I met Rick Smith for the first time in person this summer in Washington, D.C.
He had traveled to our nation’s capital to cover the Badass Teachers Association (BATs) Congress of which I was a member. Though I’d seen pictures and videos of him and even been on his daily radio show a handful of times, I was surprised to see him standing there in the lobby. He looked exactly like his pictures.
Often when you meet someone like that in the flesh, you get a glimpse behind the mask at how much the persona differs from the person. For example, when I was a journalist and interviewed Marvin Hamlisch, he was much more the cranky old man than the consummate showman.
But Rick was just… Rick. Faded denim, golf shirt, tousled hair under a ball cap.
He treated me to breakfast in the hotel restaurant and we talked about politics, activism and education. In a way it was like being on his show except there was no audience. Maybe he didn’t speak as loud and didn’t feel the need to explain the background of a subject for listeners at home, no station identification, but other than that it was pretty much the same.
He’s the real deal. What you see – or usually hear – is what you get.
I remember thanking him for trucking all the way from northern Pennsylvania to be here with us. He wasn’t getting anything extra for this. We certainly didn’t have any money to pay him. Rick was actually interested in hearing what teachers like me had to say.
We had congregated here in the capital to lobby our lawmakers and discuss among ourselves how to change our national education policy into something more student centered and less privatized, corporatized and standardized. And Rick wanted to showcase it on his show. He wanted to be there, to see what we were doing, ask us questions and put it all on the air for listeners across the country.
And – of course – he bought me breakfast.
As I was making my way through a waffle, Rick dropped the bomb on me.
He wanted to know if there was more to this story – if there was enough information for a weekly radio segment.
I carefully swallowed and told him that there was.
We’re living at a time when what’s best for school children isn’t decided by parents or educators. It’s decided by lawmakers, policy wonks, billionaire philanthropists and corporate CEOs with oodles of cash to bribe others to see things their way. Teachers, parents and students are taking to the streets to protest high stakes standardized tests, Common Core, value-added evaluations, charter schools, Teach for America and a host of other corporate education reform policies.
But few in the media seem to be listening.
In the last year, only nine percent of guests discussing education on evening cable news were educators. Yet tech millionaires attempts to dismantle teacher tenure are championed by the likes of Time Magazine. Former CNN anchor Campbell Brown creates a so-called “non-partisan” news site to cheerlead privatization and demonize teachers. At the Republican Presidential debates, candidates fall over each other for the chance to “punch teachers in the face,” while the Democratic Presidential candidates have zero to say about K-12 schools.
And here’s a guy with his own radio show and podcast who is actually interested in what educators think!
We shook hands, made plans and another trip to the buffet.
Now it’s been a little more than two months since the “BATs Radio – This Week in Education” segment premiered. Every week – usually airing Mondays at 5 p.m. Eastern – Rick has two guests chosen by the BATs. And wow! Have we had some amazing interviews!
When the National Education Association (NEA) made the controversial move to endorse Hillary Clinton despite a lack of member outreach, we had history teacher and NEA Board of Directors member Tripp Jeffers on the show. Before the vote, Tripp asked Clinton about her ties to corporate education reformers.
We had New York teacher and Co-Director of BATs Action Committee Michael Flanagan on to talk first hand about what a dismal job our new US Secretary of Education John King had done as Chancellor of New York State Education.
New Orleans parent Karran Harper Royal explained how the Obama administration’s privatization scheme has systematically destroyed public schools in the Big Easy. Wayne Au talked about what it was like to be one of the appellants in the Washington State Supreme Court Case that found charter schools to be unconstitutional. New York parent Karen Sprowal described how the Success Academy charter school had trampled her child’s rights. Jeanette Taylor-Ramann explained what pushed her and several other Chicago parents and teachers to go on a hunger strike to save their last neighborhood school. Puerto Rican teachers union president Mercedes Martinez informed us of the massive island revolt against privatizers in our US territory.
And more and more and more! And it’s only been 8 weeks!
I am so thankful to Rick for making this a reality. Teacher, parent and student voices are getting through the media embargo. We’re being heard. It’s unfiltered news! It’s what’s happening at street level.
This wouldn’t be getting out there so prominently if Rick weren’t interested, if he didn’t think it was something his listeners were interested in hearing. He gives up a significant chunk of his weekends to do it. He gives up time with his family, his children, to bring this to the public.
I can’t express how much that means to me and the more than 56,000 members of BATs.
I remember thanking Rick at the end of that first breakfast meeting and I’ll never forget what he said.
“This is what we do, Steven,” he said. “We’re activists first.”
That’s why Rick Smith is a true progressive hero.
You can hear the BATs Radio – This Week in Education segment most Mondays at 5 p.m. Eastern on the Rick Smith Show. The entire progressive talk show airs weekdays from 3 – 6 p.m. on several radio stations and on-line.
All BATs Radio interviews are archived here in case you missed them.
There are also a plethora of fascinating interviews from the BAT Congress on the Rick Smith Show Website.
This article also was published on the Badass Teachers Association blog.