April 7, 2013
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY
Guest: Jonathan Metzl, Partha Mitra, Sam Wang, Tara Dowdell, Arkadi
Gerney, Laura Flanders, Steve Perry, Linda Darling-Hammond, Raymond
Williams, Virginia Johnson, Robert Garland
MELISSA HARRIS-PERRY, MSNBC ANCHOR: Morning, my question, how can gun
control advocates lose the battle but win the war?
Plus, putting testing to the test.
And the return of the legendary dance theater of Harlem.
But first, we are putting the nerd in Nerdland. I have neuroscientists in
the green room. You can`t believe the conversation.
Good morning. I`m Melissa Harris-Perry.
There are some pictures that are worth even more than a thousand words as
old daddy goes. Almost 54 years ago this week, the first ever team of
American astronauts was assembled and soon after this picture was taken of
the "Mercury 7" all suited up and ready to blast off.
Photographs by the company that manufactured those spacesuits, this perfect
to looking seven helped NASA to capture the hearts and minds of the
country, not to mention their tax dollars. Because Americans space
exploration need a good PR day.
Before the United States could even get NASA off the ground, we were rocked
by the soviet launch of sputnik, the world`s first artificial satellite to
orbit the earth. In the midst of the cold war, president Kennedy was mired
in the bay of pigs fiasco when the soviet union followed up with the first
successful human space flight in April 1961. With no intention of being
out done or outgunned, Kennedy fired back with a big bold initiative of the
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN F. KENNEDY, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe this
nation should commit itself to achieving the goal before this decade is out
of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.
No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind
or more important for the long-range exploration of space. And none will
be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Expensive indeed. That first call for a man on the moon
which launched that giant leap forward for mankind ended up costing an
estimated $170 billion of the contemporary American kind. Not to mention
countless hours of manpower, political energy and public attention.
Public attention that was looking up into the stars along with President
Kennedy while young men and women of this brave new world were getting on
buses to test the desegregation Jim Crow south. Those first freedom
writers met by violent mobs inspired the courage of a thousand who joined
the efforts that summer. But, the Apollo mission was politically more
about nationalism than space travel. Kennedy had made that clear up front.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KENNEDY: In a very real sense, it will not be one man going to the moon.
We make this judgment affirmatively. It will be an entire nation for all
of us must work to put him there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
On July 20th, 1969, just before the end of the decade, Neil Armstrong and
Buzz Aldrin became the first people to walk on the moon. And that image
has carried through the decades as a symbol seemingly of what America is
capable of doing. That sentiment was echoed once again this week by
President Obama when he announced the next great American project to unlock
the secrets of the human brain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have a chance to improve
the lives of not just millions but billions of people on this planet
through the research that`s done in this brand initiative at all. But,
it`s going to require a serious effort, a sustained effort. And it`s going
to require us as a country to embody and embrace that spirit of discovery
that is what made America, America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: What President Obama proposed this week, the brain research
through advancing initiative neuro-technologies or brain initiative was to
provide direct funding to accelerate the invention of new tools to it help
neurologists visualize the complex neural circuitry of the brain and follow
the interactions of cells that happen as they say at the speed of thought.
The Obama administration long with the NIH, the national science foundation
and the defense advanced research projects agency, hope that this funding
will lead to new treatments and even cures to brain disorders like
Alzheimer`s, Parkinson`s, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury.
And all of that with the seed money of $100 million. Yes, $100 million for
this next great American project. Take that, China and E.U. But, it,
actually, your scientists are already at their labs venture with $1.5
billion in funding for their human brain projects backed by the European
commission and 80 international research institutions. After China`s brain
tomb initiative has been pumping out research since 2004, it seems like
we`re getting sputnik all over again.
NIH funding is flat ling for the first time since anyone can remember. And
the impact of American scientific papers has fallen behind Great Britain
and Germany. And if these sequester cuts hold, NIH is looking at a
devastating $1.6 billion cut for the remainder of the fiscal year. In
fact, letters have already gone out to researchers with ongoing grants that
they should start scaling back.
So, when we consider the state of the economy and budget battles still to
come, is President Obama`s brain initiative just a small step for this one
man or a giant leap forward for us all?
At the table this morning Sam Wang, associate professor at Princeton`s
Neuroscience Institute and Partha Mitra, professor of Biomathematics at
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York. Laura Flanders, host and
founder of gritTV.org and Doctor Jonathan Metzl, professor of psychiatry at
Vanderbilt University and author of protest psychosis.
It is so nice to have you all here.
OK. Sam, I want to start with you. How big is this? Is this as big as
space, this idea of going into the brain?
SAM WANG, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, PRINCETON NEUROSCIENCE INSTITUTE: I think
there is no denying that one of the great scientific frontiers remaining is
understanding the brain. And then, so far, researchers have been working
hard for the last decades working at different levels, single cells, the
entire brain, we hear about brain scan technologies, and this seems like a
good time to develop technologies to start filling in levels, joining those
levels with each other. This initiative is an excellent proposal led by a
very good scientist to start filling in the gaps to develop technologies
and let us watch the brain in action. It is a great time.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, what are the deliverables, right? I mean, I know when
Kennedy is asking us about space, he`s saying we`re going to go to the
moon. What are the deliverables on the brain? What will learning about
this teach us?
PARTHA MITRA, PROFESSOR, BIOMATHEMATICS, COLD SPRING HARBOR LABORATORY:
Well, I think that`s a great question. The deliverables so far that have
been proposed are really technologies to monitor in this case the activity
of the brain. I think moon analogy, you really knew when Neil Armstrong
actually set his foot on the moon. So, you can - OK, that`s success. It
is one of the difficulties of the brain is a very complicated thing to
understand. People have been struggling for centuries and millennia. How
do we know when we`ve succeeded, right? So, what is a deliverable is a
good question and I think there`s going to be planning, there`s a committee
that will think this through for the next year or some fraction of the year
and really decide what the deliverables are and when we will know we have
HARRIS-PERRY: But, it certainly not like this is the first moment, right?
WANG: People have been working on this for years. And I think this is the
time when there have been some excellent technologies coming on for
manipulating tissue with light for observing what the circuit does in real
time. There`s been a lot going on under the radar. And I think one thing
that`s missed in this announcement is that people been at work for quite a
while. And if you look at the technical journals, if you look at the
science magazines, there`s been a lot happening. And it feels like there`s
some kind a turning point where at least our ability to start asking
questions with more precision is about to improve dramatically.
HARRIS-PERRY: Now Jonathan, for me, part of the reason I wanted to start
with the space versus civil rights paradigm, right? At some point, my team
is going to make me have the space people on because I have a lot of angst
about - right, I have a lot of angst about it because it feels to me like
there are resource constraints in the world. And so, when we put money
towards one thing and we put attention towards one thing, we will often
miss the other. So, at the same time that we are space gracing, we are in
the middle of the civil right movement.
Here we are in the context of sequester and yet going into the brain. Is
that a good, is that a sign of us, you know, going to our frontier despite
our economic resources, or is that a maybe we need to not go to the brain,
we got to put food on the table?
DOCTOR JONATHAN METZL, PSYCHIATRY PROFESSOR, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: Well,
I`ll take two things about that. And one is just a mere that I think this
is an exciting development and we should be thinking big. I mean, this is
what our country does. And we -- it`s a tremendous opportunity to jump-
start something at a time in a way that`s encouraging that it`s happening
at the time of sequester to say no, our research is not going to stop.
The caveat for me actually is that the brain doesn`t exist - I mean, the
pictures are nice, it looks like the brain is a totally isolated thing.
But a lot of times we find out from brain research is something that`s
linked to the social environment. So, we have at genome project for
example we learn from genetics, that people who live in resource poor
environments have poor brain development.
And so, in a way, a lot of times the brain issues point back to social
infrastructure issues. And so, it can`t just be money toward the brain, we
also have to invest in the infrastructure that leads to brain disease.
HARRIS-PERRY: For me on the NSF piece, right, I mean, I just saw NSF
through the Coburn amendment take all of the money for NSF for political
science funding. At the same time we`re talking about NSF and NIH going on
the brain. And I think, I love stem. I`m down for this kind of science.
But, I also wonder about our ability to see it in a more holistic way.
LAURA FLANDERS, HOST, FOUNDER, GRITV.ORG: I think it`s very confusing.
And I think what Jonathan just said is really important that you can data
file all you want, you can map all you want, but actually nurturing the
next Einstein is going to take more than just some really good GPS of the
But, I think in terms of the public perception, it`s super confusing. How
can the sequester just take an incentive? You know, $10 billion from
American science and then suddenly there`s this $100 million or maybe it is
$3 billion down the road money for mapping the brain.
