MS. PASSARIELLO: Hello and welcome to Washington Post Live. I’m Christina Passariello, the technology editor at The Washington Post. I’m delighted to be hosting this two-part series today that dives into Generation Z, education, technology, and activism. My first guest today is the founder and CEO of Khan Academy, Sal Khan. Sal, welcome to Washington Post Live.

MR. KHAN: Thanks for having me, Christina.

MS. PASSARIELLO: Sal, can you hear me?

MR. KHAN: Yes, I can hear you. Can you hear me?

MS. PASSARIELLO: Oh, great. Yes, now I can hear you.

MR. KHAN: Oh, I said, yes, great to be here. Thanks for having me.

MS. PASSARIELLO: Technology always has something--has always surprises for us. So, well, it's great to have you here with us today. Gosh, if there's really a topic that people have thought a lot about over the last 18 months, it has to be education and the role of technology in education. So I'm really excited for this conversation today.

You know, so much of what you've been doing for years has kind of become the norm over the last 18 months of the pandemic as educators have had to use technology and set up virtual classrooms and find ways to engage students when they're not physically in the classroom. How do you think that the pandemic shifted the way that society views technology in education?

MR. KHAN: Yeah. You know, I always like to start with a disclaimer because I'm often viewed as something of a posterchild for online learning or distance learning, however you want to describe it. But I'll be the first to say that what we've just gone through over the last 18 months is very, very sub-optimal. It isn't the best online learning. It is--you know, we could only describe it as pandemic learning. If I had to pick between an amazing in-person teacher for myself, for my own children, for anyone else's children, versus the most amazing technology distance learning, et cetera, I would pick the in-person every time. I'd also emphasize that these don't have to be mutually exclusive. They got to be a little bit mutually exclusive during the pandemic because we could not be in person. But the ideal is not having to pick and actually using both--having great in-person experiences and actually leveraging technology in ways that meet pedagogical goals, that can help personalize for students, and who actually can--that can actually increase interactions between students and teachers, and students and each other.

But the pandemic, if I were to say there's some silver linings behind it, first of all, the digital divide, which we're all aware of, the United States has actually done a pretty good job about closing it in classrooms. But the pandemic put a big spotlight on the digital divide at home. A lot of people are calling this the homework gap. But--and it's been very suboptimal. We know that even though a lot of families might have a smartphone, it's not acceptable for four or five family members to try to share it to do significant work.

So we've seen the data. A lot of kids have fallen behind this past year. I was just meeting earlier today with the state commissioner in a major state showing me their data. And especially from a lot of historically under resourced communities, they're seeing declines of 20-30 percent in certain cases, especially in math test scores. Some of that is really because the students didn't have access. A lot of it is even if they did have access, they didn't have the proper supports to be able to engage on distance learning. Silver lining is, more energy than ever behind closing the digital divide at home, or the--I guess we could say the homework gap.

Another potential silver lining is it's been awkward, it's been difficult. Teachers have been doing heroic things to keep kids learning during the pandemic. They've been thrown into the deep end of the pool with technology, and it's been difficult. But that will lower the activation energy going forward for people to try these types of things out.

Also, a lot of the best practices that emerged through Zoom schooling or pandemic schooling around don't lecture to people. Let's interact with each other. Let's leverage breakouts. Let's pull kids out of the screen and have a Socratic dialogue. That's always been the best practice in any type of setting, in person or on Zoom. And so I'm hopeful that that will translate.

And last but not least, a lot of the things to your point that we've been talking about for a long time, that you need it personalized to the needs of individual students, the reason why 70 percent of kids in America going to community college have to remediate at the middle school level in math--in the four-year colleges, it's not a lot better; about 60 percent have to remediate at the middle-school level in math is because they keep getting pushed ahead--is because they keep getting pushed ahead with gaps in their knowledge, a teacher with 30 kids in their classroom, it's very difficult to meet every student where they are. And so technology can help personalize that.

And the pandemic, with the variation having grown in student ability, a lot of kids falling behind, a lot more school districts are talking about the needs to personalize, to leverage tools like Khan Academy, to leverage tutoring. We launched a three tutoring platform called to do exactly that. So it's been a tough year. A lot of damage done. The silver lining is people are having the right conversations now.

