- Governor Cooper declares a state of emergency for our public schools, urging parents to hold state legislators accountable.
And a ban on social media usage among teens under consideration, as rates of anxiety and depression rises.
And finally, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis officially launches his 2024 presidential campaign.
Coming right up on "Black Issues Forum."
- [Announcer] "Black Issues Forum" is a production of PBS North Carolina, with support from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.
Quality public television is made possible through the financial contributions of viewers like you, who invite you to join them in supporting PBS NC.
[compelling music] [compelling music continues] - Welcome to "Black Issues Forum."
I'm Kenia Thompson.
It seems as though this month, every week has been full of announcements, both nationally and locally, and this week is no exception.
We'll kick it off with the conversation about the announcement from our state's governor.
- It's clear that the Republican legislature is aiming to choke the life out of public education.
I'm declaring the State of Emergency because you need to know what's happening.
If you care about public schools in North Carolina, it's time to take immediate action and tell them to stop the damage that will set back our schools for a generation.
- To talk about the concerns with our state's public schools, we welcome to the show political analyst Steve Rao co-founder of I am Brilliant, Michael Stewart Isaacs and co-founder of Young Americans Protest, Greear Webb.
Welcome to the show, guys.
- Thank you.
- Thank you.
- So, we've heard Steve, through the urging from Governor Cooper that things just need to change.
Explain to us how we've gotten here with our education system and why is there an influx of parents seeking private education?
- Well, first of all, I think that what's happened here is that governor Cooper declaring the state of emergency was really the result of what I believe is a Republican strategy over the years to weaken public education.
And how do they do that?
Well, the first thing is you pass the Opportunity Scholarship Program which takes away money.
It labels millionaires to send their children to private schools on the backs of public taxpayers like us who are paying for the public educational system in North Carolina.
And so that just takes money away from public education and this has been happening over years.
The second thing is teacher shortages.
We have 5,000 teacher shortage right now in North Carolina, but we're paying teacher below what they need to be paying.
Governor Cooper wanted 18%.
Senate gives them maybe 5, 6% or the house 7% and the Senate 4%.
And so if you're not paying teachers enough and then you're cutting funding from the schools, a teacher isn't gonna want to teach.
They're gonna go want to teach somewhere else and so you're gonna increase that shortage.
So that's how we've gotten here.
But I tell you, Kenia, what I really think is happening here is that in 2016 when Governor Cooper was elected the News and Observer wrote an editorial saying, "Governor, you can use the governorship as a bully pulpit for education."
So now progressives are mad at him that he hasn't been doing a knot that he should have been traveling the state for years.
But I'm gonna defend the governor on this and that he's a blue governor in a red state.
And so he had the veto power which he wanted to use for legislature.
And his leadership style has been not to go to the mat with them on this issue all the time.
Because he wanted to pass budgets he wanted to expand Medicaid.
The bottom line is this, though, I'll end with this.
It is so critically important to have public education investments in North Carolina for our global competitiveness.
Last week I met the Indian Ambassador.
He said that India has connected 340 million to the internet in rural India.
And that 60% of India is under the age of 26.
So if we're not gonna invest in education, India and other countries are, and as we automate and lose jobs how are we gonna have educational systems that are training our kids so they can be successful?
Like Greear Webb, who's, anyway, Morehead scholar.
But anyway, I rest my case on that point.
This is about our global competitiveness.
- Yeah, good points.
Michael, when we talk about the current legislator wanting to cut education funding by 20%, and to Steve's point, teachers don't get paid enough but give teachers a $250 pay raise spread over two years.
We've had this conversation over and over again on the show.
I've had it personally.
Teachers just don't get paid enough.
But we're still here complaining of a lack of good teachers.
What are your thoughts on that?
- Well, thank you for having me today, Kenia.
I think ultimately Steve's made some excellent points.
When it comes to teachers and education, I think the key to it is teachers are the lifeblood of our country and if we don't start to value them, we will lose a lot of the future opportunities for our youth.
I think right now, when legislators are looking at trying to legislate technology and all the other things that are on the slate, they need to be thinking forward looking to how teachers are in this equation.
How these teachers can't not simply be replaced by AI technology and all these other replacements but they're someone that connects emotionally with the development of our children.
