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Dr. Bettina Love & W. Kamau Bell

Tuesday, September 19, 2023
7:30pm Pacific Time
KQED Broadcast: 10/01/2023

We've made a recording of this event free to all. Please support our institution and these productions by making a tax-deductible contribution.

“I am an eighties baby who grew to hate school. I never fully understood why. Until now. Until Bettina Love unapologetically and painstakingly chronicled the last forty years of education ‘reform’ in this landmark book. I hated school because it warred on me. I hated school because I loved to dream.” Ibram X. Kendi, New York Times bestselling author of How to be an Antiracist

Dr. Bettina L. Love is an award-winning author and the William F. Russell Professor at Teachers College, Columbia University. Her writing, research, teaching, and educational advocacy work meet at the intersection of disrupting education reform and strengthening public education through abolitionist teaching, antiracism, Black joy, and educational reparations. In the tradition of Michelle Alexander, Love’s new book Punished for Dreaming: How School Reform Harms Black Children and How We Heal is an unflinching reckoning with the impact of forty years of racist public school policy on generations of Black lives.

Kamau Bell is a dad, a husband, and a comedian. He directed and executive produced the 2022 Showtime documentary We Need To Talk About Cosby, and he is the host of the Emmy-Award-winning CNN docu-series United Shades of America with W. Kamau Bell. Bell has appeared on just about every late night comedy show, daytime news program, and broadcast media outlet you can think of, and his writing has been featured widely, including in his memoir and manifesto The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6′ 4″, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian. He has two stand-up comedy specials, Private School Negro and Semi-Prominent Negro.

Photo Credit: Aundre Larrow for The New York Times

Books Referenced

Films/TV Shows Referenced

Songs Referenced

Writers/Authors/Filmmakers/Artists Referenced

  • bell hooks
  • Public Enemy
  • Chuck D
  • Digable Planets
  • Patricia Williams
  • Earth, Wind & Fire
  • Carl Brigham 
  • Mariame Kaba
  • Erica R. Meiners 
  • Ron DeSantis 
  • Ronald Reagan 
  • Daryl Gates
  • Rodney King
  • Bill Gates
  • Harriett Ball
  • Asa Hilliard
  • Danny Masterson 
  • Shanyce L. Campbell
  • Hope Wollensack
  • Nzinga H. Broussard
  • Derecka Purnell
  • Trevor Noah
  • Dylan Rodriguez 
  • Lindsey Stewart 
  • Zora Neale Hurston 
  • Carol Anderson
  • Leigh Patel
  • Gholdy Muhammad 
  • Bayard Rustin 


Bettina Love: Yo, this is wild. It’s a book on education.

W. Kamau Bell: That’s how we do in the Bay Area. Education!

[Cheers from audience]

It’s how we do. It’s how we do. It’s how we were raised.

Bettina Love: I was told to say: What up, Oakland? 

[Cheers from audience]

You were right.

W. Kamau Bell: Did I lie? 

Bettina Love: You did not lie. You were exactly right.

W. Kamau Bell: I was like, “I know we’re in San Francisco, technically… But I’m pretty sure some people made the BART trip over from Oakland.” 

And also, hello, San Francisco. But now we’re gonna do all the cities. What’s up Emeryville? Hercules in the hizzouse! I’m just going to name more and more obscure Bay Area cities. 

Bettina Love: I know none of them.

W. Kamau Bell: Okay. Yeah, I should move on. So, first of all, you’ve had a busy day. How are you doing? 

Bettina Love: I’m doing well. I left Seattle at four in the morning, got here around 6:30. I had an interesting day–a very moving, loving, thoughtful day at San Quentin, met with some brothers inside who, when I tell you read my book… Mr. Willis told me there were some things I conflated. And he was exactly right. I said, “You are exactly right. Maybe I need to go back. Maybe when the second edition comes out, I need to add a few things in there.” 

But it was amazing just to be in a space that was so loving, so kind, so thoughtful. And I asked them, “When people ask me what it was like, what do you want me to tell them?”

And they said, “You tell them that we want love, that we are deserving of love.” And the thing that really got me the most was Pitt. He said that, “There are some lifers in here. And when these young men leave, we teach them. There’s nobody, you know, there’s no saviors. We are teaching these young men how to go back in society and be strong, thoughtful, loving, kind young men.”

And there was a moment where me and Anthony almost broke, he was crying. I was fighting back tears, because we were just talking about the beauty of bell hooks. And bell hooks was one of my good friends before she made her transition. So it was an amazing afternoon that I will hold for a very long time.

W. Kamau Bell: I’m so happy when I saw the pictures on Instagram of you at San Quentin. I went there before the pandemic and finally we got the chance to go back a few months ago. 

Are there people here who volunteer at San Quentin? Anybody in here who does that? Yeah. Next time it should be more people clapping. But yeah, it is a very powerful space. And you think you’re going there to do something, not that you’re saying this, but in your mind, I think a lot of people, “I’m going to go help them.” And you come out and it’s like, “Oh, I need this too. And I need to take the message to the people about this.” 

Bettina Love: Yeah, and I need to rewrite some chapters.

W. Kamau Bell: Yeah. Also, you made some mistakes and you need to get on that.

Bettina Love: I was like, “That’s a good point!”

W. Kamau Bell: When they read, they’re not messing around. So, you were there to talk about your book. Let’s talk about your book. It’s so interesting, because for me, the question is not only why did you write it, but why did you write it the way you wrote it?

And by that I mean, as I’m reading it, I’m like, “Bars! Mic drop!” It is written with an energy and a spirit that you don’t normally think of about a text about the education system. Or something that could be sort of wonky, and it does not, it doesn’t wonk. I mean, it wonks when it needs to wonk. 

Bettina Love: I appreciate that.

W. Kamau Bell: No, it wonks.

Bettina Love: It wonks.

W. Kamau Bell: You wonk the heck out of it. It’s hecka wonky. I mean, in the best way, it’s kind of like, I mean–I hope you take this as a flattering comparison– like a Public Enemy album from back in the day.

Bettina Love: I’ll take it, I’ll take it! Come on now! Education with that umph in it.

