What makes current events so important? Where does news intersect with history? How do we find resources to support important civic conversations? What should parents understand about the importance of social studies and civic education, current events, or media literacy? In this episode, we sat down with David Olson, the Director of Education at Retro Report, a non-profit media company dedicated to connecting history to today’s news. Learn more about this wonderful resource and what David has to say about social studies, current events, and media literacy!
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Let’s Talk About News and History with David Olson, Retro Report
students, teachers, classroom, Retro Report, teaching, educators, history, civic education, parents, media literacy, story, news, video, podcast, social studies
Sofia, Garvey, Naima, Amber Coleman-Mortley, and David Olson (Retro Report)
Amber Coleman-Mortley 00:07
Hi, welcome to the Let's K12 Better podcast. This podcast is a project between me Mom Of All Capes and my kids.
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Let's jump in to season three, episode three of the Let's K12 Better podcast.
In this episode, we sat down with David Olson, the Director of Education at Retro Report, a non-profit media company dedicated to connecting history to today’s news.
At Retro Report, David designs their free curriculum and professional development. Before joining Retro Report, David taught AP U.S. Government and Politics, Criminal Justice, and other Social Studies courses at Madison Memorial High School in Madison, Wisconsin. We hope you enjoy this conversation!
Amber Coleman-Mortley 01:42
Alright, we are delighted to have David Olson, the Director of Education at Retro Report. Join us today. Welcome to the podcast, Dave!
David Olson, Retro Report 01:53
Thank you. I'm so happy to be here. Amber, I've known you for years. It was about time I got the invite to the podcast. So I am all ready for you.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 02:04
Oh my God, like folks don't even understand, like Dave and I go way, way back. You know. When was your first year on the iCivics Educator Network?
David Olson, Retro Report 02:15
It was whatever year two was of the iCivics Educator Network; because you know what I missed out on was the one year you guys did a trip to DC and met with Sandra Day O'Connor. I joined the next year and there was no trip. So that's right. Yep. That's how long I've known you Amber.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 02:35
Although consistency... Consistantly speaking. There were no more trips after that. So technically, I don't know. Yeah. I'm sorry about that. But hopefully I can make it up to you moving forward.
David Olson, Retro Report 02:50
There you go. Someday we'll get it done.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 02:55
Well, let's jump into these questions. Let's just start by having our listeners like get to know you. You know, if you're unfamiliar, like let's say you're a person out here, and you're just unfamiliar, like what is the Retro Report? Can you share a bit about the organization's mission of work?
David Olson, Retro Report 03:12
Absolutely. So I as you said, Amber, I'm the Director of Education at Retro Report. It is a position that has only existed since July of 2021, when I was hired to be the first ever Director of Education at Retro Report. The organization itself has been around for quite a bit longer than that.
David Olson, Retro Report 03:35
So Retro Report, it's actually in its ninth year. It's a nonprofit journalism organization that really specializes in short form documentary filmmaking. And the nature of the film's sort of go in in two directions. It was sort of started by our founder as a way to sort of check in on stories of the past to figure out: "Hey, we all remember that thing that happened. That was a media sensation that was, you know, that got a ton of attention. Whatever happened to that story? And did we did we get the reporting, right? Are there things that we should have learned from that story that sort of got lost along the way years later?"
David Olson, Retro Report 04:22
And that's still one of the modes of storytelling for Retro Report is - let's check in on those stories of the past and figure out, you know, what is it that we ought to have learned or what are those stories hold for us today?
David Olson, Retro Report 04:35
And I would say the other way that a typical Retro Report story goes is it says: "Alright, there's this thing happening now, that's really important and people are paying attention. What's the historical backstory of this event or issue that we need to know in order to give it the proper context?"
David Olson, Retro Report 04:54
So Retro Report, I mean, our stuff ends up on different PBS entities, on the New York Times website. We've had partnerships with Politico and Vox, and all sorts of other organizations. And really what happened was, they had been hearing, mostly, you know, once the pandemic began, they started hearing from teachers who said, "Oh, I've used these videos in my classroom, they're really great. They're, you know, they're nice and short."
David Olson, Retro Report 05:25
So most Retro Report films are between like, six and 11/12 minutes long. So they're really good for use in the classroom. And they combine great storytelling with really awesome archival footage. Every time I watch a Retro Report, I, you know, I feel nostalgic as a, you know, I just turned 40. And so every time I see, you know, old clips of like Connie Chung and Peter Jennings and things like that, it's like, like, "Yes, I remember having to get up and change it to that channel, when my dad was like, hey, the news is on turn to turn it over."
David Olson, Retro Report 06:03
So it's it's combining, you know, that archival footage, storytelling, trying to give history perspective. And really what the folks that retro report decided was, we need we need an educator, if we want to grow in our outreach to teachers, we need an educator to help us do so. So that's, that's where I come in.
David Olson, Retro Report 06:26
So I have spent the... while prior to taking this job, for the last 11 years, I was a high school social studies teacher in Madison, Wisconsin, which is where I still live. I work remotely with Retro Report. So they have an amazing office in midtown Manhattan, which I occasionally get to go to. But otherwise, I join right here from my home office. And so it's my goal to do a number of things, number one, to do some creation of classroom materials. So taking films that are already in our Retro Report library and figuring out: how could a teacher use this well, in a classroom? What might they need? You know, lesson plan and activity, other free resources to bring in to sort of build out some classroom activities. I also do a ton of outreach with educators. So I go to conferences, I do trainings with districts, I host webinars. Things like that to say, "Hey, here's what we've created at Retro Report. And by the way, all of its free! Here's what you can use in your classroom, here are ways to implement it."
David Olson, Retro Report 07:36
And then the third sort of big thing I do is, is help advise Retro Report and our team of filmmakers to say, "Here are stories, here are perspectives that teachers want to highlight in the classroom. So when you're making this film, you know, here are some ways we can adjust the script to make it more friendly for the classroom." Or to say, "Here's an idea of a story that needs to be told that teachers want to tell and showcase in their classroom. Can someone go out and make it and find that story for us?"