If we don't see the value in that for the long term goals of our country, then we're missing out on the opportunities.
I think also too teachers nowadays have to be more imaginative.
They're looking at entrepreneurial ways and inventive ways to find economics because they have to supplement a lot of their income.
So we need to find curriculums and other ways of legislation to help teachers be supported in ways that they can continue to grow their incomes as rising interest rates and other things are taking advantage of our country inflation.
So we need to look at different ways to make sure our teachers are able to keep up with these changing dynamics in our country and be more thoughtful with the future legislation.
- Yeah, Greear, some of those that are looking to expand this private school voucher, which is part of this issue of this state of emergency being issued are the same ones making a push to remove and eliminate certain books and courses from our schools.
Do you think this is an agenda perhaps to make public schools less desirable and to target specific groups?
- Well, first, as always, Kenia, you thank you for having me.
And thanks to the whole crew here at PBS NC.
I think Steve is exactly right in what he said, excuse me.
There is an agenda.
There is a larger movement here at play.
And I think Brother Stuart Isaacs is also correct that we do need to support our teachers.
We need to support those in public education who are investing in public education products like myself.
I went to public schools, K-12 and then went to the nation's first public university the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and had an amazing experience, a culturally diverse experience, an enriching experience that was supported by teachers and professors.
And so I think that for us to defund, at the state level, public education in the way that we're seeing and the way that we have historically by those on the conservative side is quite troubling.
And you're right, Kenia, in that we've been here before.
And so I think there is a larger movement at play.
I saw or read the other day that Amanda Gorman poems are now being removed from schools.
And anything that has to do with Black history and pride is now being erased from many places in our country at the hands of conservative politicians and people who have been elected to lead.
That's not leadership to me, and so I am troubled.
I do think that we've been here before and it's up to those who care about public education and care about that global competitiveness that Steve mentioned earlier, to do something, to say something, and to stand firm in our will to support the next generation.
- Yeah, Steve, a little time left here on this block and we've got so much to talk about today, but I wanna ask this question; you know, not everyone can afford private education.
And if our public schools aren't getting the funding and the resources needed to compete, what are we doing to the future of our children who are in these schools and don't have other options?
- I mean, you know, I made the point earlier, we're not doing enough.
I mean, it is simply put.
I mean, I know that answer sounds very basic, but we deprive funding for education that's gonna be less skills that they're gonna get, that they're gonna train.
And especially, in your rural areas of the state where incomes might be lower, school counselors, teachers assistants, to address with the mental health issues that we're dealing with and teachers that are energetic and passionate.
I mean, we're very lucky when I think of Greear, we need more people like him across the state that have had a great experience with education.
So, the fact of the matter is, by not making those investments, I want our Republicans and Democrats and independents to understand that this isn't only about us competing against one county or one state.
There's a child in India or China or Europe that's competing and we want our children to get the jobs of today and the jobs of tomorrow.
And if you don't invest in public education, some other part of the country or some part of the world is gonna win that war and that's where we're headed.
Well, a bipartisan bill designed to keep teens addicted to social media is in legislation via a social media bill called Protecting Kids on Social Media Act.
This bill would ban children under 13 from accessing social media platforms and requiring parental consent for children under 18 to use social media sites.
Michael, I wanna bring you back in, spikes in anxiety and depression and even suicide are being seen nationwide.
Do you think that this ban will help or are there other solutions that could be more effective?
- Well, thank you for the question.
I think as a parent, I think most of this is actually helpful overall to helping us have more safeguards.
I know with my children personally, I didn't allow them on social media till the age of 13.
And even since then, I've seen effects of my children, my family is not exempt from having children who get affected by the image issues or anxiety or other things that social media bring to them.
And we want as parents to have as many safeguards as possible.
And with technology companies being able to get so much information, so much of our privacy, the fact that they hadn't been fore-looking to keep parents in the loop on young children should have been done a long time ago.
So I think we're still legislating from behind but ultimately, I think this is not so much a ban more than it's a provision to help parents like myself who can't always keep up with their kids' activities and need more tools in place to help us know what our kids may be seeing and may ultimately be going through.
- Yeah, and I think part of that too is having conversations with your kids.
