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Hey everybody, this is shout your cause again, my name is Sally Hendrick and I have a special guest today. Her name is Jess Piper. She is a former teacher who is running for house district seat one in Northwestern, Missouri. Welcome Jess, how are you?
Hi, Sally. I'm doing well. Thanks for having me on you're welcome.
Thank you. I have been watching your Tik TOK videos. I love listening to what you have to say. You're so calm and collected, but you're talking about stuff that really can rile people up.
Yeah, it does. But the thing is I love the fact that you are able to articulate the issue so well, and talk about everything from the needs of the people in your district to what's going on around the country and how that relates to everything that's going on in our country right now.
So I really appreciate that. Thank you.
Yes. Thank you. I think speaking calmly when things are really upsetting to us as a kind of a trait of teachers, I'd say,
oh yeah, I can see that. I can see how that works. So in your teaching career, you were teaching what?
I taught American lit for the last six years to juniors. And before that I taught other versions like British lit and even taught some middle school at the beginning of my career. So I just finished up 16 years and stepped away so that I could work on campaigning full time.
Well, that's really brave of you. I commend that very much. That's a, that's not an easy transition to make, but I also want to bring up that you probably can see a lot of what goes on in history through the literature that you've taught.
Yeah. In fact I really, the last decade of my career, I spent a lot of time working with scholars from around the country on African-American history. History is really my passion. I plan to be a history teacher, but when I went to college, I had an advisor say, you know, you're really going to be up against all football coaches. Why don't you try English? And so I was like, well, I enjoy English too, especially literature. So I went that route, but I've always taught literature through the lens of, you know, history and using the context of the time period. In any way, I really got interested in African-American literature. And then I started teaching the history of slavery through American lit and toward the end of my career, I was traveling the country, teaching other teachers how to implement the history of slavery into their American literature classes.
Well, and that makes a lot of sense. I'm also very curious about the fact that you said that coaches end up teaching history. I remember this.
It's just, it's really common. And whenever I bring that up, people are like, wait, you're right. And often times you know, history is overlooked in high school. And it's especially important in times like these that we all understand our history, but we can see how we kind of that off because a lot of times the people who were teaching our history maybe were concerned about football games or basketball games rather than history.
I also remember that the coaches taught health class too. Yep. Just ironic. I think that we're in the position we are today with what's happening. And I think that we've lost a lot of the meaning because of that. So I commend you for tying that over to the American literature to bring the history out to people. And one of the things I wanted to ask, do you find that depending on the kids that you're teaching, that the points you would be bringing forward would be different?
Like if you had a different group of kids versus, you know, regular, I don't know. Just, I don't know.
Yeah. Well, in, in my community I was teaching white children in general, about 98% of our community is white. I'm a white teacher. And so to me, what really happened is kids were really interested in things that they had never heard of before. I know for myself that I graduated in the early nineties, I graduated high school, early nineties. And when I went to college, I realized that I didn't know a whole lot of things that I should have known. I hadn't read any literature by authors of color. I found an African-American history class and I was hooked because I'd never heard these things before. And so when I'm teaching high schoolers, that happens a lot with them. They're like I had no idea.
And so I think it probably is different, you know, in different communities because these white kids that I was, I was teaching in general, didn't see didn't have a chance to see things outside of their own community and their own lens. And so when you bring it to them you know, through a different lens, they're able to sort of grasp what's going on in the world. That makes a lot of sense. And I agree with you about not being exposed to a lot of that until later. I remember my college courses that were historical you know, history. We had to do American history, you know, before 1865 and then post 1865. And I happened to have for the post 18. Was it posted when was Andrew Jackson, when what's his timeframe, he would have been post. Okay. So the post history 1865 and after I had actually, oh, no, no. And I know what it was, it was 1865 to like sometime in the 19 hundreds. And then after that, like world war II or something was the marker
Turn what, you know,
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And so after world war II, the, I had a teacher that was on sabbatical from Arizona and had come over. And I believe that she would have been like like Indian, indigenous native American or whatever the proper term is to say these days that she ended up teaching such alternative history than what I had ever heard of. And a lot of it was women based. And then the teacher that I had for the 1865 through world war two she ended up teaching mostly about Andrew Jackson and the trail of tears,
which is by the way, pre-65. I apologize for that. So the Jackson era was before that, but yes.
Okay. All right. So either way, whatever it was, I ended up getting a whole round of history that I had never seen before. And it was not what I expected when I signed up for the classes and they weren't required, but I did end up having two professors on sabbatical, which was really interesting.