W. Kamau Bell: Chuck D brought the wonk to hip hop. CNN for Black people. So what was it about the way you wrote it? Was that a choice or did it just come out that way?

Bettina Love: So, I’m my mother’s child. I’m Patti’s child. You are reading the book that my father–nickname was Honey Love. You gotta be a cool motherf***** for your nickname to be ‘Honey Love’ and you a grown man. Like, that was my father. Grown men would call my father Honey, okay? So you a smooth cat when grown men call you Honey. And my mother was Patti. And I grew up in a household where I was told, “You give them hell.” 

That’s what my mother would say to me on any given day, particularly about a big basketball game. She was like, “Did you give him hell?” And I’m like, “What does that mean? But I like it!” And so I grew up in a household where you had to give them hell. And I tell this story–my sister gets really upset, but it’s the truth: One time my sister was on the telephone, and I’m the baby in the family, so I have a brother who’s 14 years older than me, I have a sister who’s 10 years older than me. If you asked Patti, she would tell you I was a mistake and her tubes were tied. She’s lying about that. Tubes tied? She’s just laying it on thick, but that’s, I don’t know.

W. Kamau Bell: Yeah, you don’t normally go, “It’s been 10 years, let’s have one more.” 

Bettina Love: So, my sister was on the phone and you know, sometimes when Black folks get on the phone, they change their voice–”Hello, how are you?” So my sister was doing a “Hello, how are you” and I could see my mother fuming. And so now, I’m like six, I’m like, “Ooh, she ‘bout to get it!” So I get a nice view cause I know what’s about to happen. And when my sister hangs up that phone, oh, my mother lays into her. “Don’t you ever change your voice for no white folks. Don’t you ever change who you are!”

And so I grew up in a household where being authentic got you brownie points. So I could come home with bad grades and be like, “Yo, the teacher said so and so, and I said this back.” My mother would be like, “Yeah!” Or if something happened, and I stood up for a friend, my mother would be like, “What did you do?” And everything that I didn’t do would go away. 

So I grew up in a household where being authentic was the most important thing. When I told my mother that I was a lesbian, my mother said, “We’ve been waiting on you. Where have you been? We knew that a long time ago. We’ve been just sitting here waiting, having conversations, calling you gay. Like, ‘This kid is gay. She’s gay as f**k, I wish she would just come out.’” So I don’t know how to turn that off. So my writing is that. I’m Patti’s child. You see Patti’s child in my writing.

W. Kamau Bell: Well, thank you, Patti. Let’s give it up for Patti, first of all. And Honey. Give it up for Honey. 

Bettina Love: Go ahead and say it, grown man. Honey. 

W. Kamau Bell: Good job, Honey. I find that, in the work I do, you want people to understand it. You want people to be able to converse with it and work with it. And also for me, since I’m not a professor, a college dropout, I also don’t want people to think I’m trying to talk over their heads.

I think that’s what is so great about this is that you have all the, as we talked about there, you could flex on these people. I introduced you as ‘Professor’ out of respect, you didn’t even ask for that. But I was like, “No, I’m saying professor ‘cause I like saying that about people I know.”

Bettina Love: Well, you know what, when you have the last name Love, you have to…It’s tricky, because if I say “Dr. Love,” people don’t think I’m a doctor. They think I’m a DJ. If I say “Professor Love,” they think I’m a hip hop artist. 

W. Kamau Bell: It does sound like a nineties conscious hip hop artist. 

Bettina Love: Right, like ‘Power to the people! Soul–”

W. Kamau Bell: –‘Yeah, I saw Professor Love with Digable Planets back in the day!’

Bettina Love: The last name Love, it doesn’t work. So I’m like, you know, just Tina.

W. Kamau Bell: So many stories from the book…There’s a lot of hardcore evidence, but also just stories that I related to as a Black kid who grew up in all sorts of different versions of America’s school system: public, private. I’m too old for charter, but I might have been through there if that had happened. And I moved around a lot, so I was in lots of different schools for short periods of time. I like to play with fire. Anyway, just kidding. Just had a mom with an opinion. 

So we moved around a lot, and so some of these stories I really related to, like how teachers change in different environments. And there are stories in here that you told that reminded me of a story that happened to me in eighth grade, and I just want to tell you the story and see your thoughts on it. 

So I was in eighth grade at a Catholic school in Mobile, Alabama. I was not Catholic–it’s not going there, slow down everybody. One day I’m in class, I was doing something and I was standing up and my teacher goes, “Every time I see you, you’re standing. You’re always standing. Sit down. Every time I look around, you’re standing.” And I looked around the room, I’m the only Black boy in the class. Two Black kids: one Black young girl and me. And I look around and I see other kids standing. And I go, “He’s standing, she’s standing, she’s standing,” and she grabbed me. And I was 5’10 and I was like, “Whoa!” And I’d never had a teacher do that before. I just remember the look on her face was like, You will not embarrass me in front of these kids. It always stuck with me. I told the truth, but in that moment the truth was not setting me free.

Bettina Love: Mhmm. Not at all.

W. Kamau Bell: And so much of what you talk about in the book is how these kids and Black teachers are seeing things right before their very eyes, but the system has no interest in acknowledging things that they’re seeing.

Bettina Love: You hit it on the head, and that’s why we have to see it and call it as harm. And talk about it as harm. And the very idea is that you are guilty of something. There’s a presumption that you are guilty because of your Black skin. And so that teacher saw you guilty, saw you criminal, just by the very nature of you breathing, of you being there. 

She put her hands on you! And you know she would not do that to any other student. So the idea that you are not human enough, you are not worthy enough, you are not deserving enough of the same type of treatment that I would give these white students. And the very idea that when they do it: “Oh, they’re moving around the class freely. They have choice.” When you do it: “Sit your Bl”– criminal. 

It’s so much, I think, about our actions as educators, but also about our language as educators. Because students like you, or myself included, we’re called “at risk.” We’re at risk students. So she sees you as an at risk student. And my question is always, Well, who put me at risk? How am I at risk? Who put me at risk? Or, “These students are underserved, underprivileged.” Well, who underserved me? Who’s above me? Since I’m under, who’s on top? Or my favorite is, “You’re a first generation college student.” Am I the first generation or the first group you let in? 