MS. PASSARIELLO: So tell me, I know that Khan Academy is very focused on, you know, the elementary school level in terms of learning. Tell us what it looks like and your vision of how school should be integrated with technology and online learning. Like let's imagine when we're actually out of the pandemic. What does that look like for you?

MR. KHAN: Yeah, and you know, our mission statement is a non-for-profit, free world-class education for anyone anywhere. We believe that we have created all the core academic material in a personalized way from pre-K through the core of college. And I often say K-14 or pre-K-14, because if you actually master those advanced high school subjects or your core subjects from college, you're actually quite educated. A lot of college graduates or even people who went to graduate school, if you said, hey, I'm going to give you a freshman calculus exam or a freshman biology exam, they would have a lot of anxiety, because they never really mastered the concept. But if you really master those freshman or sophomore concepts, it can go a very, very long way.

But in math we already have that whole progression. We have Khan Academy Kids, which is an early learning app for ages 3-8 years old aligned with the Head Start Common Core standards. It's math, reading, writing, social, emotional learning. Kids can learn at their own time and pace. We've had randomized control trials showing that even 20 minutes a day for six weeks can close the gap between kids operating in the bottom quartile and kids operating at the median, and obviously kids at the median could then accelerate to into the top quartile. We have 50 efficacy studies showing that if students are able to do personalized practice even 20 minutes, 30 minutes a week, it's growing them 20 or 30 percent more than expected. So if they can do 20 or 30 minutes a day, that is even better.

But in terms of the future, we're going to keep adding content that's available in this mastery framework. Our content, we have high school, college level, not just math but sciences as well--biology, chemistry, physics--obviously the math side calculus, statistics. We've launched this tutoring effort with that's leveraging volunteer ship. And we're also finding ways to connect that mastery on Khan Academy with real opportunity. We're starting a pilot with Howard University around college algebra, most kids don't even place into college algebra when they go to college, much less get through it, even though college algebra is 10th grade math. It's pretty much algebra 2.

We're working on a pilot where if we can go to Title I schools and have kids show mastery on college algebra on Khan Academy, can we just give them the transferable college credit right then and there so that we just take this issue of the table--not just for the credit but for them to master the actual algebra? There's states like New Hampshire where if you show mastery on Khan Academy, you can get high school credit for that work.

So I think there's going to be an exciting time where we have a lot of problems, a lot of damage from the pandemic. But the tools are starting to emerge and the system is starting to become coherent in a way that people can fill in any unfinished learning they have, any gaps they might have, and then start to accelerate, and then hopefully get credit for that knowledge that they have.

MS. PASSARIELLO: That's so interesting. Tell me about how your own organization, what you guys learned about the pandemic and how your organization had to adapt.

MR. KHAN: I remember February of 2020 we got a letter--this was before we had the physical school closures in the U.S.--we got a letter from a teacher in South Korea saying that he was leveraging Khan Academy to keep his students learning because of their nationwide school closures. And I remember thinking at the time, that's wild. A whole country has shut down its schools because of this pandemic.

And we all know what happened right after that. As soon as where we live in Northern California, they had some of the first community spread of COVID-19. So we immediately said, hey, maybe this could happen in the United States. And if it does happen, it's one of those moments where you look left and you look right and you say I think this is us, because people are going to need something that works in a school setting, its standards aligned, has efficacy studies, but also is very useable at home directly by the students, directly by the teachers, covers multiple subjects and grades.

And so we just started stress testing our servers and everything, and that that first week when the pandemic actually made the schools shut down physically, we saw our traffic triple. We went from about 30 million learning minutes per day to about 90 million learning minutes per day at the peak. And so we've just been trying to keep up with that. And we've just adding--been adding a whole bunch of content, trying to accelerate anything we can do to keep people learning.

As I mentioned, we launched a sister not-for-profit called, which gives free tutoring over Zoom to people. So you can get the asynchronous learning on Khan Academy at your own time and pace, and now you can get synchronous learning on The way that we're doing that is actually leveraging high-quality vetted volunteers. And we're hearing from many, many students that many of the tutors that they're getting on are better than tutors that they have access to in their local communities even if they--even if they were paying. So we're just trying to do a full court press and support parents, teachers, and students in any way we can right now.

MS. PASSARIELLO: I mean, speaking of that kind of inequality and the different needs and different communities, you know, obviously there are school districts with--some with greater resources and some with less resources. You know, how did, like, distance learning, you know, as it was increasing inequality, how did you see technology being both part of the solution but also part of the problem to that?