'Cause I know with my kids, that's a constant conversation between the phone and the cell phones and social media.
And so, having that conversation about those dangers are also important.
Greear, you are cycling out of school and congratulations on your graduation.
But we've seen how social media impacts young students and even college campuses.
I'd love to hear your experience and maybe some things that you've seen during your tenure.
- Sure, I think Kenia, that social media is very addictive.
I think we actually all know that to be a fact.
And I think it definitely is true on college campuses.
I've seen, just in the four years that I was at Carolina, the impacts, both positive and also negative of social media and the image issues that Brother Stewart-Isaacs was talking about as well as the way that people just put on for social media in a way that is damaging to mental health.
We've seen spikes not only in anxiety and depression and unfortunately, suicides, but also in eating disorders.
There's a bill at the state level here in North Carolina, House Bill 644 that I've supported, that's actually a bipartisan effort to not just ban social media but to actually study and to regulate in a way the effects of the addictiveness of social media.
And so, it's great to see bipartisan support for that.
It's great to see that we are, unfortunately, I do agree with Brother Stewart-Isaacs that we've legislated from behind on this issue but it's good to see that North Carolina is now waking up and realizing that social media has many benefits but it can also be harmful, especially to young people, especially to young people of color.
And so for us to recognize the biases baked into social media and to start holding these big tech companies accountable, we know that technology again, is helpful.
But in this day and age in which AI is running rampant and mental health concerns are at an all-time high, I think something needs to be done to keep parents in the loop, especially when we're talking about minors but also to make sure that young people are kept safe from the dangers of social media and the dangers of cell phones in this modern era.
- Yeah, very, very good point.
Steve, what do you feel is the government's role in regulation is?
Is our society too far gone at this point for this type of intervention?
- No, I mean, I think regulation is often needed in our country.
You can't fly a plane if you don't get regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration.
You can't launch a pharmaceutical product if you don't get FDA approval.
We can't buy guns without permits or hunting or fishing or even driving, you know, licenses, seatbelt laws.
So regulation is always important in our country to make sure that we're keeping people safe.
And I think with this area Kenia, the fact of the matter is that we just haven't been able to regulate these technologies, particularly social media.
And I think there's basically four reasons why it's important to regulate that.
Of course, you have to balance the interest of free speech but you know, one is harmful content on these platforms which leads to cyber bullying, harassment which then can lead to mental health for our youth.
You've got misinformation, fake news, wondering if these statements put on social media are accurate.
And then there's also cyber attacks and data privacy breaches.
And so all of these things, and then when you've add onto that, AI and generative AI where you can actually train the machines to input data, write, in fact, I just wrote a newsletter for my city office on ChatGPT normally takes me six hours; it took me five minutes.
And so, these things can be very, very dangerous.
And I'll just end with this: Sundar Pichai, who is the CEO of Microsoft, told 60 Minutes that, you know, he does believe that these technology companies have to have more regulation so there's more responsible use of social media, more responsible and ethical use of the technology.
And I certainly wish that they had started at this conversation earlier than companies launching their innovations like OpenAI with ChatGPT.
Conversations certainly should have been started earlier, but I don't think people expected for this to spiral the way that it has... - So fast.
- So fast.
Michael, we're talking a lot about negative impacts, but, you know, we do have to admit there are many positive ones too.
So, question for you: Is it possible to have the good without the bad?
- Well, I think ultimately, yes.
I look for the good.
You know, with my organization I AM BRILLIANT, my whole goal was utilizing social media in a way that creates a positive affirmation for our culture, and I think that's the part of social media that we do enjoy, is hearing those tidbits, those Eric Thomas motivational mornings where you get yourself going.
I think we all have had things; I've seen my children use these things to help them get ready for a test.
Of course, everyone says, "Let's Google something."
So, there are things that are helpful towards helping our knowledge culture, but we also need to evolve and upgrade our own emotional wellbeings.
And we know they're already kinda development things for our children.
So, we just have to think more with some of the psychological, you know, dynamics we understand as a society.
We have to kind of be forward-thinking again towards some of the effects that can happen.
And like I said, young people like Greer who are doing great work at the university level to create these studies because they themselves have grown up in the era of seeing social media the whole time.