We gotta be clear about our language and how that language leads to actions that are not only deplorable but violent towards Black bodies in the place that is supposed to be loving and caring and democratic. And so much about that is that we have not interrogated the whiteness and the white supremacy and the anti-Blackness that we walk into schools with every single day.

W. Kamau Bell: There’s a concept in the book that is referred to, I think at least more than once, but “spirit murdering.” Can you explain spirit murdering?

Bettina Love: Yeah. It happened to you! It’s a theory that comes out of Patricia Williams and she talks about, when we talk about racism so much in this country, we talk about the violence of racism.We talk about that physical violence, the idea that racism can lead to death. And that is the “murdering,” but then she says, there’s also this spirit murdering. When you walk into a school and a teacher can put their hands on you, when you walk into a school and you don’t see any teacher that looks like you. When you walk into a school and your language and your culture is not valued. When you walk into a school and that school has metal detectors and dogs and surveillance equipment and you are seen as criminal, you are slowly murdering my spirit. The belief that I am worthy, I am valuable, I am loving.

All those things that I need to know that I am human and I am worthy of being here. You are slowly, methodically changing who I am. You are murdering my spirit. And we have to talk about that in education because… One of my favorite songs, I’m 44, but I’m an old head. And one of my favorite songs is by Earth, Wind & Fire.

And they said “A child is born with a heart of gold. And this world will make that child so cold.” And that is that spirit murder. “You will make this child’s heart so cold.” The world that you have created for them. Because you are constantly dehumanizing them, not showing them love, not showing them grace.

And too often for Black children and children of color, our first response, second response, and third response and last response is carcerality, is punishment, is violence towards them. And so you murder my spirit, especially when I see everybody else get second, third chances. And I don’t get one? You are murdering my spirit. And you play on my humanity. And so that’s what we talk about when I talk about in the book, this idea of spirit murder. It’s a slow death, but it’s an intentional death and a deliberate death because of my color, my skin, where I come from, and who I come from.

W. Kamau Bell: I think one of the many sort of insidious things about white supremacy–there’s so many–

Bettina Love: –It takes no days off.– 

W. Kamau Bell: –No days off. It’s like the New England Patriots, no days off.– 

Bettina Love: –No PTO, no nothing. 

W. Kamau Bell: –Is the way in which it invents a new thing, but somehow seduces us into thinking that that thing’s been around forever.

So for example, I’m reading this, I’m like, Wait a minute, IQ tests have only been around since, what, the 40s or something? Wait, standardized tests have only been around since, like, the 40s? In my mind, I was like, Charter schools have only been around since the 90s?

Bettina Love: Pretty much. 

W. Kamau Bell: I just sort of thought, you grow up hearing IQ tests, and you go, “I think Jesus invented IQ tests. White Jesus invented IQ tests.” 

Bettina Love: He walked on water and then did the IQ test. 

W. Kamau Bell: So it’s empirical because Jesus invented it. He was riding a dinosaur and he said, “We need a way to figure out which disciple or apostle is the smartest.”

Bettina Love: That’s a fact. It’s a fact.

W. Kamau Bell: And he invented IQ tests and then he was like, “Also we need to fill in the bubbles with this number two pencil.” The devil invented the number one pencil, but Jesus invented the number two pencil. 

Bettina Love: These are facts. 

W. Kamau Bell: These are facts, yes. One of us is a college dropout. 

But just the way in which we’re seduced into thinking that these things are just empirical tests. And also they’ve just been around forever. So you can go online right now and take an IQ test and go, “I’m one hundred and twenty eight,” you know, whatever. Can you talk about that idea, and how that works, and how it’s anti-Black and racist?  

Bettina Love: All of it. So we know the history of eugenics, the history of the very idea that some people are genetically superior and some people can be disposed of. That type of rhetoric and idea was the start of IQ testing. It was the start of AP testing, right? All the ways in which we’re gonna use tests to dispose of people. So standardized testing has a history in eugenics. That’s just a fact. Carl Brigham, all those folks who were eugenics created World War II AP tests to figure out who should go to war, who shouldn’t, all of that stuff.

And so we think about standardized testing, we have to put it in conversation with the history of standardized testing and how standardized testing has been used to dispose of Black people, dispose of children of color. But the one thing I think that you hit on which is really important is that we can change. We haven’t been doing this for hundreds of years. They would like us to think that we’ve been doing charter schools and vouchers and lotteries. Even the very idea of massive student loan debt. If you talk to somebody 60, 70 years old, they’re like, “Well, hold on, baby, what you say? You mean to tell me you owe the school $150,000?”

That doesn’t even make sense to an older person. The very idea of student loan debt is only a 50 year project. So we have to be thinking very deeply about if these things have just been here in my lifetime, I’m 44 years old. This is only in my lifetime that we’ve seen charter schools, vouchers, lotteries, massive student loan debt, Teach for America, Race to the Top–where are you racing? I don’t know. 

All of these things. Police in schools. This has only been a 40 year project. And so we have an opportunity to change it. And I think that for me is the most humbling and most inspiring part about the history of this. This is not a 200 year history. This is not a 300 year history. This has only been a course of 40 years. And they’ve done a lot of damage in 40 years, don’t get me wrong. But we have the possibility to change.

W. Kamau Bell: There’s a point in the book where you talk about the idea that activists, organizers, academics will come up with ways to talk about racism and then it gets sort of, like, eaten by the mainstream, and those things sort of don’t work anymore. For more on this, see: Woke. Nobody in the Black community uses “woke” seriously anymore. And really hasn’t since about 2015, to be honest. 

Bettina Love: When they picked it up, we were already done with it. Like, “They still doing ‘woke?’” 

W. Kamau Bell: Yeah. It’s like a grandma saying, “Just chill.” Hey, we’re not doing that anymore. One of those terms that it feels like the book is sort of saying is the idea of the “school-to-prison pipeline.” That’s a term that even “good” white people can say and not have any heat, not do anything with it. And you’re talking about…The book references the “criminal punishment system” and how it’s not a pipeline, because a pipeline implies it’s just in one place, but it’s everywhere.

