Cara and Gerard on Their Time with The Learning Curve

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This week on The Learning Curve, Cara Candal and Gerard Robinson close out their time as long-time cohosts of the podcast by sharing highlights and memories from over the last several years. They reflect upon the state of education reform, the growth of school choice, parental empowerment, the impact of the Great Books, and the wisdom of many well-known and influential guests. We thank Cara and Gerard for their long and faithful service to the podcast and wish them well.

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The Learning Curve, Cara & Gerard’s Last Episode

June 28, 2023

Cara Candal: Well for maybe not the last time, but for what will probably be a long time, I get to say, listeners, welcome to yet another week of The Learning Curve. In fact, the last week that Cara Candal — I am Cara Candal — and my amazing, fearless, intelligent, really good friend, co-host Gerard Robinson. It’s the last time that we are going to be doing this together.

I want to say before I ask my friend Gerard how he’s feeling, I just — this feels so bittersweet. It’s been wonderful to be part of this show for so long. I was talking with Jamie Gass the other night thinking, what episode number is this? Actually, Gerard will know this because he tracks everything. But if you look at, the downloads, it says it’s episode 145. But all told, I know, I’ve done at least 200 episodes of The Learning Curve and every week has been something new. It has been an absolute pleasure. I learn something all the time, the depth and breadth of this show in my opinion, it’s just amazing and I never could have known, Gerard, when we started this what we would actually be getting into. We have spoken with scholars, philosophers, folks that really have ideas that drive change and folks who make the change. And friends, we’ve been able to spend time with friends. We are among friends right now and we’ve been able to spend time with friends on this show.

[00:01:27] Cara: And Gerard, one last thing I have to say, none of this, this experience would not have been possible without the amazing team at Pioneer Institute. Our amazing producers, Jamie Gass, who finds all of the wonderful guests for the show. I still don’t know he does it. Micaela Dawson sometimes goes by Micaela Wayland, and, of course, Chris Sinacola, among so many others who have made this possible. So, a great thank you to Pioneer Institute and Gerard, with all of my feelings like pouring out here and about to get out of the way I think that we’ll have some time today to talk a little bit about our favorite things and some of what we’ve learned on this show. So, what are you thinking as we embark on this, our last episode together?

[00:02:08] Gerard Robinson: Well, I want to second everything that you said and I also want to thank Jim and the funders of Pioneer Institute. You and I have been involved with Pioneer beyond just the — this is show number 155 for me. You definitely have over 200, but we’ve been interacting with Pioneer for over 15 years in our professional life. So, I want to thank all of them as well. And so, what am I thinking about? I think about the different themes that have come to my professional and personal life as a result of this show.

[00:02:41] GR: Now remember when we, you know, when I joined for the first time, I guess March of 2020, it was to talk education with no idea if there would be different themes by which I better understand education. And so, with this being our last show together and for the listeners as well, I just want to talk about, you know, some of them that come to mind.

[00:03:00] GR: And the first for me is revolution. And when we think of revolution, we tend to think of destroy. We tend to think of horror, and we tend to think of nothing coming forward. And there’s some of that. But through some revolutions, you get a better idea of the kind of world you live in. And so, I think about our conversation September 23, 2020, with Yong Chang who is the author of Wild Swans, the Daughters of China, at a point in American history where there’s a lot of conversations about China and you have a generation of Americans who knew nothing about Richard Nixon going to China in the early seventies, bringing over Pepsi Cola, making a push to bring over a free market system. You have a generation of people who may remember Tianamen Square, but you have a generation now who only know it as the big red monster things that are going on.

[00:03:52] GR: And yet there are others who are thinking that maybe we should become more like China, in terms of how they live. But I think about her because she was, you know, in her subtitle, three Daughters of China and Mao, she talked about a China that was beyond the idealism beyond the rhetoric. Same thing with Frank diKötter, who we had on more recently, April 12, 2023, in his book on Mao’s great famine. And so, I think as we look at a possible Cold War 2.0 or something just understand there are people who lived and studied what China was like, and I just think we should take a look at that, at least from that perspective.