Right, exactly. Yeah. Yeah.
Cause I went to college in Memphis.
Right. And so I, I graduated from high school in Arkansas. And so you and I probably learned a lot of the same history in high school and that the, the south the war, the civil war was really like, yeah. And it was an act against Northern aggression, you know, all those things that we learned and then you get to college and you're like, wait, what?
It's like, yeah. What did, what really happened? Plus it was so much more interesting to hear the stories in college and the things prior to that were like still in the blank. I will never forget that on my senior history exam, all the, really, the only thing we learned about the Holocaust was in the holocaust blank million Jews were killed and we had to put six was the number and it was like, that's all you learn.
And at that point, you're really only, you know, teenagers in high school. They're really only interested in each other. They're not interested in their schoolwork as much. I mean, granted, some are but the focus is, is not as much on that. And unless you have somebody who really knows and is a great storyteller, it's really hard to learn history. So I think that maybe combining it, even with American literature would be the smarter way to go.
It really is. It tells, like you said, you remember stories, you don't remember statistics in general though. You just did remember statistic, but you remember the stories. And so with the Holocaust when you can, which is not American lit by the way, but you're learning about the Holocaust. If you incorporate Lev souls nights, it's, it's something. And I don't know if you've read it, but you can have, yeah.
You can not forget those opening scenes. There's no way it's cinched into your brain. And so literature just creates empathy that statistics and dates do not. And so I think it's really important that we tell those stories and, and I've talked about this before, but when I read beloved, when I read Toni Morrison's novel about, she was an enslaved woman who, you know, ran to the north, there were slave catchers, which was completely legal at the time coming up and, and getting their enslaved and taking them back. And in that opening scene with her in the Levitt when, what she did to her child to escape slavery is singed. You can never forget it and diverse literature creates empathy in us. And that's why it's such a shame that people are trying to delete literature and history. And we need to be real specific about that.
And I know we had talked about, you know, talking about CRT and that sort of thing, but I start deleting words when they start lawmakers in Missouri wrote a bill that did not pass. Thank God, but it'll come up again. Where teachers couldn't talk about depression, racism, or privilege. If you, if I can't talk about oppression, you've deleted a third of my curriculum and American lit.
you've deleted like most everyone's history, you know, you really have. Yep. So that's a great segue into CRT, critical race theory. I did meet with a teacher who focuses specifically on anti-racism and some other things I met with her on the podcast recently. And we were talking about the fact that, you know, she's teaching the history of what's happening in this country. She also does a literature. You know, she kinda has her own, she can kind of write her own courses if you will.
She's got a very diverse population, which is very different from you. She's in Iowa, but she has like 50, some odd percent Latinos and then like 20% black and then the rest are Asian or wider or whatever the other category is what you have 98% of. Right. Right. So so she teaches and helps. She has them help her dictate the curriculum because she has so much flexibility in that. And she's getting all kinds of flack on on social media also from there's an Iowa former Congressman that has called her out on Twitter. She's been on Tucker Carlson's blog, all kinds of stuff. So,
yeah, I know who you're talking about now. I know exactly who you're talking about.
Yes, yes, yes, yes. I mean, I, you know, I, I feel our pain and honestly I walked away last year so that I could focus on campaigning, but it's been a burden lifted because I, I know probably what I would have faced had I gone into the classroom this year and taught the way I've always taught. And I would have been a target for sure. And probably ended up being at the end of a somebody tweet, you know, some lawmakers sweet and Missouri.
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Well, and not just that she already teaches the diverse population. And so she has a lot of support from her school because I mean, the parents they're, they're diverse as well, and they're not going to be against what she's doing. She helps them all the time and things that they do out in the community. And so they love her, but if you're in a district where it's 98% white, you're going to have a lot more pushback from your community. And yeah, I couldn't imagine. Yeah. And I, I will say that my community has overwhelmingly been very supportive of the way I teach. I'm really lucky that I was teaching in a town, in my district where we have a university. And so with a university often comes a population of folks who, you know, understand education, understand educators, that sort of thing. So, so I was really lucky there.
I mean, there were the outliers that were very upset. I've had, you know, some messages and that sort of thing, but in general, the parents were if they weren't on board, I didn't know. It I'll say that, oh,
you're very lucky then. And, but it, but it also says a lot for the fact that instead of staying in, in a position where maybe you're having to deal with this catch 22 situation, it's like, everywhere you turn, you're having problems and you can't, you know, make any headway, but instead you've risen to this level of, okay, now I'm going to run for office. Right? Yeah. And so moving in that direction with what we can talk about, let's talk about masks and school and COVID the pandemic that's and this whole underlying, almost like a sneaky little way of trying to create private school vouchers using these issues, these health issues as political pawns.