MR. KHAN: Yeah, it was an interesting conundrum--right--when everyone had to start shutting down. Private schools, school districts that were smaller in the suburbs where they said, hey, everyone's got laptops at home, we're just going to move immediately to online learning, many of these communities or schools were already leveraging online a lot because they felt confident that the kids had access from home. So there wasn't a--there wasn't an equity issue within their--within their world.

So a lot of these schools pretty much overnight were able to be pretty fluid into pandemic learning. My own children's school, the school I helped start, Khan Lab School, they missed one day, and they were right on track learning. And as far as we can tell, they didn't--they didn't--they didn't have any learning loss for a lot of these types of schools and these types of communities do. It was still hard from a social/emotional point of view.

But on then--when we talked a lot--the large urban school districts, they couldn't make that assumption that everyone has access at home. They also had to figure out a whole series of other things like around free lunch and other supports that--students with special needs. So it necessarily took them longer to come up with a plan. But while they were doing that, you could imagine there were a lot of students who weren't getting as much learning done. And even in those districts, the families that were middle-income or affluent, they were able to find something. They were able to find resources or drive the students' learning. So a lot of kids suffered.

Now I will say that if you are in a situation or in a district where let's say 20 or 30 percent of kids don't have sufficient access, it still isn't a reason not to leverage online tools, especially in this pandemic type of scenario. Because if you don't do anything, then all of the kids are going to be left behind, the top half of families are going to be able to keep learning by just, you know, using things or having more supports. And so you're going to lose probably the bottom half of kids. If you at least provide the online supports, you still have a lot of low-income families, families from historically under resourced communities who do have sufficient internet access. And so at least they will continue to be able to learn. So you're going to at least have less damage. It's still going to have--you're still going to have some kids who are falling behind, but at least it makes the problem a little bit--a little bit more tractable. So I'm a big believer that we should move forward and innovate as much as possible, especially when it is as accessible as possible online.

We do have to solve the digital divide, and some of the latest budgetary packages from the federal government, it looks like, you know, there's 60-some billion dollars. So I think we're on track to that. But if we get there, the marginal cost of then doing the online learning--obviously Khan Academy is free, is free, other resources might be a de minimis amount of money once you get that digital divide. So I'm hopeful that it can drive equity in the long run even though in the pandemic it was a mixed bag.

MS. PASSARIELLO: So let's talk about Gen Z for a moment. So, you know, Gen Z is moving through the education system with a different experience than previous generations--much more technology in their lives. And there's much more technology available to help them learn. What do you see today's youth asking for in terms of education?

MR. KHAN: I think--I think they want and they need agency over their learning. I tell everyone we don't know what the jobs are going to be in 10, 20, 30 years. But we do know that it's not going to be a world where you can just learn a set of skills between, you know, K-16 and then work at some employer for 20 or 30 years and then collect a pension. That's not the world of the future. That's not even the world of the present. We know that the people who are going to stay relevant, yes, there's going to be some foundational skills you're going to get from school. But the most important skill is how do you take control of your own learning and learn how to learn.

And so I think Gen Z is--not just needs this but they're asking for this. They are the generation that has grown up on Khan Academy. Sixty or 70 percent of all American kids who are college-bound are using Khan Academy for SAT practice. When we did a survey seven years ago--this was when Khan Academy was maybe one-fifth the scale that we are today--we did a survey of kid in four-year colleges, 65 percent of first-generation students said that Khan Academy played a meaningful impact on their education.

So we're starting to see a world where these where what might have been viewed as supplemental tools--and really are supplemental tools in a lot of ways--but a lot of Gen Z is starting to index on it. And the more that we can provide them, they're really just sucking it up like vacuum cleaners. And then they do--they do have open minds about how could this be parallel or in some cases alternative paths to the traditional? Because they're also facing things like the increased cost of college tuition and underemployment once you get a degree, or even when they're going from high school to college realizing that that high school diploma really didn't prepare them for college. And so when they can get hopefully high quality materials--ideally that's being used in conjunction with their classrooms--but worst-case we can be a safety net, we can raise the floor--we see--we see this is what Gen Z is hungry for. And you could imagine even more so if we can start to connect it to college credit or jobs and things like that.