I hate to be the cynic here, but what I see is that picture you showed of
the astronauts in the picture by the folks that made the suit. A picture
like that today, the suits would be made by Eli Lilly, Johnson and Johnson,
Big Pharma. And what I`m looking at is the next big frontier is enormous
profits of pharmaceutical companies is Alzheimer`s medications. It`s the
one thing they are failing at. U.S. companies have not succeeded. Johnson
and Johnson, a big failure recently. Eli Lily not doing much better. So,
I can`t help but say that this as a little bit of a kind of gift to big
pharma. It maybe being done well, but I think it`s about generating jobs
and money and that`s what Obama talked in the first presidential.
HARRIS-PERRY: An we are going to stay on exactly that topic as soon as we
get back. I want to talk about Alzheimer`s. I want to talk about what we
already know and maybe Sam will take the brain apart and show us a little
bit. Because I think there`s something to be said about this shift in
research priorities at this moment. In part, when we say Alzheimer`s,
remember, what our policy always does, it tracks the boomers. There`s a
lot of them and now they`re aging, when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: New research this week from the rand corporation showed that
both the costs and the number of people with dementia in this country is
expected to double by 2040. A rate rarely seen in any other known chronic
disease. Currently, 3.8 million people over 71 years old have dementia.
In 30 years, that number will be 9.1 million.
Behind the staggering prediction is the concern that with an aging baby
boom, generation this country is wholly unprepared for the cost and
resources needed to care tore this population.
So, it feels to me like, certainly, the economics of jobs are part of it.
But the other piece of it is a concern with human health, particularly of
the baby boomer generation. What can we know from the brain and what do we
already know about issues like Alzheimer`s, dementia?
MITRA: There`s a long study going on in Baltimore for example for many
decades. Longitude and north study of aging using currently brain using
techniques as well. So, we are developing these basic knowledge about what
causes the disease. But one of the important points is that we don`t
really know and there is need for basic research and that`s kind of what
this initiative is about. But, it`s also important to keep in mind the
people have been doing this basic research for awhile. And sustaining
that, I think the president said, sustained effort. There should be
emphasis on that. It has been going on already and sustaining it into the
WANG: Right. So, when you look at -- just so happen to have with me a
model of the brain. If you look at brain structures, it`s possible to see
postmortem structures around here and what it called temporal areas next to
the temple, areas that seem to show deterioration. And right now, it`s
possible mainly to determine that people with Alzheimer`s disease
But imagine in technology that allowed us to see that earlier and perhaps
adopt therapies, implement therapies to help people who are at greater risk
HARRIS-PERRY: I thought you talked one, Sam, and I`ll never forget this.
Hard to put it back in.
WANG: It`s hard to put it back in.
HARRIS-PERRY: But I will never forget hearing you say don`t invest in the
hand-held games, memory games. That actually will not improve and protect
WANG: That`s right.
HARRIS-PERRY: Invest in a treadmill and get yourself a little bit
exercise. And I thought, well, that`s such a different kind of argument to
make about how our brains operate. It`s much more holistic about our
bodies and ways that our brains exist within our whole self.
WANG: I think a big public health priority, we talk about fancy research
methods and so on. Those are for understanding the disease. But, in terms
of what we can do about Alzheimer`s disease, we have tools available now
which involves frankly things like physical exercise, epidemiologically,
things that are good for your heart are also good for your brain. And
Alzheimer`s risk can be reduced substantially or at least people believe
that it can be reduced substantially by aerobic exercise and that is
something that could make a difference in the statistics you`re putting up.
I just had a question about the money part of it. Before I make that
point, the clarity with which the president talked about $1 billion in in
investment produces 140 in the economy. I wish he would talk about that
when it comes to stimulus. Could we be this in investing in kids and
education, health care, OK. That point made. My question is about his
ask. This $100 million, the money we`re talking about, you raised this
earlier, Sam. If there`s a different ask in the works down the road why
are they talking small amounts. It seems to me politically they lose at
both ends. Some say it`s not enough to make a difference and you say it
doesn`t compete with what`s happening elsewhere. It`s given a lot -- is it
enormous investment or middle investment and how do we get people behind
FLANDERS: No. I just have a question about the money part of it. And
before I make that point, I just - the clarify of which the president took
about one vote billion in investment produces 140 in the economy, I wish he
would talk that when it comes to stimulus. I mean, could we be this
specific when it comes (INAUDIBLE), investing in kids, investing in
education. OK, that point made.
My question is about he was asked, why do we think that money that we are
all talking about today is just this hundred million. You raised this
earlier, Same. And you know, if indeed there is a much bigger asked in the
works from the administration down the road, why are they took these small
amounts? Because it seems to me politically, they lose in both ends.
People say, well, this is not enough to make a real difference and you say
it doesn`t compete with what`s happening elsewhere. But it is still a lot
given how much we are losing from the sequester. So, is it an enormous
investment or it is middling investment and how are we going to get people
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes, Jonathan.
METZL: Well, I say, the other financial piece of this, of course, is the
study that came out looking at the rising cost of dementia over the next 30
years, came out of at the same moment that we started thinking about
seriously cutting Social Security.
METZL: And so, in a way, you know, I mean, if you look at the ways other
countries deal with this, like Canada had just the rising tide report that
came out that said we need to improve infrastructure. We need to improve
physical therapy. We need to improve human connectiveness. So, in a way,
we are living almost like in Groupon society that, you know, we have costs
that we see but we`re cutting out the safety nets so in a way, we are
enabling, I think, this spread.
FLANDERS: Well, cut your eligibility to Medicare but maybe you`ll get
HARRIS-PERRY: But, I guess, you know, I think for me this is part of my
nerd challenge. On the one hand, I love the idea that we need to invest in
basic science, right? And you know, there is, of course, that whole shrimp
on a treadmill drama that occurred at one point because someone was doing
basic science around how shrimp responded. So, they have these images of
shrimp on a treadmill and this was like emblematic of science gone wrong of
spending all of these government dollars on something that is ridiculous.
But, in fact, that is kind of the nature of science. There is a lot of
time you are doing these small tiny seemingly irrelevant things that have
WANG: One of the most important tools in mapping the brain is a
(INAUDIBLE) protein that came out of a jellyfish that is now endangered in
Puget sound in Washington. And that proteins, (INAUDIBLE) protein has got
(INAUDIBLE) which applications to biology. It`s the kind of tool that
makes possible to start imaging brain circuits in action.
And these things may seem distant to our everyday concerns, but who do you
want putting the shrimp on the treadmill?
WANG: Do you Congress doing that or do you want scientists, nerds with
their classes, you know, saying well, let`s see how animals walk? Why
don`t we learn about walking in it turns out that shrimp are maybe not a
bad way to do that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. And I think for me, that -- to the extent that
there`s a politics here, I`m wondering if that`s part of the politics of
President Obama planting the flag in the ground and saying, you know what,
we as a country and as a party still care about science. Still care about
basic research, still care about the exploration of ideas. Despite the
challenges that we face economically, right, that even if you`re in a
household, if you`re going to take that example, where things are touch,
you still invest in education for your kids, right?
So, similarly, we still invest in the jellyfish goo, right, which I`m sure
is not the appropriate technical term. But, because it might have
implications in the future, more on all of the questions and implications
as soon as we come back. Because I want to ask about a little bit about
whether or not as we map the brain, we then going to try to police it.
HARRIS-PERRY: When I heard President Obama`s announcement on Tuesday of
the brain initiative, it gave me pause. Not because I don`t support effort
to provide (INAUDIBLE) human knowledge through research, I absolutely do.
But because history of applied scientific research has sometimes been
fraught with problematic approaches and effects.
In the 19th century, early neurologists who focused on phrenology used the
measurement and shape and size of the human brain to explain social
behavior. By at large, this experiment on people of color and criminals
were used to social Darwinist ends.
And today, elements of Phrenology linger. It recently published study gave
me the same kind of pause. The study highlighted by Enchorial (ph) this
week shows that brain scans have the ability to predict with what is
considered so-called startling accuracy. The likelihood of that convicted
criminals will reoffend. So, I will look into your brain and determine
whether or not you should be paroled. The implications could be serious.
So, my angst here is, you know, if we start looking into the brain and I
decide, you know, I look in there and I see, yes criminality or that you`re
never going to go to college. And that I can just track you from the
beginning from an FMRI.
MITRA: Well, these are very early state studies and the effect side is
outreach. You can`t really tell on an individual basis. There`s a large
population that is being studied. And in this particular study that you`re
talking about, it`s pretty close to a conflict. And there is a
statistically significant effect that you can`t from an individual.