Bettina Love: Yeah, the criminal punishment system is a term from abolitionists, also a term from Mariame Kaba, Erica Meiners. And what I use in the book is to try to talk about that carcerality for Black folks and folks of color in this country is inevitable. You’re in it. It’s not something you can just jump out of, you are in it.

And we think some of the examples are like police in schools, or metal detectors and dogs in schools. Those are the examples we use to talk about the prison-to-school pipeline. But I argue in the book that you can take all those things away, and you are still in it. We saw in the pandemic where children were at home in their own house and the police were still being called on them in their own house. So this is not a pipeline. I’m in my house. You had a little boy who had a Nerf gun and a teacher saw a gun and called the police and protective services. He’s in his house. So this is not a pipeline. It’s carcerality all around you.

Just in Florida three weeks ago–Florida, I know–but just in Florida a few weeks ago you had a principal who called Black students into the auditorium to tell them that if they get their test scores up, they would get chicken and gift cards. And if they don’t–this happened three weeks ago in Florida, not 1969, I’m talking about 2023–and if they don’t get their test scores up, they’re going to end up dead or in prison. Even the way we talk to children. It’s like their only options for Black children are incarceration or death. So it’s not just about a pipeline. It’s the very essence of how we do schooling in this country.

We also know that if we have a high school exit exam, the chances of incarceration increases by almost 13%. So it’s not just about these things that we know to be–police in schools, metal detectors–it’s the way we do schooling that makes carcerality and to be Black in this country inevitable. It’s going to touch you. 

Or the D. A. R. E. program, right? the D. A. R. E. program coming into your school telling you there’s good people and there’s bad people, and the bad people gotta go, and we’ll give you a keychain if you snitch on them. Right? This is how we do carcerality within our American system. And it bleeds into, and it’s fundamental, and it’s part of our school system. Making carcerality for Black folks inevitable. You’re going to be touched by it. 

W. Kamau Bell: Just while you’re saying that, I just want to pour some out for Ron DeSantis’ chance to be president. Just pour some out for him. [Singing] It’s so hard.

Is this different than how interviews normally go?

Bettina Love: A bit. 

W. Kamau Bell: I mean that’s how I’m supposed to be, right? 

So there’s a lot of people in the book who, as we say, who get it. I don’t mean who “get” it, I mean, who can get it. And if you saw them, they would probably get it.

One of them old school, one of them more new school. So, Ronald Reagan gets it in the book. 

Bettina Love: Oh yeah, I go for the Gipper. Yeah.

W. Kamau Bell: And I’m old enough to remember when he was elected president and how every Black person was like, “Oh no, this is going to be bad.” And then my kids saw me do that, “Oh, this is going to be bad,” with Trump. “This is going to be bad.” But you really go into detail. Even people on the left will paint Ronald Reagan with “bad president,” but you go into absolute detail about what, like, you said this last 40 years is basically Reagan entering public office and how he approached the public education system.

Bettina Love: I think there’s some entry points, right? I mean, read the book. I give Reagan his due diligence. 

W. Kamau Bell: It’s quite a eulogy. 

Bettina Love: Yes, yes. But I think there’s some entry points we have to think about, because you have Brown vs. the Board of Education. And after Brown vs. the Board of Education, you have a gutting of Black education in this country, a gutting of Black teachers.

But what we don’t talk about enough is that after Brown, you have white folks get organized. They’re not just KKK anymore. They get organized. They create societies and think tanks and special interest groups. They begin to get organized. And by 1980, they are ready to go. So you gotta understand, what’s happening in 2023 is because they have been organized from Brown vs. the Board of Education. The very idea that we would integrate schools and that this white child would sit next to this Black child was too far. And they got their money together, they got systems together, they got structures together, and they got organized. And by the time Ronald Reagan takes office, they are a well oiled machine.

Now, they always want to defund and privatize education. So in 1978, 1979, there’s a report lingering on the right. It’s a report that says education is terrible, public education is failing, and that report is lingering. Now, 1980, 1981, Ronald Reagan takes office, 1982, Ronald Reagan declares a war on drugs, which we know is a war on people of color, a war on black folks, right?

By 1983, here’s the infamous report, A Nation at Risk. Now A Nation at Risk gets that report from 1978, 1979, 1980, and brings that language over. It’s already written. They had already written A Nation at Risk. It’s not new data. It’s actually misguided myths, lies, whatever you want to call it. But they say that this country is failing so badly, public education is failing so badly, that it could be a national crisis. That’s 1983. 1983, the same year as the year of D. A. R. E. Who creates the D. A. R. E. program? Daryl Gates. Who was Daryl Gates? He was the police chief during the Rodney King attempted execution.

He’s the same police chief that said, “Black people have a different esophagus,” so it’s okay to put us in a chokehold. That is the man that creates the D. A. R. E. program, right? 1984, Reagan comes out with another report called “Chaos in the Classroom,” saying that these classrooms are so disorderly, and so out of control, that we need police in schools.

Now that data is also taken from 1970s data. And by 1989, you have a full assault on Black folks, Black communities, and then you have the language to match it. Black children begin to be called “super predators,” “thugs,” “crack babies.” And by 1989, you have one of the longest-running reality TV shows that gives you a theme music to match what you believe about Black folks: [singing] “Bad boys, bad boys / What you gonna do? / What you gonna do when they come for you?” 

And we see Black folks and folks of color on TV every night as criminals. By 1994, you have The Bell Curve, which is an outrageous book, which is a New York Times bestseller, that says that Black folks are disproportionately and inherently, you know…throw them away.

By 1996, Hillary Clinton comes on television talking about “super predators.” By 2001, you got No Child Left Behind. But what you’re watching is a merging of crime reform and education reform that makes Black children disposable. You have the language for it, you have the policies for it, and in the background you have “zero tolerance,” “three strikes,” “no excuses,” and all of these things begin to morph.

So crime reform and education reform begin to be the same damn thing. And so Reagan is the linchpin for this type of attack on Black life and attack on Black life from all angles. And he puts education into that attack. So it’s not just about the “welfare queen” anymore. It’s not just about the war on drugs and thugs and criminals and all these folks. Now he also puts education in that attack. It’s an assault on Black life like we’ve never seen before.