Amber Coleman-Mortley 08:13
Sounds like you're doing some really important work at this amazing organization. I do want to just kind of ping our listeners back to Season Two with Dr. Katie Perrotta. And her episode on historical empathy. Because Dave just said a word that we love "making it real, for, whether it's the student or the consumer". Like, as you're looking at history, how do we think about the context? So I just love that the Retro Report is thinking about that. I love that you're thinking about centering teachers and their use of multimedia in the classroom. And like you just even why that's important. And supporting them. So you know, shout out to you. And thank you for that work.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 08:58
I have a follow up just you know, thinking about, you know, you did mention that you were formerly an educator. Alright, so shout out to those of us who were starting in the classroom have moved on to content to support teachers! What, whaaaat! I do want to know, just like what drew you to the field, just in general of the social studies, civics environment, and then like, how does your experience as a teacher, kind of inform your work at the Retro Report?
David Olson, Retro Report 09:28
Yeah, that's a fantastic question. It's one I think about quite a bit, especially because, you know, it hasn't been that long since I left the classroom. So as I'm, as I'm thinking about, you know, what are things that I need to create or resources I need to find it's sort of always in my brain of, you know, how would I use this? What would be the what, you know, what's my hook was students? What are the follow up questions that need to be asked? I knew I wanted to be a teacher. Probably since fifth-sixth grade somewhere in there. And it's one of those things where it was like, I had a I had a really good school experience for the most part. I mean, middle school was, you know, sort of a hot mess but, ..
Amber Coleman-Mortley 10:16
I mean who isn't a hot mess in middle school, come on.
David Olson, Retro Report 10:19
Somehow my oldest child like she's a seventh grader, she's loving middle school. I look at this human, I'm like, I don't I don't understand this, how this is even possible.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 10:30
Everybody get ready for world domination then.
David Olson, Retro Report 10:31
Yeah, no kidding it's crazy.
David Olson, Retro Report 10:33
So, you know, like late elementary school, it was like, "Oh, I, I like school. I connect with teachers that make things interesting." And like, there's always a little part of me that like, I sort of like the performance aspect, I sort of, you know, I've always been sort of a take charge be out front kind of person. And you know, that's certainly not something as a teacher I did everyday all the time, you got to let those students and help those students step up and lead. But it's, you know, being in front of the group is something that that always came pretty natural to me. And when it comes to social studies, I think by the time I got to high school, maybe even middle school, it was like, "Yep, I think I'm going to be a teacher. And it's going to be social studies". Because history and government... They're so interesting to me.
David Olson, Retro Report 11:32
I know one of the things I liked to ask my AP Gov kids, sort of as an intro to the semester to the course, is to tell me about like your first political memory. And for me, my first political memory, was watching the 1988 Democratic Conventions and hearing Jesse Jackson speak. And it was listening to Jesse Jackson, in 1988, as a seven year old, that got me interested in politics. And in paying attention to government, paying attention to the news, and incorporating history. Those are those are things that like, give me life and give me energy.
David Olson, Retro Report 12:22
And one of the things that my students would often tell me, you know, especially in history classes, "Man, history, I always found so boring, somehow, Mr. Olson, you make it interesting." It's like, you know, I can make it interesting, because I'm interested in it. When when you have that passion and that interest for what you teach, it makes a difference. I can tell you, I have taught some courses, where I was less than enthused about what I was teaching. And I probably was a, you know, far less effective teacher.
David Olson, Retro Report 13:02
I mean, this between you and me, and I guess your listeners, Amber... "Ancient Civilizations" doesn't jazz me. Like I, when I taught that. So, you know, I was the department chair, sometimes as department chair, you gotta like, assign yourself whatever class is leftover. And one year, I was like, "Alright, I guess I'm taking on ancient civilizations." And oh, man, I just like every day, I had to muster up new energy to teach ancient civilizations. And I know that there's some people out there who love it, and who get energized by it. But for me, like, you see me in Ancient Civilizations, and then you see me in AP Government or Criminal Justice or something like that. And you can tell like, "Ooh, I know which one Mr. Olson is actually interested in." Because you could sense it in my energy.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 13:56
You know, that's, that's a whole. That's a whole sermon. And also, I thank you just for your transparency. Sometimes people are like, "I just love everything!" And it's like, Do you? Do you, really? So like, let's dig in a little bit more just about like social studies, civics, you know, current events, media literacy, this is the place where the Retro Report is situated... How are these topics interconnected? Right. And then also, like, how are they even applicable after this K12 learning experience? Right? So like, how are they connected? And what can we do with this when it's over?
David Olson, Retro Report 14:34
This will be my my short soapbox moment here on the Let's K12. Better podcast.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 14:36
Shout out to soundbites.
David Olson, Retro Report 14:42
There we go. So and, you know, someday when I give my TED Talk, this is going to be this is going to be that TED Talk. I think every single social studies class and every single social studies teacher ought to start their day with current events. Every single day, there you go, we are hearing snapping...
Amber Coleman-Mortley 15:04
We are aligned.
David Olson, Retro Report 15:05
Yeah. So to me, the key to engaging students number one. And two, making learning relevant for students and lasting for students, is you got to connect it to the world in which they live.
David Olson, Retro Report 15:23
And sometimes the chief barrier is kids don't know about the world in which they live. So we got to build that. We got to, we got to start that and show like, model some of those skills.
David Olson, Retro Report 15:39
So essentially, what what I did in most of my classes, just about every single day. When the class started, I asked the same question every single day. It was: "What's going on in the world? What do we need to know?" Right? This was the simple question I started with every single day. And you know what, depending on the class, sometimes he had to prime the pump a little bit, sometimes, you know, it took a couple weeks to, to make this sort of part of the the cadence of the class and, and the clear expectation. But I sort of always wanted it to be informal enough that it never felt like an assignment that it just it felt like, this is our conversation and our time to learn. Maybe before we get to the, you know, that more formal lesson or activity or whatever.