So, I think that's gonna help right there, is the young people most affected by it are gonna be the ones to create new solutions to help their future children not be as affected as we may have seen our children because we just didn't know better.
AI is a constant threat.
I mean, we can't get away from that conversation.
Steve just mentioned ChatGPT.
What role, Greer, do you see AI playing in social media's impact, and what responsibilities do leaders like Elon Musk hold?
- [laughs] I think they hold a lot of responsibility, Kenia, especially when you oversee; I know he's moving into a new role but still going to be overseeing such a large platform like Twitter, in the case of Elon Musk.
I think AI is a conversation that we continue to have here on this show that I have with my friends and family and that politicians are now trying to understand and establish regulations and rules for how to govern such a powerful technology.
And so, I think, when it comes to social media, Steve already hinted at it; as you mentioned, Kenia, the fakeness, right, the falsities that we see now on social media of AI creating something and people then producing and spreading that as if it were a reality and fact.
And so, I think that's very dangerous, especially when you look at the political ramifications.
But when you look at social media and when you look at the mental health impacts of that, I think it can, too, be dangerous because people will begin to believe in something that's not true; they'll begin to maybe tell themselves or tell others something that's harmful or dangerous.
And so, I think AI has a lot of benefits that are being studied, and we know it helps reduce time, as Steve was mentioning, it helps us summarize maybe better than we would in our human ways.
But I do think it has some problems that need to be sorted out before we fully invest in that and begin to let that govern us as a society and as human beings.
I say this, and I'll close by saying authenticity is something I'm worried about when it comes to AI, and it's something that I feel like we've been shifting away from as a society.
It's time to have some more of those dinner table conversations about what really matters.
And I'm not necessarily sure AI is going to help so much with that.
- We'll see what happens.
Breaking news this week comes from Florida as Governor Ron DeSantis attempted to make his presidential announcement via Twitter, another social media platform, but their audio platform.
While that attempt wasn't completely successful, he did issue a campaign video on Wednesday.
And this news comes days after the NAACP issued a warning to African Americans visiting Florida, citing the state as a hostile environment to Black people.
Steve, how do we feel about DeSantis running?
This is the same guy who has just banned, or at least looking to ban Black students from AP courses.
Same person who's banning gender identity and critical race theory books.
Same person who just signed for a six-week abortion ban in Florida.
- Well my thought is, I just wanna remind all of these candidates on the Republican side, or any side, that this is the presidency of the United States of America, not the divided states of America.
So, if Ron DeSantis was running for the divided states of America, he'd be at the perfect candidate because let's be safe: these issues he's been leading on as the Governor of Florida are very divisive; critical race theory; making it easier to get a gun; anti-abortion, the bill that he just passed; fighting Disney; fighting the cultural wars.
Meanwhile, what I find interesting, he's not really talking about the issues that Americans need to hear of; the policy differences of creating the jobs, we've talked about funding education, foreign policy for the US in the middle of a war with Ukraine with rise of dictatorships over the world.
He does have a military background; doesn't really talk much about what he would bring as a former Navy SEAL to be our commander in chief.
And what I also find interesting is that I feel like he's focused so much on getting the Trump vote that he's not even focusing to win the nomination on the fact that you have a former president who's been convicted of crimes, who lost the midterms, who lost senate races.
And so, what I think of Ron DeSantis is, you know what I think?
I think he's a Donald Trump without the charisma.
So, it's the same person.
And when I say charisma, I mean just kind of, like, with the television presence, right?
I think, if he wins the nomination, he will be a tougher opponent for Joe Biden.
And the final thing I'll say is the 44 year age difference, or 40 year age difference between him and both Trump and Biden, and he doesn't even seem to talk about that, like a new generation of leadership.
So, but I feel like it's more the same.
And I think that the American people will decide in a year who they want their commander in chief to be, but I think he's gotta step it up.
Michael, I'd love your thoughts on DeSantis.
Is he someone that we can trust?
Is this someone who's seemingly making decisions against the Black community?
What are your thoughts?
- Well, I think, as to Steve's point, I think we have to look at it as from even all Americans.
As a Black American, there are things that we can truly be offended by with his decision making.