HARRIS-PERRY: But, there is something about science. I mean, Sam, it`s
part of why, you know. when we come into these kinds of conversations and
you can pick up the brain and you can show this and this and this to me, I
think, well, that must be true, right? It must be true because it`s
science. And it`s a science that I don`t quite understand and therefore,
if you say to me I`m the scientist and I can predict that this person will
be a criminal or I can predict that this kid will never learn, there`s a
way to -- sort of general populations have a tough time arguing back
WANG: Yes. I think that`s right. I think neuroscience has this cache
right now in which the kinds of investigations we do in the laboratory when
couched in neural terms sound much more convincing than all the things that
sociologists and psychologists, and economists who have been working hard
on. I think that it doesn`t take away from the kinds of grand things that
we`re finding out about brain function, but one has to be careful to not
get too worked up by science fictional scenario in which you are going to
get scammed and then, you know, sorted out --
MITRA: Superiority --
FLANDERS: But your fears are well placed. I mean, anybody who is
following the NYPD stop and frisk. We are already criminalizing people on
the basis of race, geography, you know. We are not talking science fiction
decades ahead of time where we start studying people`s brains and finding
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. they just hope the future is 1969, right?
WANG: That`s a hopeful thing though. It`s that -- I think people
recognize that and people will take these scientific studies with the
caveats that they may not be applicable right now. And that`s - I would
METZL: Let me say that, I mean, there are links between social conditions
and brains and we know that poverty is terrible for your brain, sort of
what are we going to do about that? There`s a long history of these kinds
of findings. I think that the point is exactly right. Six out of ten, you
can predict six out of ten. But four out of ten you are going to get it
wrong in a way. So, it think we are in a way, there`s a real risk of this
kind of finding being overstated.
HARRIS-PERRY: And I do worry that people actually don`t have the skills to
read science critically. I mean, if one of the things like we do in our
college classrooms is, you know, you get the freshman who comes in and
sees, you know, the statistical chart for the first time, it is like, well
that is got to be true because I don`t quite understand it.
And it`s not clear to me that if I`m reading in a paper, this person had a
brain scan, so, they`re clearly going to have recidivism. That I have the
good tools to push back and say, look, 60 percent is not that much more
than a coin flip, which is 50/50.
MITRA: You`re perhaps even educating the public. But the public education
is a very important part of it as we get these more complex measures that
people be made to understand the statistics.
WANG: And a lot of what`s going to happen now is understanding the effects
of poverty in terms of brain mechanisms. So, we can start thinking about
stress hormones, thinking about that kind of thing. So, I think that
rather than being afraid of some science fictional outcome, I think the key
here is to start understanding exactly what drives brains off track and can
we think of interventions, maybe cheap ones like preschool that could help
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. So, if on the back end, we are seeing, you know,
treadmills to address Alzheimer`s and on the front end we need preschool to
address issues of our brain development at the most basic levels, giving
led out of our ecosystem so the kids are not exposed to it.
I guess what I`m saying is I don`t want to be afraid of science. I think
that is the wrong position. But, I want science to be connected to our
socio and historical and cultural realities.
FLANDERS: Well, that is why the coincidence of events this week is so
disturbing in the sense that you have this discussion of cuts and sequester
and all the rest, happening at the same time in the announcement of this
great new initiative. And I think it`s inevitably going to leave people
feeling, wait, these are two completely divorced realities and how do they
METZL: And you know, as you were referencing before, we have a long
history of science being used and this exact kind of science. In 1969 in
my book, I show how black panthers were put into mental hospitals because
of brain science because of this finding of schizophrenia in a way. That`s
not to say we shouldn`t invest in science. But we need the humility to
know that it`s an ongoing process, a negotiation between society and
culture, particularly with issues about race and social class.
FLANDERS: Can you find the humility, gene, in there?
METZL: We took it out.
HARRIS-PERRY: I want us to put your brains into nice environments at the
Thank you to Sam Wang and Partha Mitra, also Laura and Jonathan will be
staying for more.
But coming up next, the latest on the Atlanta testing scandal.
But first, the numbers that we found in the gun control debate that have us
wondering why there`s any debate at all.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s hard to believe but it has been 115 days since a
heavily armed killer entered Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown,
Connecticut, murdering children and teachers and focusing America`s
attention squarely on the national crisis of gun violence. Fifty nine
percent are responded to the Quinnipiac poll released Thursday support a
nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons up five points from the
previous poll in early March.
Yes, despite the idea of the ban being evermore popular, senator Dianne
Feinstein`s proposal which would ban the sale of 157 different models of
assault weapons and high capacity bullet magazines won`t be part of any gun
legislation offered by Senate majority leader Harry Reid.
Universal background checks may be the most the Democrats can hope for.
1994, that was when the current background check system went into effect
mandated under the Brady handgun violence prevention act.
In the bureau of justice statistics reports that since that time, more than
108 million prospective gun buyers have been screened before their
purchases were completed. And at least 1.9 million attempted purchases
were are blocked due to issues like felony convictions. At nearly 40
percent, let me say it again, 40 percent of all gun purchases require
absolutely no background checks at all including those made online or at
gun shows. And clearly, people want that to change. They overwhelmingly
want that to change.
Ninety one percent of respondents in the same Quinnipiac poll from this
week said they the approve of universal background checks including 88
percent of those in gun owning households. But still, 53 percent of those
gun owners in the same poll think that those universal background checks
could lead to confiscation of legal guns.
One of the claims that the National Rifle Association`s head, Wayne
Lapierre, is fond of repeating, but it`s a lie. And lies like that have
been a powerful weapon for those seeking to stop any new kind of gun
control legislation. And it is why despite nearly an estimated 3,300 gun
deaths since the Newtown shooting, the president of the United States still
needs to go on the road months later to rally the American public and put
pressure on lawmakers to change something. Anything.
HARRIS-PERRY: If the debate over guns has faded from national priority
since Newtown shooting, it`s not for lack of trying on President Obama`s
On Wednesday, he traveled to Denver, not far from the site of August mass
shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater to drive the point home that
universal background checks for would be gun owners is the right thing to
do. And that a lot of folks agree with him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: So these enhanced background checks won`t stop all gun crimes, but
they will certainly help prevent some. It`s common sense, and by the way,
most gun owners, more than 80 percent agree this makes sense. More than 70
percent of NRA members agree, 90 percent of the American people agree. So
there`s no reason we can`t do this unless politics is getting in the way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS-PERRY: Yes. You catch that last little bit. The politics getting
in the way. That`s why the president is as subtle as a sledgehammer about
guns, going to Colorado the other day and tomorrow, heading to Connecticut.
We already know that senator Dianne Feinstein`s assault weapons ban likely
won`t even be part of a proposed bill, thanks to Senate majority leader
Harry Reid. But, even if the legislative battle is about to be lost, can
it be a greater victory in how the debate is frank.
Joining me at the table, our business and political strategist, Tara
Dowdell and Arkadi Gerney who is the senior fellow at the center for
American progress. Al so back with us Laura Flanders and Jonathan Metzl.
All right. Is there any way to still win this as a matter of a legislative
fight? Can we get something like reasonable, common sense gun legislation
TARA DOWDELL, MSNBC BUSINESS AND POLITICAL STRATEGIST: Well, I think we
will get something done. I think it`s going to be a piecemeal process,
though. Because I think what we see is an unwillingness to pass big
legislation on the part of the Republican party, quite frankly. That I
think one of the points getting lost in this debate is that why is it that
Republicans are so willing to block things that had such popular American
support. I have one word, gerrymandering.
When the Republicans took control of the state legislatures across the
country, what they did was, they redrew the districts so they were
basically made extremely safe. Remember, Democrats won more votes overall.
HARRIS-PERRY: 500,000 more votes.
DOWDELL: Exactly, but yet, have no control of the House of
Representatives. And this is important point because people need to vote
in their local elections. And people need to vote in the 2014 election
that they want to see real change.
HARRIS-PERRY: OK. So, I`m with you, right? And I mean, I`d like to wave
the gerrymandering flag for all kinds of (INAUDIBLE). But on the other
hand, you know, senate seat obviously aren`t gerrymandering. They`re the
whole state. And this is senator Harry Reid who is a Democrat, right, who
is -- but a Democrat from Nevada, from what particular kind of state.
FLANDERS: That`s a huge part of this. I mean, the democratic majority
rests on a whole bunch of red state Democrats who have had a very very
careful tiptoe job to do to get where they are around gun messaging. So, I
think that`s another part of this picture. I mean, I hate to say it, but
it`s not going to happen.