David Olson, Retro Report 16:29
And so, I would ask this, and essentially, I would depend on students to be like, "Alright, I heard something this morning on the radio, or I saw this headline on Instagram, I don't really know what it is... Or, you know, I know a lot about this story, and I'm passionate want to talk about it." And, you know, I was blessed, I guess I had halfway decent technology in my classroom. So I would have, you know, the big either smartboard or television up and I, you know, I would have it up on the Washington Post or local newspaper, or, especially when we were when I was teaching classes that were more world focused, like BBC website or things like that.
David Olson, Retro Report 17:13
So students would come in to the room. And as they're, you know, milling around finding their seats getting settled, they'd be able to look up on the board and you know, see headlines. What are the top stories? What is going out in the world? And a lot of the time kids would go, "What is that headline? What is that story about?" Right? And then we go look, or the kid who said "I saw this on Tik Tok this morning, what is this about?" That's the way to begin modeling those media literacy skills. We'd go, "Okay, let's do some of that." That parallel reading and searching. Okay, we'll open another tab. Let's Google this. Let's see. Let's see what we can find about this story. Let's see what sources are reporting this. It's... "Let's build those skills together."
David Olson, Retro Report 18:01
And so for me, this practice, not only was a great way to start class, but it always paid dividends. Right? There were always times where we would come up on content at some point in the semester, usually, like weekly in the semester, where we'd get to go, "Oh, yeah, this is what led to this thing that we talked about the news last week. Or this thing sort of looks a lot like this thing we talked about in the news". Let's figure out how they're the same or different. Let's figure out how that thing we're learning in history actually matters to what's happening in our world and in our community today. And so to me, I think it's imperative that teachers build this practice into their class. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it takes, you know, modeling and practice, but it is so worth it. And I mean, even simple things like telling students, okay, take out your phone. What do you have for news apps on your phone? Okay, let's figure out what are some trusted news sources, put those apps on your phone and heck man, turn on notifications. Right? When that big story breaks, make that what you go to look at your phone for instead of you know, what the person what your friend down the hall sent you on Snapchat, right?
David Olson, Retro Report 19:26
Let's build in some of those practices where you go, "Yes, I'm going to be a consumer of news and I'm out here in the world to learn things and learn how they apply to me." So not only does I mean, that fits marvelously with, with what I do now, which, you know, my role is to figure out okay, how do we help build resources for teachers to do this on a regular basis? How do we find those important things happening now and build in the historical context so that students can understand why it's important and how It applies to them. But these are also essential skills to learn to be a good citizen, to be to be a, you know, news and media literacy does not stop when you leave 12th grade, right? It does not stop when the school year ends. These are the I mean, you know, it's obvious I know your listeners know this, but like this kind of a big issue that we're facing in humanity right now, is we don't know what to trust, we don't know where to get news, we don't know how to be good consumers of information. Well, that's at least partially on us as teachers, we got to help teach students how to do this, so that they are well equipped when they go out in the world.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 20:44
And I will say it's, it's also a responsibility for parents to support those kinds of best practices, in a fearless way, so that young people can learn those skills. I just want to ask a quick follow up. Well, first, I want to say kudos to you for having local, national and international/global news available to your students in the classroom. Right? A lot of times the focus is on one or the other. And oftentimes, not even on local, right...
David Olson, Retro Report 21:16
And you know, so a good tip for your educators who might be listening to this... One of my favorite ways to start a new semester or the new school year, or whatever, is you go get that like butcher block paper, you know, the one that you know, get like a, you know, four or five foot sheet of paper, whatever, that you rip off, you throw it down on desks, you form groups of four. I tell my students, okay, you have, you've got 20 minutes or 30 minutes or whatever. I want three columns. I want a local and state news. I want national news. I want international news. And I tell them, like if we did this at the beginning of the school year, I would say, "Okay, I want all the important things you can think that have happened since you left school for the summer." Or if it's a, you know, for those folks who you know, have different classes that semester, and you've got like winter break in there, right? You give them 15 minutes and say, "Okay, I want all the new stories you can think of in these three categories that have happened in the last two weeks go".
David Olson, Retro Report 22:24
And then you use that as the basis for discussion and sharing. And it's great to watch students connect with each other in those small groups and help fill in details or correct each other and be like, "No, no, that's not what happened. Here's what happened", and then go into their phones be like, "See, I can prove that's what happened, like you have the story wrong", or "No, no, no, it wasn't that guy. It was THIS other guy."
David Olson, Retro Report 22:48
Like, it's those sorts of skills that like, you just trick them into learning and practicing. And it's a great way to start a new semester, a new course, that sort of thing.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 23:00
Yes. Awesome! Thank you so much. Thank you for showing that media literacy is a skill and a practice, not a thing that we want to just achieve. It doesn't happen magically out of nowhere. It takes work. So I just want to give you a shout out to that and say, Hey, folks, that was a really great example of an exercise. So I hope you were taking notes. I really do.
David Olson, Retro Report 23:24
I mean, it's, you know, it's a podcast, they can rewind, if they were like, oh, man, I totally, you know, they're out. They're out like me, they're they're walking their dog listening to the podcasts and go on. I think I spaced that last two minutes. I'm just gonna hit that rewind button.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 23:37
Yes. Oh, my gosh. So let's this actually sets us up really nicely into you know, this next question, like, the reality of this landscape that educators are functioning in. It's a tough time, right? It's a tough time to be an educator, but it's also just like a crazy time to be like in civics, social studies, and history. I mean, like outside of COVID-19 stressors, we have like things like book bans, hostile, you know, anti student policies that are being passed, and I'm gonna say it like that, because I'm gonna say it with my chest. Things like reporting sites, right, where people can tell on teachers for talking about, you know, things like current events or historical events that make them feel uncomfortable or that you know, are deemed "inappropriate" by some other person's terms. So, like, I really want to know, like, what advice you have in this moment for civics, social studies and even history teachers.