[00:04:30] GR: Also, another revolution that kind of changed the way I think about it was Timothy Ash, who’s professor of European Studies at Oxford. We had Timothy on September 7, 2020, and he’s the author of The Magic Lantern, the revolution of ‘89, witness in Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin, and Prague. As you know, I recently returned to Germany for the first time since 1990, and with Timothy and others who’ve kind of following the vein of revolution made me realize that the world that I understand today, As Europe radically changed, became different because of revolutions in 1989, and he particularly talked about the role of Pope John Paul and what role that played in modernizing Europe. So, for listeners, as we are entering a new phase of global politics, we’ve got a lot of guests who’ve talked about revolutions, and those are just, you know, a couple that come to mind.

[00:05:26] GR: I learned a lot more about my second theme, the brain, from Maryanne Wolfe, who’s at UCLA, who wrote a book about Reader Come Home, the Reading Brain in the Digital World, and Dan Willingham, who was a guest March 22, 2023, he’s a local guy, he’s at UVA, talked about how to outsmart your brain. We had other guests as well, but those two come to mind in part because there’s so much we don’t know about the brain that we didn’t know 25 years ago, even, maybe 2.5 years ago. We know a lot more and I think. When we talk policy, when we talk reform, there’s gotta be more stuff about brains.

[00:06:03] GR: Another thing for me, you know, great books. Now we’ve had some really good guests and as a philosopher major, I’m always interested. A couple that come to mind for me are Catherine Tempus, who wrote the book on Cicero Politics and Persuasion in Ancient Rome and Brutus, the Noble Conspirator. She comes to mind. Betton Hughes, her book, Helen ofTroy, Goddess, Princess and Whore. And I can tell you this is one of the few times I’ve used that phrase on any radio show that I’ve had without worry about censorship. And I would say Roosevelt Montas who also recent January 4, 2023, who talked about Rescuing Socrates, How the Great Books Changed My Life and Why This Matters for a New Generation.

[00:06:41] GR: I think teachers, principals, anyone who’s had children, if you don’t have children and you’re just interested in ideas, we are really at a point in American history where we should give more thought to the great books. I would end up with a couple of more. One of course, is the fact that we were able to get two plaintiffs from two of the most important school choice cases of the last quarter century. We had David Carson from the Carson v. Makin case, and we had Karen Espinoza from the Espinoza v. Montana case. And I want to thank Pioneer for their job because we were able to get those two plaintiffs within seven days of the Supreme Court ruling with that decision made.

[00:07:21] GR: Now we know there’s a lot of people who even support parental choice who liked some aspects of the decisions, didn’t like other aspects. For me, my takeaway, having been involved in my 32nd year in the parental choice movement, to be able to not only live long enough to see the death blow to Blaine, but also to have two regular people. These aren’t superstars. They’re not part of our policy networks. They’re on the same fellowship we’re in. They didn’t go to the schools we go to. These are people who said, I’m gonna stand up for my child, and in standing up for their child, they stood up. For many more. And so, I think that’s been great.

[00:07:59] GR: And I think I’ll end with a few things about COVID because when I started with you, COVID was starting to mushroom with no idea that it would change and up in American education as the way we saw it. I think about my course, my conversation with Marguerite Rosa, who’s at Georgetown, who talked to us about school finance or the Air Canyon shift who did the same and talked about the economic loss that we have. There’s learning loss, but there’s economic loss. Think about Robin Lake and the work that she’s done. And John Barry from the New York Times, author of The Great Influenza: The Story of the Greatest Pandemic in History. And that was from May 1, 2020. So, you and I were able to talk to someone who had written a book beforehand. In fact, his book was written in 2005, and for a while it was our most downloaded on podcasts. And so, for me, and there are other themes, but for me, I think all of those are important because it really talks about the state of education. We are going through a revolution on this side of the Atlantic and the other we are going through a revolution with our brain.