W. Kamau Bell: And then at some point a hero emerges: a young, naive, hopeful…programmer named Bill Gates. Who also gets it in the book. 

I would imagine that if Bill Gates picks this book up, he’s probably like–because he doesn’t get it until later. So he’s like, “Mm, yeah, mm hmm, yeah, mm mm mm mm…Well, it’s probably just a couple pages…Wait, is that my social security number?”

Generally, Bill Gates gets it, and educational philanthropy–billionaire philanthropy in regards to education. And Bill Gates is an entry point, but certainly gets it. So talk about that. 

Bettina Love: I wanted to use Bill Gates because it actually happened in the pandemic. He wasn’t on my radar. I mean, he’s always been on my radar, but it was in the pandemic where Bill Gates just pissed me off. So, I’m writing this book in the pandemic. And, you know, I want to hear experts. I’m trying to find out what’s going on with my life. Am I going to live? And I turn on the TV. Here’s Bill Gates. I said, “Where’s Fauci?”

Instead of Fauci, I’m listening to Bill Gates. Does he have a medical degree? Is he an epidemiologist? How is Bill Gates able to talk on every single topic?

W. Kamau Bell: I’ll explain. He’s got three qualifications: Rich–four, actually– Rich. White. Man. And old. If you don’t want to hear from Bill Gates, you’re being ageist!

Bettina Love: And so I said, Let me investigate a little bit more why this man gets to speak on every damn topic as if he is a leading authority. And when you start to peel back Bill Gates’s education record, it is nothing but failure after failure after failure, even to a point where he will say, “We failed.”

So how do you keep failing and giving millions of dollars, which now account for billions of dollars to educational failures? Because we also have this system in this country, what I talk about in the book is educational entrepreneurs. So you’ve now seen white folks make middle class jobs for their children with the problems that they created. So they create the problem, and now they have middle class jobs–Teach for America–for their children. Educational entrepreneurs. What does it mean to be an entrepreneur? It means to fail. You have to fail to be a good entrepreneur. You gotta fail, you gotta experiment.  And whose children do they get to experiment on? Black and brown children.

And so you have these folks who have an amazing PowerP–I mean, “slide deck.” The slide deck is, I mean, it’s nice. 

W. Kamau Bell: It’s got that one thing where the plane goes like this [gestures]. 

Bettina Love: Right, it’s smooth! And they’re able to get funding, build schools, curriculum. They bring all types of foolishness into schools, profit off of this foolishness, no experience, no education degree, and don’t give a damn about the community that they’re so called “serving.”

And these are the folks who are making bank off of unproven ideas that they just have cooked up in their basement, right? Teach for America was an idea which has become a business model for many folks. So I use Bill Gates as an entry to really talk about these educational entrepreneurs and the failures of these educational entrepreneurs and how they get to fail and be rewarded for failure.

And when Black folks somehow fail in the system that they created for us to fail, you want to close our schools. You want to talk about an “achievement gap.” Hell yeah there’s an achievement gap! Don’t you think there would be an achievement gap if you have structurally underfunded? Made sure that our teachers are gone? Made sure that students who need the most have the most inexperienced teachers? And then you got the nerve to say, “Well, there’s an achievement gap.” What you think it was going to be? “Oh, there’s a funding gap.” There’s not a funding gap. You systematically ensured that Black folks don’t have their money.

So we got to be clear about what these folks who are calling themselves educational entrepreneurs, or folks like Bill Gates who think they have all the answers. He has never even probably set foot and taught a day in his life. But the very thing that he did well, he ended. Which is the Gates Millennial Scholars.

So that program is gone to sunset. And I interviewed one of the first Gates Millennial Scholars just to talk about the impact that it had on his life. And the program that Bill Gates can actually say is successful in education he’s actually ended. 

W. Kamau Bell: It’s interesting because I feel like there’s something about the book that comes through, and this is, I mean… I’ve seen this in other aspects… but like, there’s something about whiteness where somehow having no qualifications is a qualification. 

Bettina Love: Come on, now. Come on, now! 

W. Kamau Bell: “Well, I mean, since I’ve never done this, clearly I could do this. And probably I’d be better than you, because”–this is the other thing, and it’s specific to teachers–“you couldn’t be that good at teaching, because you’re teaching.” Like, just the disrespect of the whole profession. If you were really good at that, you would…do something else? 

Bettina Love: Right. And then how did you get here? You had to have a teacher. It’s a wild thing. The hubris, the confidence of an unqualified white man? Boy, ain’t nothing like it. Ain’t nothing like it. Ain’t nothing like it. 

You know, it’s like, the audacity of Santa Claus. The very idea that this white man comes down your chimney, gives you gifts that you didn’t even know and then can tell you if you were naughty or nice. That’s the audacity. 

W. Kamau Bell: And he’s watching you.

Bettina Love: And he’s watching you all the time. I’m gonna tell you what Patti told me. I asked my mother, “Is Santa Claus real?” I talk about this in the book, probably around eight or nine years old. 

My mother said, “You know what? We don’t have a chimney. So you think about that first. Use your common sense!” And my mother said “If you think that I’ve done all this work so a white man can give you gifts. You go right ahead and believe that.” And so she said, “This year you ask the white man and see what you get.” I wrote my list out and sent that to: Patti.

W. Kamau Bell: I think we need to do a DNA test because we might have the same mom. Because we had a similar conversation about that when I was a kid. And if there’s children here: the evidence is up in the air. We don’t know. 

Bettina Love: Right. Controversial. 

W. Kamau Bell: It’s controversial. Both sides. 

There’s so many things that I would like to ask you about. Let’s talk about the section of the book that made me… I was like, “I need to put a table in front of me so I can flip it.”

And this is not it, but we’re going to get there because I need everybody to hear the story because this is the thing that…You should buy the book once you hear the story. So first of all, just talk about what Teach for America is, generally. 

[Audience groans]

Maybe you don’t need to. Everybody got a stomach ache when I even asked the question. Talk about it however you wanna talk about it.