We haven`t seen any gun measures passed when Democrats didn`t control
Congress in 20 years. And it took five years for the Brady bill even to
pass after Ronald Reagan was shot. I mean, this stuff doesn`t happen
quickly. But I do think it`s a cultural shift but what you`re seeing is
fascinating. You talked about the president going to Colorado. Colorado,
frontier culture state. Big gun owning. But a lot of young implants from
the coasts, young people emigrated to Colorado and a lot of these Latino
voters shifting the culture. And frankly the more that women get a say in
all of this, every piece of data shows women are way more for common sense
gun control and gun violence prevention measures than men by 20 percent.
HARRIS-PERRY: And part of what the data show us is even in so-called gun
culture states, people who are reasonable, lawful gun owners, nonetheless
are supportive for example of universal background checks because they
think, well I pass it.
METZL: Yes. I mean, it makes -- I do think that we`ve had a cultural
step, particularly after Newtown. I mean, we are having gun debate even on
the show since Trayvon Martin. And really, there was something about
Newtown for a bunch of complicated reasons that did seem to awaken things.
So, I agree this shift is something relatively new.
But, I do think as many times as you can say, you know, if you register
your car, you need to get a driver`s license. If I write a prescription
for somebody, they have to go through a bunch of - it is not like they are
going to takes somebody`s prescription or their car.
So, just having that same level of control about guns, there is something
that I think is starting to make sense.
HARRIS-PERRY: It`s a kind of stunning difference that Republicans at the
state and local level are willing to make it much more difficult to vote
than to own a gun, right? I mean, in terms of the kinds of checks.
So, I was also speaking of the state to state. Cody, I was looking at the
report about the notion that the sort of multiple state laws leave us in a
really tough situation, right? So, Connecticut has great laws. Illinois
have great laws but they are abut states that don`t have those good laws
and the guns just flow over the state borders.
ARKADI GERNEY, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: That`s right.
You know, in guns, that point across state lines, but the problem of weak
gun laws is not just a problem up here in the northeast where guns are
coming in from other states, but it`s a problem all over the country
because we actually see that the states with the weakest gun laws have the
highest levels of gun violence. We did a report that was put out last week
from the senate for American Progress and found that the ten states with
the weakest gun laws in the country have a level of gun violence twice that
as high, 104 percent higher, than the 10 states with the strongest gun
And what we need to do is you can try to fix this state by state and think
what`s happened in Colorado is an enormous step forward, because if you can
do it in a purple state like Colorado, you should be able to do it
anywhere. But, you know, the real answer is let`s do something federally
and then the obvious one is universal background checks where the support
is so overwhelming and cling mcgun (ph).
HARRIS-PERRY: So Tara, Even before the 2014 elections, is there a strategy
today that if you`re writing it, you say OK, here`s how we take this public
opinion and turn it into legislation. Because, I keep thinking, part of
the reason we continue our war on terror is because no president wants to
be in a position of a terrorist attack occurring on his or her watch even
if the measures that we`re taking wouldn`t have impacted it. So, why are
Republicans so willing to allow it to happen again on their watch? Another
Aurora, another Newtown.
DOWDELL: And the irony is another Aurora is more likely than a terrorist
attack. That`s the sad irony of the situation.
I think that, again, there`s a myth of the NRA. Because NRA does not have
the power and the clout that if you look at the data and look at the
results, it doesn`t have that power and clout. But there`s a myth of the
power and clout. There`s another dynamic having worked in politics for a
very long time, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. And the NRA is about the
squeakiest wheel that there is out there.
I mean, they put enormous pressure, nonstop pressure on the elected
officials. And so, those folks who want to see change have got to move
with the same level of pressure because that is what -- as a former
staffer, I can tell you. That`s what people respond to and people have to
push back and push back hard.
FLANDERS: There`s a fascinating study in "The New York Times" today by one
of the Obama campaign pollster talking about what people know about the
guns that exist. And it suggests that what you just did talking about what
exactly on the books, is the most valuable work we can be doing. Because
of the vast majority of people, 80, even 90 percent, including 90 percent
of gun owners who support enforcement, stricter enforcement, but not
necessarily new laws, most of them, six out of ten have no idea that
universal background checks do not exist. Assume that your stuff is on the
books. So, they will say, what for enforcement rather than new laws. But,
I have no idea how weak or nonexistent --
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. Part of it is it call loopholes. When 40 percent of
the guns are being sold without background check, that`s not a loophole.
That is established policy.
We are going to talk more on this when we come back because there is
another new report this week. It was released about James Holmes. It was
about what his psychiatrist warned about. And it leads us to asking this
question about the link between mental illness and gun violence. It`s more
complicated than you might think when we come back.
HARRIS-PERRY: We learned this week that James Holmes, the man accused of
killing 12 and injuring 70 in a mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado, back in
August made what a psychiatrist who treated him termed homicidal statements
one month before the ram page at a movie theater.
Doctor Lynn Fenton reported to the university of Colorado police in June
that Holmes posed a threat to the public through violent comments he made
to her. And that Holmes had stopped seeing her. That it began threatening
her via text message.
All right, my psychiatrist friend, Jonathan. What are we to make of that
sort of report?
METZL: Well, I mean, I think that there are two main issues.
Let me say first of all, absolutely, it`s the case that it was tragic in
this case that authorities did not pay more attention. And if you look at
the history of mass shootings in the United States according to, for
example, a great study by Mother Jones having an article. There have been
62 mass shootings in the United States since about the mid-1970s. And in
about 40 of the cases the shooters have had serious mental symptoms like,
you know, psychosis or depression, things like that.
The two problems with this kind of -- the way that this kind of story is
reported, one is that psychiatrists if they had to lock up every single
time they got a report like this. Anyway, as an aggregate group,
psychiatrists really can`t predict who is going to commit mass things. And
so, a lot of times, they will be getting, you know, 25 times a day.
Somebody who is saying violent, the question is do we lock up everybody,
you Know, what`s the role?
And it turns out that psychiatric diagnosis is not a predictive, a
predictive tool in a way. So, in other words, we can prevent things by
taking away people`s guns. But it`s not a predictive tool.
METZL: And the second problem, Jeff Swanson at Duke has terrific research
that he does. Mass shootings. And what he shows is that we generalize
from these very, very rare events. Anyway, again, we have only had 30, 40,
50 of these in the `70s. We have 31,000 on desk a year in the United
State. Build policy based on that. We shoot each other. We shoot
ourselves. There are 2,000 suicides.
FLANDERS: And there are other questions to be asked beyond which piece of
equipment was the person holding. I mean, killing is contextual. There`s
a lot going on. And you talked about the war on terror. I can`t help
think that some of our gun legislation is like TSA strategy. Take off your
shoes to stop terrorism.
No, we have to actually do more -- we have to ask more questions about why
is killing happening. This crazy story out of Georgia, young kids shoot a
baby in the stroller. Yes, but gun is part of the problem but that`s not
the full picture.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. We are always fighting the last war. So, we go back
and prevent the crime. So, now, you take your shoes off because there was
one, And it sort of like what are you missing? That we are always be
innovation here. And yet, it feels to me that this is one of the places
where people start to agree as well. So, they will agree around universal
background checks, and then they will agree crazy people don`t deserve it.
And I think, this is a slippery slope on this notion of mental diagnosis.
METZL: I`ve been lecturing about guns and mental illness. I just gave a
talk at the national public library where we have, you know, huge debate.
And that people were interested. I showed them the data on actual
shootings. It turns out, 85 percent of shootings are done within social
network. It is people you know.
The gun -- the crazy thing is like this fear that some stranger is going to
shoot you and that is a line that is perpetuated by the NRA among other
people. So, what I try to show people when I lecture is actually let`s
work on limiting violence within social network.
FLANDERS: And that goes back to gender again because women -- polling
shows women overwhelming that it`s connected to other issues.
GERNEY: And what`s important about gun background checks is that it`s the
policy that`s not just the most popular, it`s the one that is also going to
have the biggest impact on the likelihood of mass shootings and the
So, for example, gun background checks were implicated in Virginia tech
where the records should have been in for the shooter show there but they
weren`t. Gun background checks and universal checks were implicated at
Columbine where the shooters got their guns and no background check
purchases at a gun show.
So, it is something that`s going to implicate some of these mass shootings,
but it is also, we know from prisoners, surveys of people in prison, that
80 percent of criminals who use guns got their guns from a no background
check transfer. So it is the everyday massacres that we can help prevent
that are taking place across the entire country and it will give us a shot
at preventing some of these mass shootings. It gets so much of the public
HARRIS-PERRY: And Tara, I`ve been asking you about the legislative. But
let me -- on the commercial break we were talking about culture and how
deeply embedded gun culture is. And I`m thinking yes, but tobacco used to
be. I said this a million times, right. Guns remind me of cigarettes in
that there was a time that I would have sat here onset as, you know, as a
TV news person smoking. And even though there are still a lot of people
who smoke. We have change the culture on tobacco. Is it possible to do
that even if we lose the legislative battle to change the culture around
DOWDELL: I actually do think it`s possible to change culture around guns.