MS. PASSARIELLO: Absolutely. Well, speaking of--you know, speaking of the changing education landscape, we've got a good question here from the audience. This is from Claudia in California. She asks, "How do institutions of higher education have to change to prepare teachers for the next generations? What would school districts have to do to attract more highly qualified, skilled educators to the field?" So, Sal, what do you--what do you think of that? How do--how do educators need to change for this new world?

MR. KHAN: Yeah, both of these are great questions. You know, on the first one, how to train teachers, I think just as we believe in mastery learning for students, we believe in mastery learning for teachers as well, because if they experience being able to learn at their own time and pace and truly master concepts and retain concepts, they're going to see the value that's in their own life and then they're more likely to do it with their students. We're actually partners with ETS on a test called the Praxis. The Praxis isn't a household name like the SAT or the LSAT or the MCAT where we're also the official practice partner. But the Praxis is a test that teachers need to take in order to teach in I believe two-thirds of states in the United States. And what we're hearing from teacher after teacher using these resources are saying I finally learned how to master these concepts, or this was a setting where I could fill in my gaps without feeling embarrassed. I want to use these same techniques with my students.

So they're doing that as they prepare for the Praxis on Khan Academy. But we would love to work with ed schools on doing mastery learning for their curricula itself, where ideally if a teacher's going to teach math, they get mastery on Khan Academy in that. They're going to teach science; they can get mastery on that. There could be other curricula that are mastery based for other things. It'll make the--first of all, these teachers are now Gen Z teachers that we're starting to see, so this is what they expect. But then they're also more likely to use it with their students and feel comfortable with it.

MS. PASSARIELLO: That's really interesting. Just one last question before we go. I'm curious what you think of quantified learning, or the idea of tracking kids and using artificial intelligence to help determine what they should learn next.

MR. KHAN: Yeah, you know, I'll speak as a technologist. We technologists sometimes get enamored with technology, and we start with a cool thing like artificial intelligence or virtual reality or whatever else, and then we say, okay, I've made something cool, let me find a problem that this is a solution for. And I think that that's not actually the right way to approach it. I think we should always think about what is the pedagogical thing we're trying to solve for, and then what is the simplest solution that will work for the most people. And so that's the lens that we've always taken it at Khan Academy.

Now I do think--before we talk about artificial intelligence, there are things about a platform like Khan Academy that could be really interesting when you're trying to quantify or assess. There's a lot of debate around standardized testing. I always tell people what part do you not like, the standardized or the testing part. Most people say, oh, yeah, you're right. I don't have a problem with that. I have a problem with maybe how it's done or how it's used. But what's neat about some of these new platforms is, when students interact with an adaptive platform, every assessment, every practice is also an assessment, but it's not as fragile. Even if you miss a few questions wrong, you have as much time as you need to get mastery eventually at that. So I think there's going to be an interesting lens there with you could call it continuous assessment, mastery-based assessment.

Artificial intelligence, we are exploring it at Khan Academy--but once again, not just for the sake of doing something fancy. I do think it's going to be interesting for helping to motivate students, maybe recognizing when students are about to disengage, how do we reengage them, how do we advise teachers on what intervention might be best for their students, how do we make recommendations for the next student activity. So I think--I think it is going to be an interesting space, but not something that's by itself going to be transformational overnight.

MS. PASSARIELLO: Well, that is really interesting things to think about with the future of education. I'm afraid that is all the time we have for today. Thanks so much, Sal, for joining us.

MR. KHAN: Thanks for having me.

MS. PASSARIELLO: And I'll be back in a moment with our next guest Marley Dias. Stay with us.

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MS. LABOTT: Hello, I'm Elise Labott from American University. The COVID-19 pandemic has upended important aspects of education in the United States. And today we're talking about how schools are adapting not just to meet this moment but to meet the rising bar that Gen Z is setting. To talk about this, I'm joined by Romy Drucker. She's the interim K-12 education program director at the Walton Family Foundation. Romy, thanks so much for joining us.

MS. DRUCKER: Thank you so much, Elise. And thank you to The Washington Post for having me.

MS. LABOTT: Well, we know it's not easy to be a student today. The last 18 months of COVID have been really rough, particularly for children. So talk to me a little bit about what students, how they're faring and what they're saying about how they want our schools to change.