Bettina Love: So I think anybody that has any sense understands why Teach for America is a bad thing for education. Not only does it deprofessionalize the profession, right? Because it’s basically saying “Anybody can teach. You got a college degree? You want to save children ?” I had somebody tell me just the other day that they did Teach for America and they were told that they were doing the work of civil rights.

That’s how they sold Teach for America to them: the work of civil rights. But it’s really easy to understand. Would you allow somebody to open up your heart and do open heart surgery if they had six weeks of training? Would you allow somebody to build your house, who went to college and then did a little six weeks of training, and now you gonna give them all your money to build your dream house?

You wouldn’t do that. And that’s Teach for America. It doesn’t make any sense, but whose children do they get to experiment on? Again, Black and brown poor children. And so when you think about inherently what it’s saying, it’s saying, listen, “You don’t know what you want to be right now, that’s fine. Come!” Like the church. “Come as you are.”

“Little experience, you know, you’re smart–we guess–and, you know, you got hope in your heart. And a dream to save these little negro children. So come on, and do as much damage as you want. And after two years, we’ll pay you for doing the damage. And you go off and you live your best life.”

And I always say, that’s fine. If that’s what you believe, that’s fine. But I just want to ask you: Do you think that you gave those children an education that will allow them to go do what you want to go do? And if you can’t say that, get the hell out of our schools.

W. Kamau Bell: And also, I’m pretty sure all the teachers I know would not say–even who went to school for teaching and got the credential–”My best years of teaching were the first two.” 

Bettina Love: Right.

W. Kamau Bell: “That’s when I was on my game. That’s when I was really teaching. Those first two years–by year three, I was over it. But those first two years, whoo, they were getting the good stuff.” 

So that is a great segue to the part of the book that just made me like… I like to think I’ve read some stuff and I pay attention to the news and stories about Black folks. And I’m ashamed to say that I did not know the full story of this until I read the book. This, to me, is like, whew. Tell the story of Harriett Ball. Please.

Bettina Love: Harriet Ball. When I was getting my PhD, I had one of the most amazing professors–and a giant in the field of education–his name was Asa Hilliard. He was that guy, he was amazing. He would go around the country, he would find these amazing teachers, he would videotape these amazing teachers.

So one day he showed us this tape of Harriett Ball. And it was this Black woman, she was southern, she was tall, and she could rap, she could sing, she could play the piano, she could draw, and she could teach, baby. She could do it all. You name it, she could do it. She got Teacher of the Year over and over and over again at her school in Houston, Texas.

And when she was teaching, there were two fresh Teach for America teachers, and they said, “Ms. Ball. Dave and Mike, can we sit at your feet? Can we just watch you? Can we learn your songs? Can we learn your chants?” And like a good southern Black woman, she said, “Come on, baby, yes you can.”

Come on. She wants everybody to, you know, learn how to teach like this and be able to impact all the kids. And so for two years, Mike and Dave sat at her feet. And they learned her chants. They learned her songs. And she had a beautiful song called “Knowledge is Power.” “You gotta get that knowledge, you gotta get that power.” And she would say, “Read, baby, read.” 

And after two years of sitting at Ms. Ball’s feet, Mike and Dave go off to create KIPP. And what is KIPP? Knowledge is Power Program.

W. Kamau Bell: Can you help me flip this table over real quick? Yeah, let’s just… 

Bettina Love: And so, I’ve always wanted to tell her story. I’ve just been intrigued by her for so long.

And so, I went on a journey, ‘cause Miss Ball died in 2011. She died trying to open up her own school. While KIPP had 250, 300 schools in this country. And so through Instagram and social media I was able to find her kids and they were able to tell me the story.

Dave and Mike went on to the Oprah show. Now, remember, this is the 90s, right? Who’s bigger than Oprah?

W. Kamau Bell: Nobody. 

Bettina Love: Nobody. Every Black woman wants to go on the Oprah show. And these two white boys sit up on the Oprah show. Sitting next to Oprah, talking about KIPP and all the amazing things they did. And Ms. Ball was at home, crying her eyes out because she thought she was going to be on the Oprah show. 

There’s 25 stories in this book that I tell, and I try to talk about reform through the lives of real people, because I think sometimes when we say “reform” and we talk about No Child Left Behind and Goals 2020 and standardized testing, you know, we talk about it like there’s not real people behind these things. There’s not families behind these folks who are just taking, and we got to be clear, they’re taking from Black women. Black women’s ideas, ingenuity, they’re taking the pedagogy, right? 

And so, I was just really honored that her children thought I was worthy enough to be able to tell Mrs. Ball’s story. And I really question: What does KIPP owe her? What does KIPP owe her family, right? And one of her children said the other day, “Their grandchildren will eat, eat, and eat, and eat. What do our grandchildren have?” 

So it’s an amazing story of a Black woman. And to their credit, KIPP will say that “We got everything from Ms. Ball.” “Ms. Ball was our inspiration.” But do you have a contract? I don’t care that you love Ms. Ball. Do you have a contract? Did you pay her for her songs? Did you pay her for her intellectual property? Did you pay her?

W. Kamau Bell: That’s the part right there. That’s the part.

Bettina Love: Right. There’s no school in her name.

And so, I hope, as people read this book, they bring KIPP to task. They start to ask these hard questions to KIPP and about what’s going on. And to be very clear, you can only ask… One of the KIPP founders, I don’t want to get it wrong because I might get sued, but one of the KIPP founders is no longer on the board anymore because he allegedly…

W. Kamau Bell: Did the thing that men do that happens all the time? Danny Masterson? I’ll get sued.

Bettina Love: It’s a story that I don’t think people know. People see KIPP and they don’t know Harriett Ball’s name. And that infuriates her children. That they can drive by a school, KIPP here, KIPP there, KIPP there, KIPP here, and hear kids sing the chants that their mama sung to them in the middle of the night. They can hear the chants that they know their mother was teaching in schools and people don’t even know who their mother is.

W. Kamau Bell: And just to reiterate that she did not get a percentage. 

Bettina Love: No.

W. Kamau Bell: They did not break her off. 

Bettina Love: No.