[00:08:59] GR: It’s going to play a greater work. I think we need to read not only great books written by members of the founding generation, both men and women, people across different ethnic religious lines. But we need to also write great books and read books. Now that will be great 25 years from now, but they’re just books today. And COVID shouldn’t define a generation. It should at least just define a point in time where we had to stop to be human and to think. And before I end, let me also say thank you to all the teachers, the parents, principals, all anyone involved in education who had to slog through the toughness of the politics. They came along with it, my condolences to those who lost family members, friends or students, and to those people who are moving beyond political conversation of learning loss. And it’s real to try to make excuses for why children aren’t learning. And for those who are saying It’s only money, money, money, or only choice, choice, choice. Let’s use this as an opportunity for a true revolution in how we deliver education and how we learn. Those are just some of my thoughts.

[00:10:08] Cara: Wow. I’m very organized, though I have to pick up on the theme of revolution because I love it. I had no idea you were going to go there, but the first there were two names that came to mind as soon as you said that word. One of them was of course, the amazing Dr. Howard Fuller, who I think that we’ve had him on twice, and I think I could listen to him every day for the rest of my life and be happy. But there’s also another guest that comes to my mind who happened to be the first guest ever on The Learning Curve when we launched the show. Do you know how that was, Gerard?

[00:10:39] GR: For you and I, or the ­–

[00:10:40] Cara: No, for myself and my former co-host, Bob.

GR: Oh, no idea.

Cara: It was Gerard Robinson.

GR: I was the first guest?

Cara: You were the inaugural Learning Curve­­.

GR: Oh my God, yes.

Cara: And I have to, I wanna like just get real with our listeners for a minute because Gerard, I had met you probably, I mean, how long I been at this game for? 20 plus years, a long time. But I think that I’ve been affiliated with Pioneer since maybe 2008 or so. And I think I met you around that time and I have a very distinct memory of being at an event in D.C. and you said hello to me and you said, Hey, I know you, Cara from Pioneer. Now this is before I realized that you have this great memory. You remember everybody’s name, you have this great, and I was like, flabbergasted. And I’m texting my husband like, oh my gosh, Gerard Robinson actually recognized me. I feel like I must be doing something right. Right. And lo and behold, here we were years later on a podcast together because, I was starstruck when I realized that you like, would, not only would you know to remember my name, but that like, we would become fast friends because I have always viewed you as somebody who was at the forefront of like the education revolution. Always forward thinking. So, it doesn’t surprise me that, for example, your first theme was revolution and that you mentioned the brain. As something like learning in the brain as a really important theme of this show because, evidence based, like you’ve always been about these things that I think are what have pushed education forward in this country and both in your roles as serving as a state chief, as a researcher, as somebody who’s constantly pushing the envelope and doing new things.

[00:12:24] Cara: Things not just in education but in in criminal justice reform and all of these different areas. you’ve always taken an evidence-based approach, which is how I think about what we know about education in the brain is that we have to make decisions based on what we know best. I can look at guests, you name so many of them, but like one is Mackey Braman, who I think is always, I just loved talking to her and bringing the kind of information that she always did to our listeners. And yeah, we could go on the Great Books. I couldn’t agree with you more. There are times listeners when I would be listening to a guest and like taking notes, like, do this, not that, talk to the kids about this, not that you know, that it was more for my own personal use.

[00:13:02] Cara: Coming to do this show every week, I wanted to name some guests that feel just like really, very — all of the guests are special, but friends who were also guests — Cheryl Brown Henderson, who’s been a friend of Pioneer for a long time, I think has always been just an amazing guest. I could listen to her again and again. Our good friend, our mutual friend, Ashley Burner, and then of course, very dear to my heart. The great Charles Glenn, my mentor, who we’ve had on the show who I wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for him because he introduced me to Jamie Gass, to Jim Stergios, just to Pioneer Institute. Thank goodness we’re not talking about COVID as much anymore, Gerard, I think there was a period of time when that’s all we talked about, because that’s all anybody was thinking about, and I’m glad that we have seen this podcast through to a place where kids are in school. Yeah, there’s still a lot of work to be done, but I hope that there is learning taking place.