Yeah. You know what? It has been sneaky up until this last little bit, and now it's blatant. It is completely in our face. And I feel like they don't care. And I can point to a couple examples of Florida right now is, is really working over there. Their public schools governor DeSantis is, you know, prevented schools from mask mandates. And then yesterday, he came out and said, you know what, if you go against my prohibition of mask mandates, I will not pay your superintendents. I will recall any money spent for your board of education. And they've been real adamant from the beginning. There was a state representative from Florida. His name was Randy fine. And he put on his public post on Facebook that he was going to preempt any school from mandating mask. He was very, you know, direct about it in the comment section.
There were several moms that said, you know, my kids, aren't going to be safe if they can't mask, what can I do? And he said, Hey, call my office. And I bet I can get you a private school voucher where they will require mass. And that was a moment you're just like your jaw hits the floor. You're like, wait, you're defending public schools by sending these parents who want mas mandates into private private schools, into charter schools. It's, it's just in your face. We know that public school has been attacked for a long time. And we need to, I need to tell you real quick about charters, charter schools. There's no charter schools in my area. None. If I want to just send my kid to a private school, she would have to drive, you know, I'd have to drive 57 miles to the nearest private school. So that's not an option in Missouri. When they talk about privatization, when they talk about ESA, which are scholarships for charter schools or private schools, the only thing that does in rural areas is defend our schools. Cause we don't have a choice. And so it's been coming for a long time, but it's just completely in our face now.
So whenever somebody applies
For a voucher for a private school, is there an application selection process? What happens?
So with charter schools and I'm, I'm gonna preface this by saying, I'm not saying charter schools are bad, but charter schools select their students. And you'll hear people say they're public schools. They're not public schools or public schools. Now anyone can put a public, put the name public in their charter, in their title because no law prohibits that. So you'll see a lot of charters using public funds that we all pay into and they take those funds and they make a little school and they select their children and they select what they're going to teach and they can kick out anyone they'd like to where they can, they can refuse medically fragile children. They can refuse children with disabilities and they take that money from the public school. And now it's in private hands with a private board where they can make money off of these kids. That public school is still required to offer all of these programs to everyone. But now they're defunded because now they have fewer students, but they still in general have the same kids who have IEP five oh fours that need extra help.
Now that, that blows my mind because we actually had a situation where we were in a private school. It was a religious private school. And we did that for a little while. And then we had one of our kids go into a lottery for like an academic magnet type school. And that, that was a public school. And we went into that direction and we did have some issues with maybe ADHD or whatever we were working with at the time. And it was amazing to me, the difference in, oh, well, here's what we can do for you because of this situation. And when we were in the private school, it was like, oh, you know, you've problems here with the grades and this is happening and that's how happening and what are you going to do about it? Looking at me and I'm going, I don't know.
I mean, I, what am I supposed to do about it? I mean, I've never dealt with this before and parents get, feel so left out when they're in the private school systems who may have issues like that.
So you've just described something that is very common, especially with parents who have kids with special needs or different needs. I mean, it happens all the time. And a lot of times they'll just kind of either like, you can get some, you know, you should take your kid and either have a medicated or, or do some sort of your own thing. But otherwise we can't help you. But a private school in general is you paying for that. Like you probably pay private tuition for that. Yeah. And so they're not using public funds, but you know, charters are just a whole different, different ball game.
And it's very upsetting to some people who say, no, my charter is public. When you have to say, it's actually not, and they're taking public funds, which you may think, you know, creates a public school, but they have private boards. They can make money off kids. Oftentimes these schools are run by corporations. So they're looking at kids as money. They're in public school. We're looking at kids as kids. We don't make any money off again. I've never made a money. Any money off of kid.
and special needs need services or a cost center.
Yes. Yes. And so that's why they would tend to not want to facilitate. And they're pretty sneaky about it. You know, they'll just say, well, we don't have, we don't have the services. It's not like we won't take your child. It's just like, you can send them here, but we don't, we won't service them. [inaudible]
Well, and I remember one of my, I have got twins that are now one just finished college, and one is, is about to finish college. And when they were in kindergarten and one of their classmates was in a wheelchair and they took to her like white. It was, they were very sweet with her and have been friends all that time. And she was not actually going to be admitted to the school. It was a Catholic school, but her great aunt is a nun that was actually part of the administration of the school. And it wasn't long before they found a benefactor to donate the money, to put the elevator that they needed. Yeah. But that, like you said, the average child in a wheelchair, it wouldn't be assessable to her. Right. Right. And I didn't realize the details about that until later. And it was like, oh, so they actually have this opportunity to discriminate based on that.