W. Kamau Bell: They just said “Thank you.” 

Bettina Love: And if you go to the footnotes of the book, it’s all the questions that I asked KIPP. And they had no response for it. So at a certain point, you got to lawyer up with a book like this, right? And St. Martin’s lawyers, KIPP lawyers, they released a statement to us, and the statement is in the book. 

But I asked them: Did she go on the Oprah show? Why wasn’t she on the Oprah show? Do you have a contract? Do you have any invoices for how much you have paid her? Where are the invoices? How much did you pay her? They said nothing. They gave me a statement saying “We love Ms. Ball. Ms. Ball was foundational to KIPP.” I didn’t ask you about how much you loved her. I didn’t ask you about how you felt. I asked you for some real receipts, and they could produce none.

So all of that is also in the back of the book in the footnotes for anybody who wanna know.

Kamau Bell: We’re gonna do Q&A, so get your Q’s ready for our A’s

[Love and audience laughs]

What did I say? 

Bettina Love: It’s just never been said in such a way.


W. Kamau Bell: Sorry, I had a Red Bull, I’m sorry. But the end of the book, we talked a little bit about it backstage. ‘Cause you’re very clear in here, you’re criticizing white folks on the right, white folks on the left, white folks who believe there’s a center that doesn’t exist, you’re criticizing all of them.

And I’m sure there’s…A lot of white people on the left are like, “Well, I’m able to take criticism,” and then you close the book in a way that I’m sure some of those white people are going to be like, “I probably read enough of that. I don’t need to finish that chapter. I don’t need that chapter, I think I get it. You can tell people I read most of the book.” 

What is the last chapter of the book? 

Bettina Love: Reparations, baby. Reparations. What you said is really how I tried to write the book. I really was like, “How can I just pull people in?” So if you rockin’ with this book for like 11 chapters, you’re like, “Yeah, that’s some messed up stuff.” And then you gotta say, “Well, what’s the solution? I want to know!” ‘Cause the one thing about white folks, they all, “What’s next? What’s the solution? How do we solve this problem?” Okay. Reparations. And then they’re like, “Well, I [stutters]”

And I talk about educational reparations. What would it mean for education to be included in that? Because when we think about reparations, particularly here we are in California, where maybe your governor’s gonna do something serious, or maybe not, we’ll see.

But, you know, when we think about reparations, we think about the loss of a home loan or business loan, your home being devalued, mass incarceration–which we know is targeted mass incarceration, Erica Meiners. We think about police brutality, right? The wealth gap. These are the triggers. These are the levers of reparations. 

But I would argue that before you are denied a home loan, before you are denied a business loan, you are educated as a Black child in America’s schools, and that is harm. And we have to see that as reparations. But, what I do in the book is not just theoretical. We work with all Black women economists, so it’s nothing but Black women economists. And we met with policy makers, economists, the folks who can just run numbers in their head, and we started meeting with them. We met probably for eight months, about twice a month.

And then these Black women: Shanyce Campbell, Hope Wollensack–she’s Black–and Nzinga Broussard came to my house one weekend in Atlanta, and they just started doing some Hidden Figures type of sh**.

W. Kamau Bell: I love the fact it happened at your house. 

Bettina Love: It happened at my house! Let me be very clear, I was getting tea. My wife was upstairs cooking. We were just trying to keep them there as long as we could, running these numbers. And then they started coming up with formulas. And then we started calculating–they started calculating this stuff. And so I’ll give you all some examples. In 2010, there were over 100,000 Black students who qualified for AP. They had the grades, they had the test scores, they qualified for AP, but they did not take AP, they were not enrolled in AP because no teacher recommended them, or there was no AP at their school. Now, those students will go to college and pay more in their student tuition because they cannot transfer over those credits. That’s reparations. That’s reparations. 

I’m a New Yorker. We always in the building, baby. So in New York City, you can suspend a child up to 120 days. There’s only 180 days in the school year. Okay, so let’s say you suspend that child 50 days. Let’s just be 50 days. When you suspend a child for 50 days, they don’t go home with lunch, they don’t go home with dinner, they don’t go home with tutors, they don’t go home with computers, but everybody still gets paid at the school. What if we, when you suspend a child, they went home with a check? That’s their money! 

Or…We know–data shows us, out of American University–that if you are a Black boy from a low income family and you have two Black teachers in elementary school, the likelihood that you will graduate and go off to college increases between 32 and 39 percent. Just having two Black teachers. Two teachers of color.

So what I’m saying is that these things that we know in education that we call “harm,” that are doing harm, are impacting a Black person’s lifetime earning potential. And if you are going to impact my lifetime earning potential because of the education that I have received that has been racist, anti-black, and harmful, then you need to pay reparations. So that is where it’s coming from.

W. Kamau Bell: We’re going to open it up to questions, people out there. I know there’s some students and educators here, right?So if you have some questions, there will be people walking around to get your questions. 

Audience Member 1: Hi. I’m a Black teacher working in a Black school with Black kids. Loving it. It’s a great experience. I’m a young teacher–this is my fourth year–and something keeps on coming up is trying to have conversations with older Black teachers about police in schools and safety. I know there’s lots of great books about this as well, including your own. Just the mixed feelings that some Black people have around police. I’m experiencing a lot of educators who want police back in schools and are seeing a lot of violence in communities and they don’t feel safe as teachers when parents, like, want to pull up and stuff like that. So this is a question asking for advice: In your years talking to people of all audiences and ages, how do you approach talking to older Black people specifically about crime and violence without being disrespectful?

Bettina Love: Thank you for your question. I would say first, there is a great video by an amazing sister by the name of Derecka Purnell, and she’s on the Trevor Noah show, and she breaks this down beautifully, and so I would check that out. But what she says in this video is that when you have never been given any other options, the police seem like the only option. And so we’re talking about a generation of folk who only have had this as their option. And so now we’re trying to say, “No, there’s other options. There’s other things you can do. We can do this. We can do that.” And they’re like, “Well, I only know this option.” And so it’s on us to try to educate them about other options.