David Olson, Retro Report 24:35
So I knew you're gonna ask this.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 24:37
Other than like, "Good luck!"
David Olson, Retro Report 24:38
Yeah, like ...this is so tough. And I also come to this with a perspective of the place where I taught the last 11 years. I didn't have too many of these issues. It was not a community that... I mean, it's weird because it is a politically, you know, one-sided community, but generally not a community that, you know, is pro-censorship or is coming down hard on the teaching of history, especially difficult history. So in that regard, I was lucky. But I know teachers who are facing this. I speak with teachers on a regular basis who are facing this. And as cliche as the phrase is, The Struggle Is indeed Real.
David Olson, Retro Report 25:42
There are teachers who look at things they want to teach, and have the question, "Will this get me fired?" And, man, is that awful. So, number one, I would love to encourage teachers, as much as I can, and as much as they have the capacity to, to be brave. That I think the vast majority of teachers know how to present material, difficult material, and material of, you know, the enslavement of Black people in this country, systemic racism in this country, and things like, difficult or controversial decisions that the U.S. government or other governments around the world have made that, you know, if you, if you put nationalism to the side, people might go, "Wow, maybe that wasn't such a great idea. Maybe we shouldn't have treated, you know, [fill in group of people here], in that manner. And in the hindsight of history, it was the wrong thing to do."
David Olson, Retro Report 26:54
I hope that teachers can be brave.
David Olson, Retro Report 26:56
I guess, in terms of, in terms of suggestions, advice for teachers. I think, finding sources for students to analyze, that come from a wide variety of places that tell the story of many different perspectives. Number one ought to be what we do as history educators and civic educators. But I also have to think that like at that point, your goal is not to tell students here is what you ought to believe. Your your goal is so that students decide what they want to believe, based on the evidence, based on hearing the experiences of other people, and informing it with their own experience.
David Olson, Retro Report 27:47
So if we take something like, you know, the history of redlining in this nation, you know, that's something that, like, there's pretty clear evidence that this happened, that this was not only a racist practice, but an intentionally racist practice that, yes, had unintentional additional negative consequences. But that's something where, let's look at the evidence. Have your students examine the evidence. And if they come to the conclusion that this was indeed racist, I don't know that I put that in the category of your teaching divisive concepts. It's like, "No, man, this is the truth. This is this is what happened."
David Olson, Retro Report 28:31
To me, I think the more that a teacher can showcase the perspectives of others, you know, through text, through audio, through video, through pictures, through cartoons; that analysis of different types of media, is what's going to help sort of buffer that teacher to parent vibe. Right? I think the biggest problem that teachers run into, is when a parent with you know, adverse intentions can come and say, "This is what you told my kid to believe." Well, when a teacher is able to say, "I didn't tell them to believe that. Let's look at the plethora of documents and resources that your your child examined. And let's figure out how they might have come to that conclusion."
David Olson, Retro Report 29:32
You know, this is one of those things where it's... so I will go out on a very small limb here. So my guess is you and most of your listeners, they heard there was a recording from a principal in Texas. Right? This probably two months ago, where the principal bizarrely suggested teaching sort of both sides of the Holocaust. Right? Which is insane, right? There's not two sides, there's not a pro and a con position to genocide.
David Olson, Retro Report 30:16
However, and here's why I'm gonna go on a very small limb... Students should be able to examine propaganda from the Nazis. They should be able to examine the treasure trove of records we have about how these decisions were indeed intentional and based on hatred and bias. Right? If you're putting those things in front of students as well, to me, that's the other side of teaching the Holocaust responsibly. It's not just, "Hey, here are the heroes who helped liberate the Jews." It's, we have to, you know, with with an eye towards not wanting to traumatize students further, but like, let's look at what sort of materials actually got us to this point where something like the Holocaust was possible.
David Olson, Retro Report 31:14
So to me, that's where we go... this is where students need to engage in that inquiry. This is where students need to dig in, learn, read, watch, listen, examine, maybe some things that might make them uncomfortable. But it's uncomfortable, because it's a horrible truth. Not because a teacher's like, "Hey, you're white, I'd like to make you feel bad." That doesn't happen. Right? That's a thing that doesn't exist in our schools.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 31:48
Thank you for just, first of all, thoughtfully, walking that tightrope with the fire underneath it, and the sharkpit on the other side,
David Olson, Retro Report 31:56
And I have terrible balance in real life. So it's really tricky.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 32:01
Yo I just want to acknowledge that for all of our listeners, because I think that everything you said, was thoughtful and very clear, and just provided a really beautiful path to making this all work. One more thing I want to ask, you know, in your estimation of doing this kind of work, age appropriateness always comes up, right. So like, you know, can you sprinkle in your expertise or opinion about like, age appropriateness? When is it proper to talk about some of these topics? And in what way? Yeah. I mean, me I'm like talk about it early, you know, that's where I'm at.
David Olson, Retro Report 32:44
Yeah. But see, but see, Amber, this is where we, this is where we recognize that that you and I have different lived experiences and different perspectives, right? I am. I'm a not only a white man, I'm a pale white man, I have two amazing daughters, who are both ginger children. We are I mean, we are as Scandinavian and Northern European as it comes. It is it is simply a fact that my children will not experience racism. So I have had the luxury... And here this is, you know, this is where you get the cogent explanation of what white privilege really is. It's not that, you know, magical advantage you get somehow it's the, "Hey, here are things I didn't have to deal with and didn't have to experience and that my children do not have to experience."