MS. DRUCKER: It's an important question, and it really matters in this moment to start with and center student perspectives. It is a very challenging time right now to be a student. It always is, to be a young person. And what we know is that over the course of the pandemic students' social routines were disrupted. Their learning was disrupted. And their connection to their friends and in many cases their families were disrupted and compounded by challenges in their communities--access to the internet, access to regular meals, and access to resources like mental health supports.

However, despite challenges, despite the fact that students lost four to five months of learning on average last year, despite the fact that we know from survey data like a recent survey from YouthTruth that students are struggling deeply with their mental health, they are also very committed and inspired to being part of the change that needs to happen in our world and in our schools to make learning more career-connected, to make learning representative of the kinds of future readiness that kids want to see.

The Walton Family Foundation conducted some research recently that illustrated that seven out of 10 Gen Zers are really optimistic about the future. And that's important for our work, because we need to harness that to make sure that we are factoring in what students want, their voices and their perspectives, when we think about creating schools that represent the future and we think about how to reshape learning to really accommodate the unique potential and aspirations of every student.

MS. LABOTT: Well, I think it's--we're really in an inflection point, aren't we, when we're looking at students telling us what they think they need not just in the curriculum but to thrive in the future. So given all these challenges schools are facing today, and also what students are saying, how are schools meeting this moment and rising to the challenge? Are they falling short? And what do they need to improve?

MS. DRUCKER: The pandemic really brought out this pension between struggle and aspiration and created this dynamic environment for innovation. And what we saw was parents, family members, grandmothers, educators, and school leaders rolling up their sleeves and trying to figure out ways to keep kids learning, to create continuity in academic routines, to infuse thoughtful social/emotional learning so that students felt supported and connected. And some really interesting things happened. What we know from research that we conducted is that last year one in five families in the United States chose a different learning environment for their child, and many of those models were rooted in communities--models like micro schools and learning pods and homeschool collectives. And these models were able to layer in community elements, layer in the perspectives and the needs of students in more personalized ways because they were smaller and they were more customized to students' needs.

We also saw, you know, educators in districts and superintendents trying to figure out ways to accommodate those most in need, and that spanned everything from doing home visit to make sure that students had supplies and access to resources such that they could connect every day via their--you know, their computers to plug into learning. And it also meant that, you know, everybody was being creative, finding new ways of innovating when it comes to educating students. And what we think is that some of these trends will be sustainable. We know that families feel that this is a moment in which education should be reimagined, and they are articulating more clearly than ever what that means for them. It means more career-connected learning. It means more fusion of social/emotional skills and academic skills and life skills. And it means continuing to raise the bar on academics. So we think some of these trends will continue as educators continue to face challenges into this new school year.

MS. LABOTT: So given that students are looking for this more personalized educational experience, what's the one thing we can do to ensure all students have an education that works for them while also giving them, you know, the tools they're definitely going to need for the future?

MS. DRUCKER: I think first and foremost, we need to be listening to students. And I also think that we need to find ways for educators and families who are directing their children's education to embrace new approaches. So we have to embrace risk-taking in our work and know that there are going to be new community-based, more inclusive practices to educating students that are continuing to help them not just recover from learning loss but to accelerate academically. And I think if we keep that as our north star, then we can be really committed to improving the quality of education not just locally but across the country.

MS. LABOTT: Well, I think the challenges presented by the pandemic have reminded us--and if there's maybe one silver lining--that we need more innovative approaches in all sectors, but particularly education, because students are our future, and they should have a voice in helping shape it. Romy Drucker, the interim K-12 education program director at the Walton Family Foundation, thank you so much for joining us.

MS. DRUCKER: Thank you so much for shining a spotlight on this important issue, Elise.

MS. LABOTT: And we'll send it now back to The Washington Post.

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MS. PASSARIELLO: Hello and welcome back to Washington Post Live. For those of you just joining us, I'm Christina Passariello, the technology editor at The Washington Post. I now want to bring in Marley Dias to continue our conversation about Generation Z and education. Marley, welcome to Washington Post Live.

MS. DIAS: Hi, thank you for having me.

MS. PASSARIELLO: So glad to be talking to you. So I want to ask you about the idea of education going beyond the classroom walls. And we see lots of student activism these days about issues from climate change to anti-gun violence, to anti-police brutality, and more students, you know, being aware of these issues and willing to speak up for them. So why do you think that Gen Z is so passionate about these causes and is brought to such activism?