[00:13:54] Cara: So, it’s been a ride and I really appreciate your, the way your brain works and that you organized those themes for us. But Gerard, I wanted to, I can’t let this last show go or close without asking you a couple of very pointed questions because as I said, I value your opinion on so many things and I’m just, I’m curious, so if you can answer these like, first thing that comes to your mind, like one sentence or less, if you can, I wanna ask you just a couple questions. And the first thing is, when it comes to education reform, what do you think is the most exciting thing of the past three years? Go!

[00:14:30] GR: Parents taking control in a real way.

[00:14:36] Cara: Yeah. I knew micro schools. I knew, yeah. I knew that was gonna, yep, micro schools. What anything about that scare you just a little bit? Not parents taking control, but like the pace of the movement?

[00:14:46] GR: I had dinner put together by Carrie McDonald uh, with fee, who’s been a host with us a couple of times, and she brought together a group of micro-schoolers in the Richmond area and we had dinner and I shared this once on the show, but I came home and told my wife it’s one of the few conversations in the choice movement I’ve been in where I didn’t understand really anything, but I left excited. Because they were doing things that had nothing to do with me trying to lobby for them on their behalf, nothing for me to do, to give them a speech about the history of choice, nothing to do about regulatory reform.

[00:15:20] GR: These were people who during COVID said, my kid needs education. Oh, your kid too? Your kid too? Okay, great. So, I’m excited about that. What’s scary? I think the, you know, the scary aspect of just saying, wow. Is there a role for me in this kind of work that could be scary? The other scary piece is how will the blob or the political bureaucracy of slowness try to slow walk this to death? I think that’s scary too. Yeah.

[00:15:48] Cara: Agreed. Okay, next question. One sentence or less, what’s on the horizon for education?

[00:15:54] GR: AI is going to really change the delivery model.

[00:16:01] Cara: Okay, so then same question right back at you that’s hopeful. Anything scary there?

[00:16:08] GR: I’m hopeful. The scary part is that AI, and I said this, And I think my, the second meeting I had with my Bahara Aspen cohort class several years ago, similar question.

[00:16:20] GR: I think my response, I’ll just paraphrase. I said the biggest concern with me about technology, I’ll use AI in this situation is that we will advance to a point where we’ll have to rewrite the constitution in order to keep up with what it means to be human and what it means to be technical.

[00:16:40] Cara: Hmm. Rewrite the constitution of what it means to be human. Mm. I could see that going a lot of ways. Yes. We, we, we, I would love a lawyer’s brain on that, but —

[00:16:51] GR: Yeah, that’s my fear.

[00:16:52] Cara: I love it. Okay, final question, Gerard Robinson. Is there one song you wish you would’ve sung for the listeners of The Learning Curve?

[00:17:03] GR: This is the TIme by Billy Joel.

[00:17:07] Cara: Oh, and, and in fact outta nowhere, you’re bringing Billy Joel.

[00:17:11] GR: Hey, and this may be a good time you think of the lyrics. This is the time to remember, cuz it will not last forever. These are the days to hold on to cuz we won’t, although we’ll want to. This is the time, the time is going to change. You’ve given me the best of you and now I need the rest of you.

[00:17:34] Cara: I love it. I wish I could sing along with you, but you, Jared, I just, I can’t sing so—

[00:17:38] GR: And I can’t either. And it hasn’t stopped me in two and a half years.

[00:17:43] Cara: I know. I actually three and a half years. I love it. I love it. I still think that Frozen might be, might be my favorite, but you’ve got my kids thing in John Denver. I have to say. I mentioned your day the other night and my littlest one said, Oh, Take Me Home Country Road. Mm-hmm. So there you go. Well, Gerard Robinson.