David Olson, Retro Report 33:49
So I don't know. I mean, I think this, "at what age is something appropriate is", is probably different based on experience. And that sucks because there are plenty of children in this country who will have to experience prejudice and hatred, before they have a chance to learn about it. Right? It will become a lived experience before it is something that they they have the luxury of learning about.
David Olson, Retro Report 34:21
I guess the, you know, in all of my consumption of media, there's plenty of times where, you know, I've seen the memes of, you know, Ruby Bridges and people like that where it says, you know, "IF SHE WAS OLD ENOUGH TO EXPERIENCE HATRED, YOUR CHILDREN ARE OLD ENOUGH TO LEARN ABOUT IT". And, you know, as much as I don't love the meme-ification of society. Well, I don't know, sometimes it's kind of fun,
Amber Coleman-Mortley 34:50
Sometimes it's awesome.
David Olson, Retro Report 34:51
But I mean, that's like, that's a decent point. I also think like, I don't know, I haven't had the experience either learning, teaching, or seeing my own children learn where it ever felt like they were, you know, being blamed for the history of racism in this country. I've never felt like I was ever in a classroom where someone was saying, "Oh, yes, racism is your problem, David Olson, you cause this". So I don't I don't get that backlash from, from certain parts of our culture, it doesn't make any sense to me.
David Olson, Retro Report 35:31
So, I think the, you know, the things you take off the table, to make sure that you're doing things age appropriate, is, you know, you take off any sort of simulation of someone else's trauma, you don't do the, "hey, if you were in this position, write a journal entry about how you would..." it's like, no, that's, that's not going to be authentic. That's, you know, your, I don't know what my, you know, white 12 year old child is going to learn about pretending to inhabit the, you know, the body and mind of someone who has experienced that. I would much rather that they be exposed to those people's stories. My own children have an incredible amount of empathy, that they, you know, that they can pour out. But they don't, they don't need to pretend that they're something that they're not or have had experiences that they haven't.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 36:39
Dave, thank you. Thank you so much. My kids are actually going to talk about a whole episode of 'cosplaying your way out of racism'.
David Olson, Retro Report 36:48
Amber Coleman-Mortley 36:49
I don't know if this episode will be released before our interview or not. But you know, just that is a whole thing. So I appreciate you saying that here. Because we will then link this.
David Olson, Retro Report 37:00
There we go. Yeah, it's something that just doesn't need to happen.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 37:05
Right. Why are we doing it?
David Olson, Retro Report 37:06
Yeah, nope, not gonna, not gonna learn what you think they're gonna learn from that. Yeah, yeah. No, it's weird. So so that doesn't need to happen. Like, when I think of things that, you know, as my children who are 12 and 10, like, when I think of things that like, oh, they shouldn't be exposed to at certain points, it's like, you know, things that are overtly sexual that, you know, they haven't reached the age of maturity to experience things that are like unnecessarily profane. And things that are, you know, gratuitously violent. Those are things that they, you know, that's what I have, in my mind when I'm like, "Oh, is this appropriate for my children?" Right? Now, it's also important to know that, like, there are times when you're understanding the terrible things that people have gone through that, yes, there ought to be some discomfort there. Right? Because that's how you build empathy. It doesn't mean that someone should assign blame to themselves for feeling discomfort on behalf of someone else; right? But it's something that like, yeah, you shouldn't come away from learning about the history of enslavement in the United States with a you know, warm and touchy feelings, you shouldn't come away from learning about Japanese American Incarceration, feeling warm and fuzzy about it, right, there ought to be a little discomfort because those are horrible things in history. So I guess that's sort of where I, where I tried to draw that balance and figure out like, Okay, what's appropriate for my child or the students in front of me developmentally?
Amber Coleman-Mortley 39:03
I love that. Dave brought the heat. Okay, so yes to all of that. I feel like you kind of touched upon everything from this question. So I'm going to move on to our next one, about like, you know, which also was a great segue, what you said is also a great segue. Our audiences, parents and educators and students sometimes too... What whaaaat shout out to them. Many parents haven't had civics or history in decades, right. Like, I'm trying to wrap my mind around that, but it's like a real thing. So, you know, What should parents understand about the importance of social studies and civic education and current events and media literacy? I mean, you said so many wonderful things, but like, just speaking right to parents about like the importance of all this.
David Olson, Retro Report 39:55
Yeah, so number one, I think civic education, history education, social studies in general, is essential for your children. Right? It is, like math, essential skill. Science, absolutely wonderful. English, literature... feeds the soul. Same with art and music and all those things. But there's only one discipline in school that helps students contextualize their world, learn how to how to work with other humans. In a, in a, well, in a way to become adults; in a way to to become sort of fully formed as humans. And and it's the social studies.
David Olson, Retro Report 40:47
This is the study of how humans interact with each other, and, and how we interact with the rest of the world around us whether it's information or the environment, or, you know, any, any of those aspects. So, so to me, I think social studies is absolutely imperative for the development of humans and humanity. And I do think for parents, who maybe are a few decades removed from that sort of study, I think one of the most important things parents can do is, is try to build media and information literacy and responsibility number one into their lives, but also to try to model it for for their children. And, and sometimes that just comes about in a weird way, like you get these opportunities to go. You know, your kid says something and you get to say like, "why do you think that way? Where did you find that information? Let's, let's take a look at this."
David Olson, Retro Report 41:54
I actually was thinking about this happen a couple months ago. So this is confession time, although it's it's now it's now changed. So I I'm pretty sure that I was the last human on the planet under the age of 40, that still had a physical paper delivered to my home. Now... I know. Except I have since stopped that. And I have gone all digital with my with my newspaper, which is a very sad day. Like I love the newspaper. It is...
Amber Coleman-Mortley 42:24
It has a smell to it that is just.. like a blanket. So don't feel bad.