It’s on us to try to educate them and say, “Listen, actually police in schools don’t make schools safer.” And we can give them all the reasons. And we can look at all the school shootings where police were right there and there was still a school shooting. But I think the most important thing we can do is try to understand their anxiety around the idea that we gotta remove cops from schools. And we have to start asking them and start showing them that there are other ways to do it. And so, not to get frustrated, not to be dismissive. Because this idea of abolition–the real abolition, not just this cute stuff, right?–is the dismantling of the PIC. That’s what Dylan Rodriguez tells us, right?

That’s gonna take a lot of changing people’s hearts and minds to think differently about what’s possible. And I think the way we do that is about showing them what’s possible. So having these conversations, being intentional with these conversations, and then providing them other examples and how it could work. You can look at schools in Minneapolis who got rid of police. They’re fine. They’re fine, right? And we also don’t want schools to get rid of police and then just transform their name to something else. What they do in other places, like New York City. 

So, I would say be patient. And just try to give examples, try to be thoughtful, and understand that for many people, this is the only option they actually know. And it feels safe, and it feels like it’s a realistic solution, because it’s the only solution that they know. And so we gotta be patient with those folks, and give them examples, and be real, and be thoughtful.

Audience Member 2: What’s up, Dr. Love? I’m the one who’s always commenting on your Instagram posts. 

Bettina Love: What’s going on? I can’t see you, brother. But them shoulders look good, I see you. Them shoulders look good. 

Audience Member 2: You know I roll with you. I got a couple of things. One, in your book, your intro resonates with me big time because I also was a college athlete. So, I understand that element. And also, with the story you shared of your classmate. It’s not a joke, but it’s a running conversation I have with other Black male educators is, at what point in your schooling did your identity become first racialized?

And so for me, I always say, I remember as my principal in the fourth grade, that was the first time I was called the N word. I share that and it leads to my question because I work in education, I do a lot of work, I consider myself a “recovering Black male educator,” because I taught in LA Unified for 20 years and had no choice but to leave. My buddy in Philadelphia runs the Center for Black Educator Development. But you see schools that are always implementing all of these programs and they’re always hiding behind shifting of pedagogy or pouring money into resources, and what I’m seeing now is a lot of major districts are doing what they call, like, for example, in at LA Unified they have a program called the Black Student Achievement Program.

And then you have all these other things like “multi-tiered student supports” and “positive behavior intervention systems.” But my question for you is: in your research and in your body of work, do you have a definitive reason why people tend to focus on a program as a distraction rather than naming a problem for what it is and solving it in that capacity? 

Bettina Love: There’s this great quote, and thank you for that, and thank you for the work that you do. There’s this great quote by Lindsey Stewart, and she’s kind of playing with the work of Zora Neale Hurston in this book. And she says that, “White folks believe that without their intervention, Black lives are tragic.”

That, for me, is what school reform is. That is what reform is in this country. That is what our lives are shaped by. That if there’s not this white intervention, then our lives are seen as tragic. And so they go from intervention, to program, to this, that, and the third. And don’t get me wrong, I think some of those programs are needed. The extra resources, all those things are great. But to go to the source, to go to the racism, to go to the anti-Blackness, to go to the inadequate funding, that’s what they don’t want to do. And even when some of those programs begin to work, then they get rid of those.

So the very idea is that we can’t have any type of success without their intervention. And it plays out time and time again. And I use the work, in this book, of Carol Anderson to talk about white rage. And White Rage says that when you see white rage, you see white rage because you see Black excellence. That’s when you see white rage. The fact that we won’t back down, the fact that we keep going, that we keep marching, we keep protesting, we keep moving, we will not back down, you will see white rage. 

And so these programs are masking themselves. Many of them are masking themselves as these egalitarian efforts, when they are nothing but this idea of intervening in our lives because they believe our lives are tragic without them. And so that mentality plays out in so many of the programs that you’re naming.

W. Kamau Bell: And I just want to highlight, there is a portion of the book where you talk about let us celebrate. I find this in my work too, that it’s like, you get caught up in focusing on… Sometimes as artists or as people who are scholars or writers get caught up in investigating the trauma and forget to take a breath and go, we need to celebrate and we need to highlight the good.

Bettina Love: You know, one of my good friends, Leigh Patel, told me one day, she said, “Tina, Blackness is bigger than anti-Blackness.” And I needed that reminder. You have to remind yourself of that. I tell people all the time, when folks are like, “I’m teaching this, I’m teaching that.” Are you teaching joy? Like, let’s bring in Gholdy Muhammad’s work. Are you teaching joy? Because if all you teaching is about trauma and pain, that’s not anti-racism. That’s called a class on power and privilege and violence. If all you know about me is pain and trauma, you don’t know me. You know what was done to me, but you don’t know me.

And that’s not my history. So we got to be very clear that to be Black in this country is to find joy, is to love, is to heal. It’s to create, it’s to laugh. What you’re doing up here, making us laugh, that’s us. Why do Black people run when we laughing? Where are we going? Why are we running? Like, we just do some of the most colorful, imaginative stuff. We are such an unbelievable people and we keep fighting and we keep loving. It’s unbelievable, right? 

What’s radical about Black people is that we love, is that we imagine something different. We keep going. And if you can’t teach that, if you can’t see that, then you can’t be in the classroom with us. You can’t be with us. Cause you have to marvel at us. And let me be very clear, you have to marvel at Black folks. Oh, you have to marvel at Black women. You have to marvel at Black women. You don’t put a man on the moon without us.

And then let me make a finer point. Oh, you gotta marvel at Black queer folks. Oh my God. Like, yes, you don’t have fashion without us. You don’t have slang without us, you don’t have your tea, you don’t have your shade.

W. Kamau Bell: Slay, queen, slay! 

Bettina Love: Right, you don’t have any of that. Well, let’s be very clear. The writers that you wanna talk about: us. The poets you want to talk about: us. Right? The March on Washington. Bayard Rustin. You might not even have the March on Washington without us. Black Lives Matter. You don’t have it without us. How dare you not see Black queer folks and Black trans folks?

You got to see us, and for what we have done. Because what we have done and the conditions that we have done it in? Ain’t nobody like us, babe. 

W. Kamau Bell: Bettina Love, everybody! Bettina Love! Bettina Love! Professor! Doctor! Truth teller! Soothsayer!