And I think it`s necessary. I told the story earlier about my grandfather
growing up. My grandfather had lots of guns. I went to Georgia two weeks
out of every summer and it was nothing to see him riding around with a gun
in the back of a pickup truck and having guns around the house. It was
just part of the culture and part of what made him feel secure. He was a
world war II veteran and had gone through a lot of racial discrimination.
That`s how he sought to protect himself.
But, as time is going by and we are seeing these incidents occur, I do
think that there`s a cultural shift taking place, but I do think, though,
that it`s so important that, again, I don`t want to go back to this point.
We have to push and we have to get information out, the right information
out, like you talked about this earlier, we have to get to the root of the
problem. The research from the CDC, which at somehow people forgotten
about that letting CDC do research on what`s driving this. So there`s
legislation around solutions.
HARRIS-PERRY: This research and information and culture and legislation,
all working hand in hand.
Thank you to Jonathan, Tara and to Arkadi, sorry. Laura is actually going
to stay with us.
But, coming up next, the real reason some teachers cheat.
Also, the comeback of a beloved art institution. The dance theater of
Harlem. There is more Nerdland at the top of the hour.
HARRIS-PERRY: Welcome back. I`m Melissa Harris Perry.
The Atlanta Public School System was rocked to its core last Friday.
Thirty-four school officials and a former school superintendent were
indicted in the nation`s largest school cheating scandal. Indictments that
came in part because of the investigative series "Cheating Our Children" by
"The Atlanta Journal Constitution". Good journalism.
On Tuesday, the teachers, principals and administrators implicated in the
scandal began turning themselves in. Former Atlanta public school
superintendent Beverly Hall also turned herself in. She was able to
negotiate her $7.5 million bond down to $200,000.
The bond for Hall and others was initially so high because they are part of
a 65-count indictment. And that indictment include charges of
racketeering, making false statements and writings, perjury and theft by
taking and influences.
So, yes, as a teacher, my response first is, whoa, this is bad. But I
would like to broaden the conversation a bit.
What I know as a teacher is when you give tests, some kids cheat. That`s
because tests yield grades, which can ultimately affect how well a student
does in life. High stakes testing incentivizes school systems. And that
can lead to cheating leading from an individual in the system as to, as in
alleged in Atlanta, the entire system cheating within the system.
The intensity of the stakes produced teachers no longer responsible to
students but rather educators beholden of teaching to the test, where the
grades that students get become more important than what the students
At the table, Laura Flanders, host and founder of GRITtv.org; Steve Perry,
who you know I like to fight with about education, principal and founder of
Capital Preparatory Management School in Hartford, Connecticut; Linda
Darling-Hammond, professor of education at Stanford and co-director of the
School Redesign Network; and Raymond Williams, principal of North Babylon
High School in Long Island, New York.
OK. So the Atlanta story is horrifying but I also think, you know, you`re
a teacher. If you give tests, some kids writing on their armor getting it
texted or writing on the bottom of their shoe. In this case, this is the
whole system going this way. But it does feel like is it because we`ve
created an incentivized system to cheat because of the tests themselves?
LINDA DARLING-HAMMOND, PROF. OF EDUCATION, STANFORD UNIV.: Well, you know,
in 2000 -- 2002 we passed a law called No Child Left Behind. That law tied
high stakes that is sanctions for schools to test score gains. Every
school has a certain amount of gain it`s supposed to make every year.
If it doesn`t make the gain, the school goes into sanctions, can lose
money, can be closed down. Teachers can be fired. Principals can be
fired. That`s been exacerbated with more recent policies that kind of wear
on. So, you can see how there are huge incentives in the system for people
-- if the scores don`t go up. Currently, almost 90 percent of the schools
in the country have failed to make what the law calls adequate yearly
progress and are in danger of one kind of sanction or another.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, Steve, you and I disagree on the testing and the value
of it. Whatever else we do agree on, is that teachers should be
accountable to their students, right? And schools should be accountable to
their students. But does this testing make them more or less accountable
to the kids themselves?
STEVE PERRY, EDUCATOR: I think it makes them more accountable to the
parents because very often it`s the case that a parent wants to know where
their child is. Where is my child with respect to other children? How far
are they along on the trajectory of being able to read by third grade?
We have allowed too many people to make excuses for the poor behavior of
some individual, not just teachers. This couldn`t have occurred if
teachers who were leading the charge.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. This is --
PERRY: This is 100 percent principals leading the charge and the
administration as a whole, who are having these parties or had these
parties allegedly in which they went through and changed the answers of
children. We have to think about the profound impact of telling the parent
that a child can do something they simply can`t do. It`s no different than
a physician saying to you you`re healthy and then you go on --
HARRIS-PERRY: I want to ask. What does the test tell us that our kids can
do? I guess --
PERRY: Quite a bit. That`s a really good point. One of the things that
they do tells us, is they tell us if they can add whole numbers and
subtract whole numbers. They tell us whether or not a child can write a
Very often, we have the conversation about teaching to the test. If
everyone is teaching to the test, then how come so many are failing? It`s
because they`re ineffectively teaching no matter what they`re teaching.
LAURA FLANDERS, GRITTV.ORG: But we`re not using the test scores to
evaluate progress and to evaluate teaching. We are using them to determine
entire futures of school systems, of schools, of kids.
PERRY: But isn`t that why they`re there?
FLANDERS: This is the --
DARLING-HAMMOND: Not in other countries.
FLANDERS: I don`t think there`s any dispute that it`s good to have
assessment tools. No question. It`s bad to have teachers correcting the
answers of their kids in windowless rooms, with little pencils. But to
have teachers who are terrified that their school is going to lose funding.
To have kids who are terrified their lives are going to be determined by
one test. There`s not a test in American history that`s been shown to be
truly fair on all populations. I mean, this is going to be lead to -- it`s
already leading to not just this Atlanta scandal but cheating in I think 37
states around the country.
PERRY: That`s not the point.
RAYMOND WILLIAMS, PRINCIPAL, NORTH BABYLON HIGH SCHOOL, NY: I think it`s
important to note that this is really Atlanta issue in my opinion, an
ethics issue. It`s about adults, it`s about educators, its` about
professionals making the wrong decisions.
WILLIAMS: You can`t treat that in isolation. You have, for instance,
students now that are reporting to classes. I`m speaking from -- we`re on
the ground. They`re reporting to classes.
When they`re reporting to classes, you have in my opinion, a narrowing of
the curriculum that is slowly happening. In my opinion, again, a narrowing
of the curriculum. When the curriculum narrows, what`s happening? Here`s
what the assessment is going to reflect. And this is what I am going to
teach again to the test.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me suggest this. When a school has a choice, right?
So, one of my concerns when we think particularly about low performing
schools or poor schools, we start thinking of things that poor kids need.
That it`s dramatically different than what well-resourced kids need.
So, it`s just saying that, you know, in private schools have lots of
resources, given an option of high stakes testing or not, schools don`t --
they opt out. And so at the top, people were like, well, no, this would
make life bad for my teachers and for my students, I wonder why do impose
on poor kids and poor communities things that we would not -- I mean, just
saying we know that the kind of cheating ha happens at the top and you know
this, Steve, if you`re in the private school system and you have a kid not
testing well, you get them a diagnosis so that they get time and a half on
their testing, right?
So, then you end up with -- I`m not saying that no kid deserves that. I`m
saying the tools we use are still cheating tools. They`re just very
different than the --
PERRY: But the conversation around the narrowing of the curriculum is one
that, again, allows us to absolve teachers from the responsibility of
effectively teaching. If it was so narrow, if it`s so narrow, then how
come we`re not doing better? It`s not just poor black and Latino kids.
That`s not what it is.
As a country, the reason why we`re in the bottom quartile in the world is
not because of a couple kids failing an examination. It`s because we`re
doing a bad job of conveying skills to children. Teaching to the test, the
test itself measures basic skills. And when kids can`t do basic skills
because we as educators are not doing a good job of teaching them.
DARLING-HAMMOND: There`s a lot of misconceptions about what goes on
approximate our tests in this country versus those in other countries in
the world. We`re in the top half of the world in reading and science, in
the bottom tier in math.
But the tests that we use are different than the tests in high achieving
countries. They have open ended essay examinations and oral examinations.