[00:18:05] GR: Well, what about questions for you?

[00:18:06] Cara: Oh, no, no, no, no. Okay. Yeah. No, no. I mean, I’ll take ’em, but that’s not how I planned on this going.

[00:18:11] GR: Okay. Nope. I’ll follow your plan. I’ve been doing that. I, I follow good leadership.

[00:18:18] Cara: Oh, well thank you, Gerard. I will take that. I just, maybe a few final words to those who. have consistently listened and reached out over time. How much we appreciate you. Every week you know, the stories of the week that we get to share. One of the things I love is that we get to hear stories. Producers really help us choose stories from a number of different national, like local news outlets, which I think is fantastic. And I know mom, if you’re listening, it might be hard to believe, but I do think that we have a lot of listeners who tune in, who tune in pretty religiously. And not only is that appreciated, Thank you so much for wanting to listen to us drone on week after week. It means a lot and it’s kept us going for, I think, a pretty long time in podcast years. Gerard, what do you think?

[00:19:06] GR: I agree. I’ve gone to conferences and people will mention, Hey, I listened to The Learning Curve, so that’s good to hear. No one’s ever said I listened and I stopped after like two shows.

Cara: Well, they never told us.

GR: Well, they have told us, but yeah, so that’s, that’s been good. And people have even said, some of the authors who were on the show, they went to pick up their book afterward.

[00:19:26] Cara: That’s fantastic. So any final thoughts for our listening audience as we go off into that learning curve?

[00:19:39] GR: Yes, sir, so the learning curve is real. We are all lifelong learners and The Learning Curve is just one of the many platforms, but you are your own learning curve. When we say goodbye The Learning Curve will continue when school is out. As you know, those of you with children at home, right now, learning continues, but as adults, we are the ones who are driving what the country should and should not be doing. So, I would say read good books. Or good articles, good blogs. I would say write your ideas. Like I said, we need great books and they come from great ideas. And then lastly, I frankly believe that our better days are ahead of us. They will be scary and rocky, but they’re ahead of us and this has been a great personal professional journey to do it with you.

[00:20:28] GR: I can’t think of anybody else I would’ve wanted to do this show with, and every week I knew it was gonna be a new adventure. And at this point in life, Where you often have seen a lot, being excited and curious is a good thing to be. So, stay curious.

[00:20:43] Cara: Let’s Absolutely. Which is why I will continue to tune into The Learning Curve in its next iteration, which, audience, you know, it’s coming. So, you know, we usually end with a tweet of the week, and I don’t read Twitter unless asked to. So, this week I would  make one up and that is, you know, hashtag not goodbye. See you soon, sort of a thing because I hope Gerard, maybe we can come back as future guests on The Learning Curve.

GR: Absolutely.

[00:21:12] Cara: As pinch-hit cohosts as we’ve had so many wonderful pinch- hitters, we need to give a shout out. You mentioned Kerry McDonald. How about Jarrell Bradford and Alicia Searcy, who have always just like stepped in and been so much fun for us among others. But it’s a bittersweet moment. We will be back. Thank you so much for all of the time you have spent with Gerard and me, Learning Curve listeners, and can’t wait for what’s next. Until then, Gerard, I know I’ll see you soon. Please take good care.

[00:21:45] GR: Take good care, my friend. And goodbye from beautiful Charlottesville.

[00:21:52] Cara: Goodbye from balmy Boston. And actually, The Learning Curve is going to be back, we’re not missing a beat in its next iteration or some form of it next week. Also, A former co-host and all-around great guy, funny guy, Jonathan Greenberg is going to be back with Pulitzer Prize winner — always a Pulitzer Prize winner here on The Learning Curve — Stacy Schiff. She will be talking about her biography of Samuel Adams. Very appropriate for the 4th of July.