David Olson, Retro Report 42:30
Okay. So newspapers, I love them. They're amazing. So I had, you know, the, the A Section, front page section open, you know, towards the back where the editorials are, and editorial cartoon, you know, it was Joe Biden, an elephant, some other you know, stuff in this cartoon. And my 12 year old daughter comes over and she's like, "What?" You know, she's me reading like the normal comics and is like - some of these are funny, some of these are dumb. Comes over and sees a political cartoon. And it's like, "What is this?" And I sort of was blown away that like, you know, at the time, I'm on the cusp of 40, I got a 12 year old next to me, like, how does she not know what political cartoon like? How is that? Is that possible? Like, this is, this is a moment I must seize, because like, something must be done here!
David Olson, Retro Report 43:22
And so you know, the educator in me kicked in and so I was like, "Okay, who who's this guy?"
David Olson, Retro Report 43:28
She's like, "Well, that's Joe Biden". Okay. Alright. And Joe Biden is THE... Okay. Yep, he's the president. Alright.
David Olson, Retro Report 43:34
And what do you think this is? She's like, "Well, it's an elephant... And I don't like [know], why is there an elephant?"
David Olson, Retro Report 43:40
Okay, so now let's, let's try to decode some of the images. Let's figure out what this is about. And I'm sure after like, 45 seconds, she was DONE with this conversation, but I persisted. Right? And I'm like, "Okay, let's like, Oh, this is this is important that we learn things!" You know, the person who drew this is trying to tell us something, they're communicating a position, a message, an opinion, right? Let's see, we can figure out what that is.
David Olson, Retro Report 44:09
It's those sorts of things that like... Yes, I get it, maybe the majority or all of your listeners no longer receive a physical paper in their home. But it's, it's these sorts of moments where, where as a parent, you got to go, Okay, it's my responsibility to raise up some children. Let's, let's demonstrate this and figure out how we, how we come about information. I mean, my wife gets mad at me when, like, I mean, we we have a we have a political opinion in my home. Right? But like, especially when my my youngest child, like, you know, has a comment about particular politicians who might show up on the television. And and I'm like, "Oh, hold on, let's figure out what this person said and what they're trying to communicate and why." And my wife just like, "Let the kid have their opinion". And I'm like, no, no, it needs to be a reason that informed opinion. And, you know, we got to figure out why why people might disagree with that opinion. And so, yes, there's there's a lot of consternation in my house when it comes to, you know, watching the news. I hope so.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 45:18
Okay. Yeah, that's awesome. Like, I think a lot of families sometimes don't believe they have the time to stop. Right? And so right now, in this moment, while I'm talking with Dave, Hey, y'all, you have the time to stop. You know, it could be a 30 second conversation, it could be a 30 minute conversation. But we are, we both are giving you permission to stop and, and have that convo.
David Olson, Retro Report 45:46
And if you know, if you're a fan of podcasts, besides subscribing to Let's K12. Better, you know, find find one from a trusted news source that gives you like, a five minute rundown of the stories of the day, right? Like you have time for that. Right? That's, you know, that's brushing your hair and combing your teeth... brushing your hair and combing your teeth? No, combing your hair, brushing your teeth. It's one of those, you gotta leave that in... because that's Yeah, yep. Yep, you're leaving that in?
Amber Coleman-Mortley 46:15
That's not going anywhere.
David Olson, Retro Report 46:15
That's that's emptying and reloading the dishwasher people. That's like, that's the amount of time and investment it takes to just like, just get over the hump, just start this as a practice of, yes, I'm going to be a responsible consumer of news and information. Right? So it's those sorts of things. There is time you can make time.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 46:16
Yes, yes. And I would encourage you, the snackable news, like yes, you know, commentators are great and all, but also get the, the actual reporting story so that you're not just always consuming someone else's opinion about something that's happening. Because I think a lot of us fall into that, to that myself included. Like, wait, I have my own ideas about this, you know, economics and, you know, war and etc, etc. So,
David Olson, Retro Report 47:11
And if you really want to push yourself... one time a week, go seek out an opinion that is, that you know, is different than yours, right? Go find an op-ed have someone who disagrees with you. Make sure it's one that like, you know, they have some references, and like they, you know, it's not just spouting. It's like, "Hey, I'm gonna, you know, I'm going to cite this study, or I'm going to back it up with with some statistics." But but do that, like, find someone who, once a week, find an opinion that you disagree with, and give it a read. Give it a chance. Right?
David Olson, Retro Report 47:52
Now, I can tell you, at least for me, when I start, like, the way I enter into those things is it's like, immediately I'm just I'm trying to pick it apart, right? I'm trying to go like, no, here's why this is wrong. Here's why. But take a breath, take a step back, read it, process it at the end, yes, it's totally fine to be like, No, I disagree with this, and here's why. But go find opinions that you don't already share. Right? This is, if we're if we're going to make any headway, you know, in the political division in our society. We got to develop tools to be able to, to hear and converse with people that we disagree with. Right? Because there are I mean, there are some non negotiable issues, and everyone has their non negotiable issues, and those are fine. But then there's a whole mess of stuff in the middle where very reasonable people can have very different opinions. And if we, if we decide to demonize on every single one of those little issues, instead of just the non negotiables it's, I mean, all we're doing is banging our head against the wall.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 49:06
Thank you for that. Oh, my God. Oh, my goodness. Okay. Dave, listen, you and I could sit here for probably like, five more hours.
David Olson, Retro Report 49:15
Amber Coleman-Mortley 49:17
And have everyone being like, "YES, these guys!!" So we are gonna have you back. So I'm going to commit to bringing you back,
David Olson, Retro Report 49:25
Amber Coleman-Mortley 49:26
But before I bring you back, and before I let you go, I do want you to share where folks can find your brilliance, and also what else you'd like to share with them, you know, just about yourself or the Retro Report or life in general.
David Olson, Retro Report 49:42
So wonderful. So people should check out Retro Report. If if they haven't... Again, you know, you talk about sort of snackable media, you know, Retro Report in the in the video realm, we're not TicTok but this is not a "oh, I need to commit, sit down for an hour" sort of thing. There are really great videos on a variety of different subjects, every single one of them will make you smarter, they will make you think, they will make you ask questions. And they're all in the like, six to 11/12 minute range. So go go check us out. It's www.RetroReport.org.