MS. DIAS: Well, I think that Gen Z may not be any more particularly passionate than any other generation but really because of our access to the internet and our ability to be kind of on the ball about things that are happening miles and miles and countries and countries away from us, really provides Gen Z, I feel, with a specific ability to recognize and see injustice playing out in both their own communities and communities across the world.

So when I started 1000 Black Girl Books, my initiative to collect and donate diverse books where girls like me, Black girls, were the main character, it was centered around my own experience and what I'd felt, that I'd seen my bookshelves at home and I knew that there were diverse books out there, and I couldn't get them into my school as assigned readings. That was very personal, and that did not require technology or social media.

But then when I went online and look at how other schools were assigning books, read other schools' curriculums, did my own research about kids that were also complaining about representation, I was able to use the internet as a tool to make sure, hey, I'm not wild for thinking that this thing is inequitable, and I'm really interested in using social media as a tool for change--and not always as a tool for political discussion but as a way to spread these messages to share what we care about and to help others in the process.

MS. PASSARIELLO: That's so interesting. Tell us about how you think that education could better support students who are passionate about activism? Did you feel like you had a place within your school to do the kind--to take on your initiative about Black Girl Books?

MS. DIAS: Well, I think it's very interesting and a kind of difficult question because even though I'm a senior in high school now, I still feel like there is a certain stigma around the idea that I have not grown up yet so why do I have an inclination or desire to do something that is grownup, which is to not always be in school all the time, to be traveling, to be speaking to adults about what they should do, to talk to educators as if we are peers or if we have similar understandings--not necessarily in my classroom but when I go visit other schools. So it is difficult. And I feel that one thing that educators can do is to really not separate the inequities that happen in school from the inequities that happen outside of school. I think we really tried to make sure that people feel like my education is separate from my life when in fact my life influences my education, and my education influences my life.

So one thing that I always want my teachers to emphasize, especially as I'm now in high school and I've gained so much experience from 1000 Black Girl Books, being in other schools, hearing how they talk about race, hearing and being part of some of the news cycles and conversations that are happening in the country right now, I feel like we have to do our best to explain how patterns of injustice in history exist today and even exist in our own towns. So my teacher was teaching about the war on drugs and was not really able to close the loop and make it clear to students that the same problems that we see happening in the communities next door to where I live exist because of something that happened decades ago. So it's really important to me that educators do their best to show the patterns of history and see how both political decisions, the government's decisions and everyday decisions that we make as a community shape and continue to shape our lives now. Because once kids have the vocabulary and understanding to see that, hey, the same things that my parents were struggling with, I struggle with too, they'll feel both motivated and educated to do something about it.

MS. PASSARIELLO: It's so interesting. And how do you feel like the pandemic, you know, improved or made it more difficult to accomplish your activism? Was it like--and what role did technology play in that?

MS. DIAS: So this is--I like this question a lot because I think I'm one of the few people that had a very--I had a very beneficial work experience, I feel, from COVID-19. I would say the hardest thing is that I don't like recording myself and then having to watch the video if it's like a 45-minute interview or anything and I have to sit there and watch myself talk. But I found that it's been really useful because of the energy that it usually takes me to travel--that's hair, nails, clothes, going with my mom, making sure that she can take time off of work, that I can take time off of school. So I found it really actually convenient and it allowed me to do more to reach out to other students, schools, and businesses that were interested in my voice because I didn't have to travel so much or miss class. I would have class, and it would end around noon, and then I would have the rest of my day to pursue what I was interested in.

So although COVID-19 definitely took a huge hit on my mental health and I feel even sometimes when I was able to learn from my last year, my junior year of high school, I still feel like I was able to accomplish a lot with 1000 Black Girl Books--and more than I could have ever imagined or been able to take on if not in a pandemic, which is unique but I'm still very grateful for.

MS. PASSARIELLO: That's really interesting. And so, you know, can you tell us a little bit about your interest in intersectionality. I believe this is something that, like, you know, you have spoken about how you wish there was a greater focus on this in-classroom instruction. Tell us a little bit about why this is so important to you.

