In this week’s episode, we travel to Clarksdale, Mississippi to sit down with education policy advocate Sanford Johnson for a conversation so good, we had to bring it to you in two parts. In part one, we reminisce about student government at Auburn, discuss education reform in the Mississippi Delta, and dive into that viral video that had everybody talking about safe shoe-wear activity.
In Sanford’s fifteen years of advocacy in his home state of Mississippi, he has been instrumental in building positive education reform, from supporting the establishment of state-funded pre-Kindergarten programs to promoting the enactment of responsible charter school legislation. His job has not come without challenges; when he first began working for Teach for America in the Mississippi Delta, the area was home to some of the lowest performing low income students in the country, and the state ranked at the bottom when it came to sex education -- Sanford taught in a county with a 1 in 10 pregnancy rate among teenage girls, a clear sign that the strict abstinence-only education policy mandated by the state was failing its students. In the years that followed, Sanford worked on getting inclusive and medically accurate sex education in Mississippi schools, which included not only included STD education/prevention education, but safe sex and proper condom use.
Which brings us to a conversation about footwear, or rather, how to humorously subvert the Mississippi Education Department’s strict ban on condom demonstrations. Sanford explains that after a training exercise, in which an educator was instructed not to pantomime the accurate application of a condom, they filmed a tongue-in-cheek video wherein Sanford demonstrates how to safely put a sock before engaging in “shoe activities.” What started out as an amusing clip became a viral sensation, making the rounds across the internet before being featured on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight (the original video currently sits at a whopping 1.5 million views on YouTube). Though the sock demonstration was made in jest, it has since become an example of the lengths educators often go to ensure that students recieve adequate sex education, and opens a dialogue about demonstrating safe sex practices in the classroom.
We also discuss the introduction of comprehensive charter school legislation in Mississippi, an issue that Sanford oversaw during his time at the nonprofit organization Mississippi First. To prevent the pitfalls of racial and socioeconomic segregation, adequate state policy was necessary to ensure high standards and accountability in what could easily become an irresponsible education market. Sanford explains that by implementing a rigorous application process, as well as placing clear restrictions on private and for-profit schools, Mississippi can safeguard itself against both modern segregation academies and low-performing charter institutions. If correctly monitored, charter schools and public schools can coexist together and find opportunities to cooperate, setting an educational standard that may inspire other states to enact charter school reform.
Join us next week, when we continue with part two of our conversation with Sanford Johnson. We’ll cover other current events in Mississippi, including the recent ICE raids in Jackson, the vandalism of the Emmit Till historical marker, and the upcoming Democratic primary.
In the meantime, you can listen to Gina and Sanford discuss the speculation and superstition that is the College football pre-season. (It’s not really an hour, but that sounded better than “twenty minutes.”)