David Olson, Retro Report 50:18
And I mean, you can find our work sometimes, like actually coming up not too long after we're recording this, we actually, in one of our longer pieces, we've got a great film that's airing on Frontline on PBS. So on, you know, people people miss it, it, it airs, or has aired on Tuesday, February 15th, 2022. It's called American Reckoning. It looks at this, this little known aspect of the Civil Rights Movement in Natchez, Mississippi. And, you know, sort of this battle between the city, the Ku Klux Klan, the NAACP, a more militant civil rights group within within Natchez. It's a amazing story. So go check it out.
David Olson, Retro Report 51:12
If you want to check out our work on the education side, it's www.RetroReport.org/education. This is where if you're an educator, you can find not only a huge library of films, but also a ton of resources for your classroom. So full blown lesson plans, student activities that are all set to go in Google Docs, you just got to make a copy and you know, stick it in Google Classroom for your kids. Where you know, other videos, we've got great discussion questions, comprehension questions, all that sort of thing. And really, our goal is to, is to just, you know, grow and continue to do some outreach for folks.
David Olson, Retro Report 51:51
So, you know, coming up in the month of March, we've got a three part webinar series looking at the Cold War in Latin America. Coming up in April, we're hosting a webinar about Teaching About Immigration and Migration. We've got a lot of stuff in the works and and the best part of all of this is it's entirely free for teachers. And while it's entirely free for everybody, but you know, those educational materials free for teachers to use in your classroom, and, and it's my job to help you along the way.
David Olson, Retro Report 52:23
So you can connect with me, you can email me at D Olsen. I'm at the O-L-S-O-N variety DOlson@RetroReport.org You can find me on Twitter, it's @DavidJohnOlsen... middle name is J-O-H-N. So connect with me in any of these places. I'm happy to help. This is you know, this is my work. This is my my passion, my vocation. I love teaching. And even though I'm not in the classroom with students on a daily basis, now my job is to help teachers and empower teachers with great resources to meet the moment.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 52:24
YAS! Oh my God! We will have everything linked in the show notes folks. So don't play around. Make sure you explore, check everything out, also follow Dave on Twitter. And also just want to say thank you Dave for like dropping all this wisdom, for being so dope. Like also being my friend and colleague in this space.
David Olson, Retro Report 53:28
Amber Coleman-Mortley 53:29
You know, I am so like YAS, like this work is hard. You can't do it by yourself. You got to have everybody with you. So that's why I gotta give you a shoutout.
David Olson, Retro Report 53:36
Well, it is it is an honor to to work, converse, know, love the the great Amber Coleman-Mortley. So Thanks, Amber.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 53:45
Yes, awe-some, awesome.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 53:56
Our family opened Season Three with a discussion on current events and what was in the news. We know that the audio is a little wonky for that episode, but we model how families can have a discussion around current events. So we really encourage you to check it out. Please excuse the wonky audio.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 54:18
So what should parents understand about the importance of social studies and civic education, current events and media literacy? We know that teachers get it but what should parents understand? I think David said it best. And I'm gonna quote him:
Amber Coleman-Mortley 54:32
"Civic education, history education, and the social studies are essential for your children. There's only one discipline in school that helps students contextualize their world and learn how to work with other human beings and a way to become a fully formed person. And that study is the social studies. It is the study of how humans interact with each other and the world around them. It is imperative for the development of humans and humanity."
Amber Coleman-Mortley 55:03
So profound, I hope you're convinced.
Share your thoughts with us using the hashtag #LetsK12Better. And if you enjoyed this conversation, and you want to learn more, we encourage you to check out David Olson and the Retro Report. We've linked everything you need in the show notes!
What's on your mind? Do you have a question and issue or celebration to share? Send it to us and we'll discuss it, share what's on your mind, the link is in the description or send your questions to LetsK12Better@gmail.com.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 55:45
All right. So again, you guys brought the heat! Thank you so very much for sending us what's on your mind. We just want to remind folks that we would love to hear what is on your mind. Whether you are an educator, a caregiver or parent, a school administrator, or just some other family member or whatever, a student even right; tell us what's on your mind.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 56:11
We're going to read this one from an educator, again, we do not share where people are located or who they are. This educator says: How do we continue to highlight joy in our classrooms and build confidence for all students, especially when teaching with a curriculum that is harmful to our BIPOC and other minoritized communities?
Amber Coleman-Mortley 56:37
I love, love love this question. It gets right to the root of why we do what we do. So I'm going to go to Garvey first, with a response. Garvey, what are you thinking?
Okay, so what I'm thinking is, in order to answer this question, we need to remember and realize why it's harmful to Black, Indigenous, people of color. And one of the ways that it's harmful is that they don't even talk about like Indigenous or people color. Or they talk about them in a way that is dehumanizing and toxic.
And one of the ways that we can highlight joy in our classrooms and build a confidence for those students in particular, is by telling the stories correctly, but also acknowledging their humanity. If you know, I'm saying, like, during slavery, when we talked about in class, my teacher acknowledges the humanity of all the people who are enslaved, which I mean, it helps, but it's not the whole thing that we can do to fix the whole problem.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 57:40
I think that's beautiful. I want to ask you a follow up, does it harm white students, when teachers are able to center the humanity of BIPOC students?
So I don't think it does. Not that I've seen, obviously, and I think this is because white students are already equipped with the things that they need to succeed.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 58:07
How are they equipped?
Oh, yeah. For example, again, I'm going to go back to history class. Christopher Columbus,
Amber Coleman-Mortley 58:17
Like seeing somebody discover something?