MS. DIAS: Well, it really matters to me because I feel that many students might not understand how many different sort of systems are at play when it comes to our everyday lives. The way that we get to school, like, I used to take the bus. So, when it's coming, you know, you need to get breakfast which is, like, based on our own parents' incomes. You have to have your school bus. How much do your parents pay in taxes, if they pay taxes or participate in that, to get you to school. How much money does your school board have? When you get to class, how do you get your books? Do you have laptops provided by the school?

Like, there are so many different things to think about and how our experiences as Black people, as women, as middle-class people all come into play during these environments. So, I feel that it's really important for schools to talk to kids and discuss to them that, hey, your racial identity, gender identity, sexuality, all of them matter. All of these differences should be celebrated and we should notice and pay attention to the way that you may have less or more access to things because of those differences.

Because once we give kids the vocabulary in understanding that there are certain things in the world that we need to change and work towards and that they exist on a systemic level and not an interpersonal level. I feel that so many other kids will feel empowered, motivated, and have a better sense of understanding about how they can change the world, because oftentimes the racism or sexism we experience we feel only happens between you and I. So, it's that one person saying something mean, but it often exists at a larger and greater scale than we can contribute to or that we do contribute to, and I think schools just need to give kids more access to understanding how multiple identities and issues of access come to play at once.

MS. PASSARIELLO: That's interesting. And how do you--how are you spreading the word about this? How--what kinds of networks are you tapping into around this topic?

MS. DIAS: Well, intersectionality is not really the main--necessarily the focus of what I do as an activist, my goal is always towards inclusion and diversity. But when I have these conversations, I like to talk about how gender equity affects my ability to recognize myself in school--racial identity, and how my experience as a Black girl is very different because even though I had representation of girls and I had representation of Black people in my classroom. Sometimes, it was very rarely that I saw the intersection of my experience or experiences of girls like me.

So, when it comes to my work, I always try to talk about my story in a way that includes all of my identities, my class, my race, my gender, and the things that I just love to do and what I care about, because I feel that it gives people a stronger and a better perspective as to why this work means so much to me when they can see all of who I am and respect all of my identity.

MS. PASSARIELLO: That's great. I'd like to put forward this audience question now, because I thought this was such a great question. So, we've got a question from Janet Kahn in Vermont. She says, "Name the changes you want to see. Tell us what you see that is in the way of change. I went to college in the late 1960s. We were the change generation then. Clearly, we are due for another shift that may be even more fundamental. How can the grandmas and grandpas who never lost our radical edge serve this change generation?" What do you think, Marley?

MS. DIAS: I love that question so much. And my mom is in the other room and I really hope she's smiling at that question, too. We love to hear of family members that are really interested in supporting the kids and their lives in this work. And I think the biggest thing that you could do as grandparents is to listen to your kids that are in your life and continue to ask them questions and to pull at their ideas. So, when I told my mom that I was frustrated, that I didn't see myself in school or my story reflected in school, she said, what are you going to do about it? How do you think this started? What do you think schools mean when this happened? Do you believe it was on purpose?

And I think that teachers, educators, and family members really have this special power of allowing kids to see their own greatness, to see their own potential, and to encourage them to think deeper about the things that matter to them. So, those of you that still have that radical edge and drive to help others which makes me so happy, just encourage the kids in your life and ask them to talk it out with you, because they oftentimes have a great solution they don't believe will actually happen. And you can encourage them to make it feel like--and help them make it happen.

MS. PASSARIELLO: That's great. You know, a little bit earlier in my conversation with Sal, we talked about the role that technology plays in today's education. I'd like to hear from you a little bit more about sort of how technology plays a role in your studies and what you think you gain and what you think maybe the downsides are of it.

MS. DIAS: So, last year, I feel that I have a lot of experience now, because I did my--100 percent of my junior year of high school online. I did not step foot in the building at all, which was difficult. And I think that, at the time, I felt like--you know, it was just--you take it one day at a time, you do your best work. I really struggled learning mathematics online. I was also studying for the ACT online, and it was really just through a lot of my own kind of like bravery and my desire to do well that I was able to push through, but I definitely felt weaker mentally than I ever had, and now I'm starting to notice, as I'm going back to school in person that I really struggle with being on the computer again. I actually--and I know a lot of other kids my age or my friends are just not as interested as being--all like being online and doing things digitally, because we had to do it all of last year.

