn't help if the governor goes out and is like, "we're going to stop this ideology from being shoved down your throats. It's just being woke." Like that language is not I mean, correct me if I'm wrong. Does that language feel as careful as you guys are being?
April Carney
00:36:55
You know, I think I think he's speaking for a lot of parents that are tired.
Audie Cornish
00:36:59
Yeah.
April Carney
00:36:59
I just think that- I think that he's- you know, he's a dad, too. He's got three young children. And there's a there's a lot of folks out there that just do not agree with what's going on. And we can be accepting and inclusive of everyone without putting such a microscope over it. And that's what's happened. And it's being picked up by the media and it's being picked up on social media and it's being portrayed and pushed and pushed and pushed and that's all you see. And-
Audie Cornish
00:37:32
What is? I just want to make sure I'm following.
April Carney
00:37:35
That lifestyle, the lifestyle of the LGBTQ community. It's if that's what you choose to do and that's how you feel in your heart and that's who you are, that's completely acceptable. But it doesn't mean that the rest of the world has to be just like you. I just think-
Audie Cornish
00:37:54
Can I stop for a second? Just I want to ask you in particular, because you're in Florida, what people are seeing is a governor backing, right, some two dozen candidates. And I- you can correct me if I'm wrong, you actually had to say that you sort of agree with his agenda. This is something he's speaking about nationally. It does not seem like it's just about helping out parents. He's backing candidates. It seems very political.
April Carney
00:38:24
Well, I think that, you know, the reason why he and the first lady decided to do this is because people just simply weren't paying attention to down ballot races.
Audie Cornish
00:38:34
But it's not that it's apolitical. Like we are looking at a political movement.
April Carney
00:38:38
Yeah. I mean. Well, I think it's it's a parent movement is what it is.
Audie Cornish
00:38:42
Amy, can I ask you about this as well? You ran explicitly as a conservative.
Amy Cawvey
00:38:46
Yes. The idea that politics were not already in that and that it's bringing it in, I would disagree with because it has already been in there, the NEA, the teachers unions across the country are highly political.
Audie Cornish
00:39:03
Right. This is the National Education Association. So to you, it is about bringing I mean, you have an ideology as well. You're not- you're saying that you're not pretending you don't.
Amy Cawvey
00:39:13
No, I'm not. I'm not pretending. I don't. But what I would like in that ideology as a conservative viewpoint of that is to keep the politics out of schools. And I know that I ran as a conservative but that's one of the conservative views, is that we-
Audie Cornish
00:39:31
So you can see how that's hard to square, right? Like just as an average voter.
Amy Cawvey
00:39:35
Well-
Audie Cornish
00:39:35
You have lots of political people saying they're being apolitical and they all want control of your students and syllabus. Right? Like it seems it seems all political.
Amy Cawvey
00:39:45
I can see how you might feel that way on the other side, but I feel-
Audie Cornish
00:39:51
Not other side, but like objectively, right? Like if someone says "I am a conservative, I want to run for this position that's usually considered nonpartisan because I believe that my ideology brings something to this," it is explicitly political.
Amy Cawvey
00:40:06
Well, it- the reason why I would say that I was a conservative is because that way it it shows your values and your views on points so those conservatives would have a voice. But as a part of a school board, I need to listen to all sides and that can come back on on us, too. Like you have to watch for both sides being brought into the classroom. I don't want the Republican side, if you want to call it that, or the Democrat side brought in. I want just the facts.
Audie Cornish
00:40:40
My mom ran for a school committee. This was a huge part of my growing up, so I'm sort of intimately aware of how these battles can play out. Right? And I had school friends whose parents were teachers and they were in the union and it was a whole thing. What I learned from that time, though, is so much of this is about control. Who is in control, who gets to draw the lines? Who gets to say what is appropriate or not appropriate? Do you feel like -- and especially after we started this conversation where you said in some ways you felt helpless -- do you feel like you have more control now?
Amy Cawvey
00:41:15
This is Amy. As far as myself, I'm still only one vote out of seven. But I do feel like at least I can assure that parents have a voice. And when they bring those concerns to me, I do have that control where I can make that known to the board and-
Audie Cornish
00:41:34
And specifically conservative parents. Right? I mean, that was part of your campaign to say "I can be a voice for you."