Yeah. Even though they didn't discover it. They literally killed so many people who are Indigenous people. I feel like that's one of the ways that instills confidence in them. I don't know, because you're saying a story about somebody who supposedly [which they didn't] do something good. And you're like, "Oh, like, This guy looks like me. He's also white, and he did something good." But I don't know, you know what I'm saying?
Amber Coleman-Mortley 58:43
Yeah, no, I totally know what you're saying. And I really appreciate the framing of, you know, victory narratives. The way in which we have always told history through victory narratives, have supported the confidence, the development, the interest, potentially - not always right? A lot of white students are like, "I don't like school", right? But when we tell victory narratives, it's often at the expense of our BIPOC students. Right? Okay. So I just want to make sure I'm getting the point.
That's exactly what I'm trying to say.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 59:17
Um, and if we're going back to the Christopher Columbus thing, it's at the expense of people who are Indigenous. Like, again, just now we just started talking about how he brutally murdered people, amputated people just because they didn't do what he said. And in some ways, some people could think "Oh, that's just like making it worse. Now, they're [white students] not confident anymore". But there's other ways to like find confidence, especially again, like acknowledging the humanity of people, stuff like that.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 59:49
I really appreciate your response. Thank you so very much. Okay, now Naima, I'm going to ask you the same question that this educator posed... how do we continue to highlight joy in our classrooms and build confidence for all students, especially when teaching with curriculum that is harmful to BIPOC and other minoritized communities? What do you think?
I think we can put it in a way so that we can use a lesson to make students kind of like, help them find, like figure out themselves. I guess, like find out more about themselves and what is being taught in the position of - how would a person who looks like me or who is like me, react in this situation?
Amber Coleman-Mortley 1:00:37
So connecting the students first-person experience to the lesson? I love that. I love that so much. Thank you so much. All right, Sofia. Last but not least, I'm going to pose the same question to you. Alright. What do you think?
I think that teachers can teach in a respectful way to students in the BIPOC community and the BIPOC community itself. Like, I think that it's okay for like, for teachers and students to like, do those activities and learn.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 1:01:14
Hmm, so you're talking about making sure that educators learn about the community of students in which they're sharing their teaching?
Amber Coleman-Mortley 1:01:25
Okay. I love that too.
And, sorry, one more thing. But like, for example, if someone in the class is part of the BIPOC community, and they're like, they want to share something about the BIPOC community, you should maybe let them share or do an activity on that.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 1:01:42
Oh, so allowing students to then also express themselves and share their culture with their classmates in a safe way?
Amber Coleman-Mortley 1:01:52
Sis go off! I love it.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 1:01:56
I think my kids have covered everything. Making sure that narratives are inclusive and expansive, that we are not creating marginalized experiences through the ways in which we push out curriculum or teach certain events, centering the student's individual experience and providing opportunities for young people to explore who they are within the context of our larger community. And for us in the United States, that would be, you know, who am I in the United States. Right? And then also thinking about the ways in which we as educators get to know the communities and honor and respect the communities in which our students come from. So I think they covered it.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 1:02:46
The only other thing I would say, you know, as far as how do we continue to highlight joy in our classrooms and build competence for all students, expanding what resources we use? So it's so timely that, you know, David was here with us in this interview to discuss what the Retro Report shares. I would say find other free, hopefully nonpartisan resources that do a great job of being culturally relevant, responsive and affirming. Those are not bad words. Those are words that make sure that the young people who are receiving that information, is information that provides care and love and affirmations around who they are as they learn challenging narratives about our country.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 1:03:34
So we're not holding back any information from them, or sugarcoating anything. But we are honoring their humanity as they go on this learning journey with the hope and intention that they can transform our society for the better. Right, so my only cherry on top of all the amazing things that my kids shared, expansive and inclusive narratives, individuals- making sure that our young people understand that they are part of the story. And then also honoring our students and the communities they come from. The only thing I'd add, make sure that you support all of that work through reputable, nonpartisan, engaging, awesome resources.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 1:04:34
Alright, we reached the part of the show where we're gonna... ya'll are so giggley. Alright, I'm not going to re-record this. Anyway... I want to know what do we hope for our listeners until we see them again? So, Sofia what do you hope for our listeners?
I hope that our listeners... I hope that everybody has a great week and I hope everybody reads really good books. And sorry we didn't do the part of the show where we talk about the books we've read, but I hope everybody has a great week and like just go outside. Like it's Spring, guys. It's it was spring on like the 20th.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 1:05:11
The Equinox came.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 1:05:13
We don't have any excuse anymore.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 1:05:14
Get outside. Yeah. Alright. Thank you. Alright, Garvey. You're up next, what do you hope for our listeners until the next time that we're with them again?
So today's question was really thoughtful. And so I hope that everybody who like listens is applying it to their situation, even if they're not an educator.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 1:05:35
Yeah. I love that. So just making sure the way in which we deliver curriculum and narratives is culturally responsive and affirming for all students. Love that. Thank you. Alright, Naima. What do you hope for our listeners until we're with them again?
So to counteract the previous statements. Do not go outside.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 1:06:01
Go outside everybody.
It's too dangerous out there. You know?
Amber Coleman-Mortley 1:06:06
It really isn't... What do you hope for our listeners?
Drink water. Alright, mic drop.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 1:06:14
Alright. Perfect. Thank you. Here's what I hope for y'all listening. You know, I just hope that you are able to take a moment and reflect and just be thankful for every opportunity you have to spend with the young people in your life.
Amber Coleman-Mortley 1:06:36
Our time is limited, as you can hear my child to sing in the background. And we don't really have as much time as we think we have to make lasting impact in the lives of the young people that we care about or that are in our care. So just make the most of each second each minute. Find joy in those seconds and minutes. Exude love in those seconds and minutes and just... I don't know. Enjoy your time together.
Thank you for listening to the Let’s K12 Better Podcast
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Amber Coleman-Mortley 1:07:26
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Amber Coleman-Mortley 1:07:40
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