Kids are doing scientific investigations and research papers. Teachers
score those. They`re part of the examination, an accountability system.
Almost all of our test are multiple choice test. There`s an occasional
essay in some states like Connecticut, but in others. So, you`ve got kids
all across the country who are spending most of their time bubbling in,
finding one answer out of five. Rather than as we`ve learned in the
research, they`re not doing science anymore in a lot of schools, they`re
not doing social studies, they`re not doing writing. They`re not doing
debates or discussions or investigations.
They`re not going to be competitive with others in the world because we`re
driving all of our effort around these high stakes tests, which are poor
measures of the range of things that kids are learning elsewhere.
HARRIS-PERRY: And so, I appreciate you setting it in a multinational
context. In part, because we think of this as a national race in terms of
education. But even within the U.S. context, I`m just thinking you`re at
Stanford, I`m at Tulane, previously Princeton. We know that kids who end
up in our classrooms weren`t doing bubbling Scantrons, right? They were in
schools where they had science labs and recreation programs and music
And the fact is, I just feel like there`s this constant sense on the one
hand of this -- I get you, we got to know that kids can just read. Yes, of
course we do.
DARLING-HAMMOND: But we actually should be giving them tests that allow
them to read rather than bubbling in.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let`s take a break. There`s a lot of heat. Take a break.
We`re coming right back on exactly this topic.
HARRIS-PERRY: The Atlanta Public School System may be embroiled in a major
cheating scandal now, but it`s not the only one that has bitten by the
cheating bug, between 2008 and 2012, one or more cases of cheating were
documented in 37 different states as well as the District of Columbia,
In order to meet the demands of high stakes testing, teachers and
administrators have been known to resort to tactics like letting high
scorers take test for others, shouting out correct answers, leaving the
classroom unattended during tests, giving students notes with correct
School system may be driven to these lengths because of greed and political
gain. But the bottom line is that high stakes system has had some
dangerous consequences. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing
criticizes the practice, saying high stakes standardized testing is unfair
to students, denying them a fair opportunity to learn. That it leaves, it
increases grade retention and dropping out, produces teaching to the test,
limiting what students learn, drives out good teachers and misinforms the
public about how well a school is performing.
Cheating is one thing. But creating a system that fails our students is
another thing altogether.
So, principal, I want to come to you on this because I do -- I mean, OK,
Atlanta, they`re erasing and putting allegedly in new answers, right? But
if I`m in a school where I want my grades to do well in terms of testing or
I want to be able to say my seniors get into college, then I just start
kicking out the bad kids around behavioral issues in freshman, sophomore,
junior year. That`s still cheating even if it`s not erasing and putting in
WILLIAMS: You know, as far as kicking kids out of classes, I don`t know so
much if that`s a reality, because the teacher dos not necessarily have that
power to remove that student from the classroom, does not have that power.
If the administration is active and is properly supervising that structure,
then it`s very difficult for one to say, you know what? I`m just going to
remove you from my classroom.
This is not in my opinion 20, 30 years ago when you remove a student from a
classroom, there`s not a procedure. Now there`s a process, there`s a
procedure. If I`m going to remove this student because I don`t believe in
their ability and so forth as an underlying reason to remove the student,
there must be a report, there must be something filed, information leading
-- coming to the administrator in their respective building.
HARRIS-PERRY: But that`s become easier to do in a zero tolerance school.
So, let me -
DARLING-HAMMOND: Let me just say something about the research on this,
because we`ve now got many studies. One of which I did with some
colleagues but there are many others which show that whole systems have
created policies that eliminate high need/low scoring kids from school. In
Texas, where the Texas miracle started, where there`s this idea that
everybody does better high stakes test and that led to the test and punish
policies we have nationally now.
We found that in one of the largest districts in that state, two thirds of
the kids in high school were pushed out before graduation. They were
withheld back in ninth grade and only 12 percent of the kids held back ever
were able to take the test and graduate. We found they were kicked out
with zero tolerance policies. Large scales --
HARRIS-PERRY: My practitioners are going nuts. Academics like this is --
HARRIS-PERRY: They`re going nuts.
PERRY: How about asking the people who actually administer the
DARLING-HAMMOND: We did interview 100 administrators in that district and
teachers who told us how they were excluding kids from school.
PERRY: We have a student who is not present on the day of exam, it
actually counts against you. So, I don`t know how you can remove a kid to
up your scores.
DARLING-HAMMOND: The school entirely not just the day of the exam.
PERRY: They are in the school system and everyone in the school system
must take these tests if they`re in school. And we`re responsible, if
these are our students. The bottom line is this --
DARLING-HAMMOND: If they`re in school is the question.
PERRY: -- that if the conversation is around student performance, we run
schools, principal Williams runs a larger school than I, 1,500. I run 700.
His is more suburban than mine. Yet our performance is commensurate with
We have about 60 percent poor areas, he`s about 10 percent, 11 percent
poor. Yet our performance is commensurate in some cases we may outperform
their school. This is not hyperbole. This is the truth.
So, the testing -- teaching to the test and student performance is relevant
because our students need to be in places where we can measure their
performance and we need to be able to determine at heart at least the
value-added experience for a child in classroom. There do need to be
adjustments made in the way we administer examinations like we shouldn`t do
it all in one month. That`s absurd. It should be broken down over the
course of the year. There should be smaller exams, more in line with what
happens in the day-to-day operations of the school.
But at the end of the day, we need a standard measure, not going to be
loved by everyone in which we can determine two o third graders are reading
at a third grade level.
FLANDERS: But in a way, we`re talking cross-purposes I think. You`re
talking about assessment and testing and tools and standardized tests. We
can have our discussions about standardized tests and the history of bias
in those tests.
But what we`re really talking about is a high stakes mechanism, this no
excuse motto that`s been coming out of the Department of Education, over
success of administrations. No excuses when you`ve got a standard that you
want 100 percent success in these tests or the school failed, you`ve got an
agenda for no explanation, no inquiry, no explanation, no discussion of how
exactly is a kid faring -- what might make it an educational climate more
successful, not just this one moment of testing.
HARRIS-PERRY: I`m wondering how it makes us do odd things. As much as I
want to absolutely honor what you`re saying about the numbers that you`re
looking at, I think we have to honor the professors on some of this. Some
of the things we know for example in places that have high stakes testing,
library budgets get cut from buying books in order to instead buy test prep
I just want to say, there`s no educator. There`s no involved parent,
there`s no kids who thinks it makes more sense not to teach a kid to read
not through books and learning of great literature and exploration of
stories and ideas, but instead through test prep, right?
That is when we just look at the budget and you can see that in places that
have high stakes testing, they spend the library budget on test prep. That
alone says to me, yes, I hear your story. But on the other hand, if that`s
the measure, then you haven`t measured something about an engagement.
PERRY: But you as professor would be the first to say that overwhelmingly
more and more students are coming in incapable of doing the basic thing --
PERRY: -- not because they -- they haven`t been taught, because the tests
are actually working.
HARRIS-PERRY: Is there some reason to -- let me ask this. Is there some
reason to believe that at some point in our development as a nation,
teachers just started hating students and being bad at their jobs.
PERRY: I didn`t say it was about hate.
HARRIS-PERRY: Or started being bad --
PERRY: Been tested before.
HARRIS-PERRY: But if you`re telling me that there was a point at which as
a college professor, I would have had students who did a good job on
writing their essays and now I don`t. What I`m asking, is in 1990, did
teachers say you know what, screw it, I`m down?
PERRY: But that`s a false argument, though.
DARLING-HAMMOND: The multiple choice tests became the basis of high
stakes, that`s when very little writing, when writing decreased in schools,
because if you`re held accountable, in most states, the states are
exclusively multiple choice. There`s no time in the curriculum for writing
when you`re teaching to those tests.
I do want to say something about the fact that Connecticut is a very
different state with respect to the stakes that it`s had on its tests than
Texas or Georgia. Georgia, Texas, some other places started tie-in test
source, multiple choice test scores to student promotions, graduation,
teacher merit pay, bonuses for principals, school continuation long before
many other states did. That range of stakes, the reason we see the large
scale push-out of kids into the school to prison pipeline is because high
stakes were higher and greater there and longer term than they are in other
states where they`re just beginning to come online.
So, Connecticut and New York are just beginning to experience what some
other states experiencing for some time.
HARRIS-PERRY: Stay right there. We`ll come back on these issues. There`s
a lot to say about testing.
HARRIS-PERRY: We`re talking and fussing a little bit about what`s wrong
with our testing system within education. Let me suggest this. Everybody
knows we`ve got to evaluate. But testing cannot be the only measure of a
student, teacher or school`s success.