Amy Cawvey
00:41:40
It is conservative. But I've also had two or three recent issues that came up. These people, they were not for what I ran for, but they had some other issues that needed to be addressed. And I went to bat for them. I knew they didn't vote for me. I knew they didn't agree with me on a lot of these issues. In fact, one had spoke out on that. But I'm happy to say I can set that aside because I have a job to do, you know, as a board member. And it's about the kids. And I did that.
April Carney
00:42:12
Honestly I think that when you decide to run for public office like I did, do I have my own personal values? Absolutely. Does that mean that I'm going to be biased when it comes to the overall district and what's best for our teachers and students? Absolutely not. And I am so glad that I'm going to get the opportunity to serve our community and that we're going to be able to have more robust conversations as a school board, because now we're going to have more diversity of thought. And I truly believe that when you have a more balanced school board, that those conversations will be more productive.
Audie Cornish
00:42:56
Going forward, what do you feel about school board races, which in the past were at least perceived as being kind of uneventful and maybe apolitical? How do you feel about the fact that they will become more explicitly partisan?
Amy Cawvey
00:43:13
I would be fine with it being either way. And let's face it, the country is divided. I mean, our presidential elections were very divided. Our Senate is almost evenly divided. Right? There's division all over the country. And I don't think it's any shock that there's some in the school boards, too, now.
Audie Cornish
00:43:33
April, do you feel similarly? Is it okay to have a more hyper partisan environment at the school level?
April Carney
00:43:39
To some extent. Yes, because I think, again, as I mentioned about people not paying attention to down ballot races. We can't just focus on the presidential election anymore. What happens on the local level is what's most important, and it affects the most important citizens of this country, and that's our children. And so are there a lot of informed voters out there? Yes. Are there are a lot that are not? Absolutely. And so to some extent, to make it a more partisan race it helps those that are low information voters make a decision based upon what they believe. And again, it also-
Audie Cornish
00:44:19
It's sort of depressing. Like as a parent, I've got, no I mean, I've got kids under the age of five and I turn on the news and I look out in the world and I do see like conflicts and history. And they need a bunch of critical thinking skills, which I very much hope to give them. But it sounds like you guys are saying, like, don't do that in school.
April Carney
00:44:40
Oh, no, I'm a I'm a huge-
Audie Cornish
00:44:42
And that's kind of sending them out in the world, being like, wait, do we talk about LGBT issues? What do you think about racism?
April Carney
00:44:48
I ran off of having more critical thinking in the classroom. I think that's where we're lacking. We need more critical thinking and we need to be teaching our kids to think for themselves and to have their own opinions. And we need to be supportive of that.
Audie Cornish
00:44:58
Unless a parent thinks it's inappropriate, then they can make a phone call to a tip line. Right? And say, "I didn't like the way that went down."
April Carney
00:45:06
Well, and that's a discussion to be had between the school board and the parent. But we need to be having these discussions. And it's it needs to happen and it's uncomfortable, but we need to be having discussions. I welcome parents commentary. We have to be able to listen to one another so that we can come together. It's the only way it's ever going to happen.
Audie Cornish
00:45:27
That was April Carney of Duval County, Florida, and Amy Cawvey of Lansing, Kansas. The assignment is a production of CNN Audio. Our producers are Alex Stearn, Madeleine Thompson, Jennifer Lai, Isoke Samuel and Allison Park. Our senior producer is Haley Thomas. Our supervising producer is Steve Lickteig. Mixing and Sound Design by David Schulman. Artwork designed by Nicole Pesaru and James Andrest. And our technical director is Dan Dzula. Support from Adam Levy, Osman Noor, Sonya Htoon, Eryn Mathewson katie Hinman. Lindsey Abrams, Tamika Balance Kolasny, Rafeena Ahmad and Lisa Namerow. Special thanks to Theo Balcomb. Abby Swanson is our executive producer. I'm Audie Cornish. Thanks for listening.