But a person like Ron DeSantis, that was pointed out, that isn't looking to launch a presidential campaign that's designed to make us more unified but more divided is already starting off on the wrong foot.
And I think, ultimately, what we're trying to see in our country is people, too, that wanna bring us together.
I think, on both sides, most things would be more bipartisan if we gave it a chance, but so many people are trying to run off this Trump formula that DeSantis has now taken on to prove himself to be more Trump than Trump.
But, ultimately, like Trump calls him, he's what they call a DeSanctimonious.
I think, ultimately, he pritzed his moral superiority out there to make himself seem like he's doing good for others but he's not considering all parties, all people, in consideration of the changing dynamics of America.
- Yeah, Greear, DeSantis claims that our current administration has failed us and that if he's elected into office, he will, without excuse, get the job done in what he's dubbing will be the great American comeback.
What are your thoughts on this?
[Greear chuckling] - If Ron DeSantis were elected into office, I think it would be the great American setback.
We've already seen the ways in which he has repealed so much of the progress that's been made.
Steve mentioned some of the issues earlier, but it is quite scary to think about what's going on in Florida right now, to even travel there as a Black person, as a Black young man, as someone in the United States of America who cares about justice and who cares about protecting the marginalized, to not be able to travel to a state and one of the leading cultural organizations in this country, for them to issue such an order, it's quite scary to me and I do think that Ron DeSantis plays a big part in why they issued that order.
I think that's why we have to rise up and continue to stand strong as people who are passionate about equity and passionate about justice in this country.
We know that young people really scare a lot of older folks who are more conservative in their thinking because we are unafraid to call out injustice.
We're unafraid to get down to the nitty gritty to even pass policies and do more than protest and shout, but actually organize and strategize for what really matters and that should be the protection of communities.
We live in a country, we're all residents of a community in one way or another and so the fact that we see these attempts by mainly conservative folks, unfortunately, to silo off, whether it's the privatization of schools or whether it's repealing gun laws and making it easier to commit acts of harm or whether we see abortion rights and women's reproductive health on the chopping block.
It's very unfortunate, scary.
But I do think something can be done about it as we've all mentioned here today and it's up to us to really call it out and continue to organize and strategize and mobilize for what matters, which, again, should be the human dignity of us all and the right to make decisions in a way that keeps our communities as a whole safe.
- Yeah, Steve, I wanna talk a little more about this warning from the NAACP.
Some are dismissing it, saying that Florida has actually seen an increase in tourists and state visitors and so my question is, should the state be concerned?
And some say that we even still have existing sundown towns in North Carolina, right?
So, could this be from the cause in an increase of radical extremists provoking fear among the public?
Is a warning from the NAACP something to be concerned about?
- Yeah, I think so.
I think that it's just a very divisive time and some of these things that you're seeing, people are still gonna go visit Florida to visit Disney and things, but I think it's very concerning and very alarming, just the kinds of statements and things that are said and so, I think that the fact that the NAACP has given a warning should definitely be a wake up call to anyone in America that no state in our country should be espousing and encouraging division and fear for the people that live there, for the people that are coming there.
And, I always liked Florida, but now the branding of the state, right?
There should be significant concerns.
We always thought about Florida, the first thing I would come to mind is Walt Disney or Nick Bollettieri who passed away last year, where I trained as sometimes as a tennis player.
Serena and Venus trained there, right?
You think of, you know, and now we think of Florida, we think of critical race theory, abortion bans, negative, you know, yeah, so to answer your question, yeah, I think we should be concerned.
I commend the NAACP for having the courage to release that statement and we need to be on the watch for this.
- Yeah, there's so much to be concerned about it, it feels like and I'm concerned myself looking into next year's election and so hopefully we can get some more contenders in this race that can combat against some of these issues.
- Bring us together.
- Bring us together, yes.
Steve Rao, Michael Stewart-Isaacs and Greear Webb, thank you so much for being with us today on this show.
- Thank you and God bless all our soldiers and troops who fell for this country.
- Thank you.
And we invite you to engage with us on Instagram using the hashtag black issues forum.
You can also find our full episodes on pbsnc.org/blackissuesforum and on the PBS video app.
Thank you for watching.
I'm Kenia Thompson.
I will see you next time.
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