Let`s broaden our educational lens a bit and ask how can we assess in a way
that is more experiential, hands-on and holistic as a process for everybody
involved? What would that look like?
WILLIAMS: I always say this. When you look at science classes,
particularly in high schools, you have the lab component. There`s an
exploration of learning. There`s a reinforcement of the initial
instruction that took place either the day before or the period before
And I think when you look at that type of evaluation system where the
educator is evaluating that child about that hands-on experience, they`re
fully evaluating that whole child in that moment. It`s not just this
touching on the filling in the bubble, limited thinking, that skill and
drill, that may have occurred the day before that they`re responding to, to
prepare them for that assessment.
HARRIS-PERRY: Can I also suggest this, this we learn from science?
Failure is the only way to learn, right? In a lab, I mean, this is part of
one of the things that makes me -- made it tough for me to do science
because I`m a little bit of a perfectionist, right? You got to fail, fail,
fail before your experiment works.
And what concerns me about the high stakes testing and the way that we test
is we take away children`s willingness do the hard thing. If I have to
only do the things I succeed at, I won`t try the hard stuff because I might
fail. That`s what like the creative energy of education.
PERRY: But that`s not being taken away from them. We`re talking about a
couple tests in a couple days of the year. There are multiple
opportunities with effective educators that -- when I say educators, I
don`t just mean teachers, I`m talking about principals and everyone else in
the building, social workers, for them to provide multiple types of
assessments. It`s not just the examination.
However, we need some form of measurement that says this school, aggregate,
these individuals and their teaching are either doing their job, which is
to teach basic skills or not.
DARLING-HAMMOND: But there are other ways to do it. We`re alone in the
world in requiring multiple choice tests for our kids.
The high-achieving countries don`t do that. Their assessments are open
ended, essay examinations. You can`t cheat on them in the same way.
They`re oral. They`re plan and experiment. Conduct your experiment.
Write up your results, these are bigger projects that actually test the
skills that we need in the 21st century. That`s what they do in their
assessment and examination. They don`t use the tools we do. We`ve got to
move beyond the kind of bubble and Scantron approach to testing that we`ve
been attached to.
HARRIS-PERRY: We had the NPR folks who did the Harper high school in-depth
reporting on the show a couple of weeks ago. What I kept thinking as I was
listening to the Harper story on NPR, that I heard fairly little about what
was happening in the classroom, right? In part, because what the teachers
and administrators were doing is keeping the kids alive, keeping them fed,
and I kept thinking how does any of this measure that?
So, I hear you. I want to figure out, is a school a good school or not?
But part of how I know if a school is performing isn`t just what happens on
the test. It`s the thing that that school is in a community, the extent to
which it creates a safe place to go, the extent to which people feel
connected to it. You know, the place where my kids first went to
elementary school, everybody knows the principal, he`s been there for 20,
Those are things that I want to figure out how do we measure that?
FLANDERS: It`s not just the bubbles on the tests that are the problem.
It`s the bubbles we put around the school as if what happens in that school
and everything else that you`ve talked about.
Again, it goes back to in a way what we were talking about in the earlier
hour on the gun discussion, this is contextual. There`s a context for how
kids are performing. There has to do more than a whole lot more with the
teacher, it has to do the economics of the school, it has to do with the
environment, the community.
PERRY: We`re not -- it doesn`t.
DARLING-HAMMOND: Just to reinforce, we spend three times as much in the
high spending schools in most states as we do in the lowest spending
schools. We spend more on the education of affluent kids owe in more
PERRY: That`s not true. That`s not true at all.
PERRY: That`s not true at all. In Newark, New Jersey, there`s been
$24,000 per pupil, and there`s no other city in the state that spends that
much. In fact, if you look at many states --
DARLING-HAMMOND: That`s not true, New Jersey has districts that spend as
high as $35,000.
PERRY: One of the things you`ll find is that the reason why the children
are not performing is not because they are poor, it is because they are in
a poorly run school and poorly run classroom.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me suggest there is invisible spending. Let me suggest
this. If you are in wealthy school districts, parents are also paying for
tutors after school, enrichment activities and very expensive summer cams.
It`s April, right?
So, we don`t count any of that when we talk about per pupil spending,
right? Some of it is that there are huge disparities in some states, some
of it is we miss a lot of the invisible spending that goes on.
I guess, what I want to be clear about, I`m not saying poor kids can`t
learn. That is crazy. Poor kids are absolutely capable of learning.
PERRY: Two of them are here right now.
PERRY: I mean, we`re so --
HARRIS-PERRY: I live in New Orleans. I watch our poor kids learn all
kinds of -- in fact, I see them stand on the street corner in my
neighborhood and play brass instruments at 8 and 9 years old. I mean,
they`re amazing and exceptional.
I tell you what? I bet they don`t test well. I bet the 9-year-old
standing on my corner playing the trumpet.
PERRY: Because of where they go to school.
HARRIS-PERRY: Right. No doubt.
But I guess what I`m saying is how do I somehow provide a way of measuring
the extraordinary capacity of that 9-year-old playing the trumpet?
WILLIAMS: May I say something quick on the assessment piece. With this
heavy focus on the assessment, which is absolutely critical and important,
you also have young people that, when they`re -- when they`re in the
classrooms, it`s such a difficult transition for them if they`re coming
from a disenfranchised household, community where they`re in great need of
It`s very, very difficult for that educator -- again, I know I`m looping
back. It`s very, very difficult for that educator who wants to do well,
who wants to appear or see that there are indeed effective, who sometimes
does not understand the plight of that young person.
It`s very difficult for them to reach those individuals. It`s very
difficult to have someone that`s never been exposed to those elements. I
know it`s in part our jobs to bring it to their consciousness. They`re
utilizing professional development and also making every single effort that
we can during the regular school day to reach every single student and
passing it on to them that we believe that you are able, that you are
capable. It`s just a very difficult dynamic.
HARRIS-PERRY: It is.
You know, more than anything, I want to end there because I think that is
what I absolutely value. It is difficult, right? I`m getting beat up in
the press these days for talking about the notion that kids are not just
our own individual kids, they`re our kids. We have collective
responsibility, our schools, our communities.
And whether you and I agree or not, one thing I know for certain the people
at this table care about our kids. Not just the ones we birth, but the
ones we`re all responsible for.
So, thank you for that, and thank you to my panel, Laura, Steve, Linda and
One of the things kids should have more of is the arts. And, in fact, he
Dance Theatre of Harlem, then and now, when we come back. This is a love
institution, it`s back home.
HARRIS-PERRY: Like many art forms, dance is an expression that reflects a
society in which it exists. Especially for Arthur Mitchell (ph), the co-
founder of the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the first black classical ballet
company. The struggles and triumphs of the civil rights era.
In our vault this morning, a look back at some of his teachings.
ARTHUR MITCHELL, BALLET DANCER: Most of the people that come from here
succeed. Wherever they go, they do very, very well because of the
discipline. And that is what I`ve tried to instill in all the young people
here. They do not realize or comprehend the fact that they can`t do
anything, least of all because of their skin color.
REPORTER: Arthur Mitchell`s lesson is with dedication and pride in your
work, you can do anything. He did when against all odds and contrary to
some critics, he danced in the George Balanchine`s New York City Ballet,
the first black in a major classical dance company.
It was an important lesson for the children of Harlem in 1968, the year he
founded his international recognized school in professional dance theater.
But it almost vanished this year, facing a $1.7 million loss, the Dance
Theatre of Harlem laid off all its dancers for the summer. Ha taught
Mitchell something more about his art.
ARTHUR: We really have to run it more like a business. We have to take a
very, very big step and bigger pill to cancel the New York season, lay the
dancers off, part of the technicians and part of the administrative staff
and it was very hard step for me to take. But also a very big growth step
HARRIS-PERRY: Even after the layoffs and outside funding, budgetary
constraints forced them to cease performing in 2004. We are thrilled to
announce that this year they`re back and in full effect.
We`ll talk to the people behind the rebirth of the Dance Theatre of Harlem
after the break.
HARRIS-PERRY: Before the break, we highlighted the incredible work that
African-American Arthur Mitchell who co-founded the Dance Theatre of
Harlem. This happened shortly after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr.
The company broke barriers, presenting classically trained black ballet
dancers to the world.
In 1988, Dance Theatre of Harlem was the first American ballet company to
perform in the former Soviet Union receiving a rare standing ovation during
the landmark five-week tour. The company continued to win accolades
despite financial difficulties that put the professional troupe on hiatus
in 2004. Now back and better than ever, the Dance Theatre of Harlem will
begin performing this Wednesday at the Rose Theater at Jazz at Lincoln
Center here in New York City.