So, when I get my online readings now in school, I print them out, because I just can't look at a computer for, like, my own comprehensive. So, I find that even though technology is really helpful for providing access for other kids, it's not always my preference of how I like to learn, but I do like that my school allows us to have Chromebooks for free, that we get access to these things and they were trying their best to be really supportive of how every kid can get education online last year and allows kids to take their Chromebooks home and use them as they please.

So, even though it's not always my preference, I think it still matters that we have those things and how I feel about it should not stop any kid from getting what they need online.

MS. PASSARIELLO: Yeah, yeah. That's really--that's so interesting.

Tell us a little bit about how you see technology more in, like, the social sphere, you know, interacting with friends and organizing stuff online. Like, again, there, do you see, like what are the benefits that you see and are there kind of negative impacts, as well, especially as we think about, like, mental health.

MS. DIAS: I think there are definitely a lot of positives to just being able to have, like, a cell phone and all these things. It's such, like, an unprecedented kind of experience, because a lot of my teachers now, they don't even understand how it works. Like, they're not always necessarily up on how it works, but I communicate through my friends, mostly through, like, texts and Facetime if I'm not with them. I would say I'm always on my phone. I know, like, there's so much stigma around that, but there is a lot that you can find on there. Whenever I have things for work, like, I was just running a mental health campaign that I cocreated called Green Ribbon Week and there were other young kind of celebrities or activists that I was really interested in helping me out and wearing green to show support for promoting positive mental health practices. I could just DM them and ask them to send me a picture, and that was all I needed. And I wanted to send them an online gift so I could get them--I asked for their email and then I get their shipping address, and it's just as easy as that.

So, I feel like there are actually a lot of positives to technology that have allowed me to connect and meet with other girls that care about the issues that I care about and are willing to support me. Like, my friend, Marsai Martin, who stars on the ABC show, "Black-ish," she joined on the Instagram live with me and was talking about her mental health and was just willing to have that conversation for thousands of people to see. So, that's one of the huge benefits of social media. It's just being able to reach out to ask for help and to garner support really quickly in a way that I wasn't really used to when my campaign first started, because there's been so much changes since then.

And I would say the negative effects is that it's still--you know, it's still an app that allows you to see what other people are doing to make you wish you were something else, could be somewhere, could do something, and there are always going to be struggles with that where you hope that you could be a part of something that you weren't or you could see something that makes you feel bad about what you have. But at the end of the day, I don't think those things should ever stop people from feeling encouraged to use social media as a way to share their voice and to continue to be smart about the way that they post so that they don't make other people feel that way.

MS. PASSARIELLO: That's fascinating. Maybe just to close, I would like to hear what would you like to tell educators about your generation? What do you think educators need to know to understand your generation?

MS. DIAS: I think one thing that a lot of educators need to know to understand Gen Z is that it's best that we see you as people. And I think that there's--the separation and division between school and life is important for your own mental health, obviously, as educators. But us seeing you as real adults with real, like, feelings and interests and passions and sharing those things with us, communicating with us as though you see us in a similar way is really important to me. And I think a lot of my educators really do that and I know that it helps our relationship. Even though you obviously don't need to talk to me like I'm your best friend, it's really best that we talk about and discuss these issues and allow kids to explore their own identities and just being openminded to having conversations that aren't necessarily on curriculum.

When kids ask questions that feel outlandish, engaging them in a way that makes them know that it feels important to you, too. And I always think that that's just really important to emphasize during a time like this when people have felt so disconnected from one another, and even after this time. So, just always remember that we are kids, too. We have other things to do. You guys have other things to do, and engaging in dialogue that allows us to embrace those differences, to embrace our passions and interests outside of class I think can really help students that are not always a fan of school, and even students that are to realize that, oh, my teacher likes the same bands. They know about the same things; they make the same jokes my parents do. Allowing these relationships to develop, for us to see us, for us to see each other for who we truly are will really help when it comes to engaging with a classroom.

MS. PASSARIELLO: Well, Marley, I'm afraid that's all we have time for today, but it's been really wonderful talking to you. Thank you so much for joining us.

MS. DIAS: Thank you. I appreciate it.

MS. PASSARIELLO: And thanks to everybody else for joining us today for these couple conversations. I’m Christina Passariello. To check out what interviews we have coming up, please head to to register and find more information about all our upcoming programs. Thanks, again.

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