I`m pleased to o welcome Virginia Johnson, the artistic director, and once
the principal dancer at Dance Theatre of Harlem. And Robert Garland, the
resident choreographer of the company.
I`ve enjoyed you guys sitting here while we`ve been seeing some of the
film. I see you in fact doing sort of ballerina sitting up straight as
ROBERT GARLAND, DANCE THEATRE OF HARLEM: Absolutely.
HARRIS-PERRY: How are you feeling about it being back?
VIRGINIA JOHNSON, DANCE THEATRE OF HARLEM: This is an incredible moment
for Dance Theatre of Harlem. As you said, we`ve been gone eight years. A
brand new company continuing the legacy of Arthur Mitchell, that means the
HARRIS-PERRY: Now, you know, part of that moment in the 1960s was about
demonstrating that African-Americans could do this sort of dance, could be
classically trained ballerinas. How important is that message still today
or is Dance Theatre of Harlem going to be a more integrated company with a
different kind of goal?
GARLAND: Well, truth be told, the company was always integrated and
reflective of hits community, there were always Dominicans and Puerto
Ricans. And worldwide, we have always have people, African-American, I
mean, not African-American, but people of African descent, from Paris, all
over the world.
So, this company will look more like that except that people will be more
ready for it because they`re more used to it now. So, it`s going to be a
good time for us once again.
HARRIS-PERRY: So, does a gentrified Harlem mean a gentrified Dance Theatre
of Harlem? I don`t mean that in the negative notion of what gentrification
means. I mean in the sense of a different kind as there was a decade ago
or four decades ago.
JOHNSON: The thing is, we want to put the emphasis on ballet on what is
this art form and what does this art form do in this century. So, it`s not
to say that it belongs to one group of people or another, but to have a
diverse group of dancers showing what the possibilities of the art form
HARRIS-PERRY: So, what are they? What is ballet? Why should we care?
JOHNSON: Ballet is an art form that helps you understand what it is to be
alive. It is -- we do the classical ballets, we do neoclassical ballets
like Mr. Balanchine`s work. We also do contemporary ballets that talk
about African-American life in the 21st century.
HARRIS-PERRY: There is that classic question that`s sometimes asked of
philosophically in terms of self-help, what is the one thing you would do
if you knew that success was guaranteed and money was no object? The
answer is always I`d be a ballerina. Of course, I absolutely cannot be a
ballerina, you know, even having danced as a kid.
It`s in part because that language that you just used, that it is about
showing what is possible every time I see the dancers, I just think, look
at that human body doing that amazing thing.
GARLAND: Oh, absolutely. The human body is an incredible thing to work
with all day. We have this great technology with our phones and computers,
there`s nothing like technology of the ear, the eye, our sense of smell,
and all these things go into being a dancer, because you have to lead with
So, you also have to take care of it very well which gets into eating
healthy, having a healthy lifestyle, things like that.
HARRIS-PERRY: Let me push on that a little bit. What difference does it
make for me as a viewer to go and see a performance live versus pulling it
up on my iPhone or iPad and simply watching the performance?
JOHNSON: That`s a great question. Because you can see wonderful things on
this electronic device. You can see the outline of the performance.
But when you`re in the theater, it`s a 360-degree exchange. The dancers
are giving the audience is giving to the dancers. There`s a tremendous
electricity that happens and you`re in the theater, you`re sitting with
2,000 people that you don`t know and you`re sharing an experience that`s
only happening that one time. You can`t touch that with electronics.
HARRIS-PERRY: This is a smaller Dance Theatre of Harlem, right? There are
18 dancers as opposed to 44 which is where it went out at the height. Are
young people today still having the opportunity to train as dancers very
young? Is there the pool that you need to -- both at the Dance Theatre of
Harlem but anywhere to draw from, particularly here in the U.S.?
GARLAND: Well, at our school we have tons of scholarships that we give out
because for African-American students particularly, the socioeconomic
challenges can be such that might be prohibitive towards studying ballet.
But in the end, we get them, we give them the scholarships they need. We
train them and they go and do wonderful thing.
You know, it is a challenge. We`re seeking money for scholarships in our
school because Mr. Mitchell initially wanted just a school and then people
came that were already trained, adults. So we sort of had to make a
company. That became our advertisement around the world when we were in
the company together. So --
HARRIS-PERRY: What is it like to be in these positions of leadership
within the company?
JOHNSON: It`s a huge responsibility. I became a ballerina because Arthur
Mitchell made it possible for me to fulfill that dream. Now, that`s my job
to make it possible for another generation of dancers to have that chance
to be challenged against this art form and make something more of
themselves than even they can imagine.
So, yes, it`s a responsibility, it`s a great joy. You know, there`s
nothing like dancing as you say. It is the most exquisite thing and it
uplifts the spirit. Being a part of that makes all the hard work much more
HARRIS-PERRY: Talk to me about why something like the Dance Theatre of
Harlem, we had Misty Copeland on fairly early on. I am both awed by her,
my director who would never take the camera off of her the entire time she
was sitting here is completely awed by her, my younger daughter.
And one of the arguments she made to me was we need to African-American
dancers, we need dancers of color to sort of integrate the places like the
American ballet theater. Why do we need the Dance Theatre of Harlem? Why
bring it back at this moment?
GARLAND: You know, back when I was a founder of the company, there was a
tremendous leveling influence that occurred. We had works by George
Balanchine, but then we had works by other prominent African-American
choreographers. So, it isn`t just the dancers, but myself as a
choreographer. I get to choreograph James Brown, Aretha Franklin, which I
had, which will be in the season. And it`s not an odd thing, because it`s
dancers of Harlem. That`s one of the benefits.
HARRIS-PERRY: In fact, I am thrilled that you all are back and I cannot
wait to come and see a performance and bring my daughter to see one as
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you for being back.
GARLAND: Thank you.
HARRIS-PERRY: Thank you to Virginia Johnson and Robert Garland. Before we
go to break, I need to pay tribute to Roger Ebert, the beloved film critic
for the "Chicago Sun-Times." He passed away after a long battle with
thyroid cancer. More than 40 years this Pulitzer Prize winner shared his
passion for the movies with us. I don`t want to miss this part of the
He helped to promote a more diverse Hollywood. He was an early champion of
African-American filmmakers and stars like Spike Lee and Denzel Washington.
As President Obama said, the movies will not be the same without Roger.
Up next, the teens daring to dance across the racial divide.
HARRIS-PERRY: At Tulane University, I direct the Anna Julia Cooper Project
on gender, race and politics in the South. Each year, we sponsor an essay
This year, the Cooper Project asked students to reflect upon this question,
what do you think is valuable about having integrated classrooms and
Julia Simon, a seventh grade student at Lusher Charter School won in the
seventh and eighth grade division.
In her essay, Julia wrote, "In an integrated classroom you get to see many
points of view and you learn to appreciate how other people see things. If
there aren`t other people to learn from, then it`s harder to appreciate
someone else later."
Julia is not even yet a teenager but her essay echoes the sentiments of one
of America`s great jurists, Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren.
Writing for a unanimous court in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954,
Warren argued, "We conclude that in the field of public education, the
doctrine of separate but equal has no place, separate educational
facilities are inherently unequal."
Integration improves and enriches our lives. That fact was plain to a
unanimous Supreme Court in 1950s. And it is clear to a brilliant seventh
grade student today.
But many parents at Wilcox County, Georgia, still don`t get it today, which
is why these adults continue to plan and sponsor segregated high school
proms. Since the proms are private parties, not school-sponsored events,
these parents as -- a matter of practice and prejudice -- hold separate
senior proms for white and black students.
But this year, a group of courageous students at WCHS decided that
segregation had stood long enough. They began a campaign to fundraise for
an integrated prom. They launched the Facebook, got a ton of public
attention. And late in the week they announced having raised enough money
to throw a prom, together, all of them regardless of race.
They posted this message to their donors saying we believe with love you
opened up your hearts so we they thank you again from the bottom of our
hearts. And so, we say thank you again from the bottom of our hearts.
Honestly, I kind of can`t believe that in 2013, I find myself in a position
of reporting on the victory of achieving an integrated school dance. I
mean, I can`t believe that students have to use social media and bake sales
in order to subvert adults who only offer them the status quo of
People, how many times are we going to need to learn this lesson.
Thank goodness there`s people willing to teach it to us again and again and
again. Maybe we will someday be eventually smart enough to learn it for
And that`s our show for today. Thanks to you at home for watching. I want
to see you next Saturday, 10:00 Eastern.
And now, it`s time for a preview with "WEEKENDS with ALEX WITT" with Alex.
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