Or at least to say, I'm sorry, but she won't be to, you know, go to the cafeteria. She'll have to eat alone in the classroom for her entire, you know, elementary and junior high career. So so as far as like what's happening with the mask mandates and moving people into this, oh, well, let me find you a school with a voucher to, to find a school that doesn't require masks and then, but they're not requiring them in the public schools anyway. So I don't see how they're, how they're thinking. That's going to work. That's ridiculous. You're literally slicing pennies. You're slicing the population into all of these different groups of like, same, same.
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Right? So the, the whole movement with CRT and I follow a great person. She's an author and also an educational podcast herself. Her name is Jennifer Berkshire, but she's done a whole lot of research on the, the way that the government and government officials are trying to defund public education. And a lot of people say why public education? Well, because it's the last great frontier that is our, our our publicly funded thing that works, right. We very privatized things like prisons. We outsource road work to different groups. And so it's the last great frontier for a huge pot of money. And you better bet your socks that people want their, their hands on that money. So that, that's the reason because a lot of people are confused. Like why would we defend schools? That's the reason there's a huge pot of money that is supposed to educate everyone.
And instead they're like, well, what if I created my own school? So it's more from, at the beginning of the summer, we heard lots of rumblings about critical race theory. Okay. And then it's morphing into anti mask and you'll realize that all of these people, and then it goes into privatizing schools. They're all the same people. When you look at the groups that are showing up to board of education meetings and all that, it's the same people. It's the same legislators. And so if I hear a politician going on a rant about critical race theory, the first thing I think of is in the first thing I look up, are they pro and I'm, I guarantee you, you're going to find that connection. As soon as you look at what they've said and what they support,
of course, there's money behind that. Somewhere coming from someone, I guess that money trail needs to be figured out exactly who it is.
Yeah. Well, a lot of these corporations own these schools and then it's kind of like, I'll scratch your back. You scratch mine. Yeah. I'll fund your I'll fund your campaign. If you will make sure that my school stays open. So then your legislator and Alec is ALEC. I can't remember what it stands for at the moment, but it's it's a conservative group that writes legislation. Yes. Yeah. Legislators across the country. And so you'll see it like the same bill that they put through in Idaho is like word for word, the same thing that went through in Oklahoma. So they're just using the same exact bill. And at that point, you have to think why, how are all these people connected? And you know, Sally, like anything else, if something doesn't make sense, you follow the money.
Well, and I know about Alec too, because I was in a group last year.
That was a lot of teachers who were having concerns about school, starting that we were here, we are in the same boat again. And it's almost like, well, you know, we could have been prepared for this, but everybody's just kind of twiddling their thumbs. Or everybody's like running around in circles, going back and forth with the arguing that nothing gets done. And there was a group that I was in and they were sharing a list of all the corporations that were involved with prison privatization using prison, labor the reason that you want to put these people in jail versus you know, versus having them be productive members of society, it just didn't make any sense. And so it really got heated because this list was being added to somebody, was doing an amazing work and has been adding to it ever since.
And then they talked all all about the Alec. I don't know if it's a pack or, or what it is, but they basically, like you said, they write the legislation. And then there was a video of one of the senators, somewhere that presented legislation and didn't fix one of the footers or subtitle or something. And it was like, did you just copy paste this? Because this is what it says here, you know? Right. And I looked it up just so I would say, it's the American legislative exchange council. And so they act like they're just, you know, sharing ideas when they're not, you are exactly right. It's a copy paste job. In, in it's corrosive to local governments. And I mean, our founders didn't envision us. And, and by the way, the GOP is supposed to be the party of local control.
So I'm not exactly sure who went astray on the memo because they are doing nothing locally. If you've got legislators showing up to your board of education meeting, that's a red flag, local school boards should decide local school curriculum. And you've got folks, you've got folks from like in Missouri, Jefferson city, they're coming down to, you know, to counties into cities that they don't even represent, like what is going on? You don't belong here. That's local control and Alec, you roads, local country troll because it's written by someone in DC or wherever they're writing these bills and then passed out to states and it doesn't fit our states. It doesn't make sense. And like, like we said, it's, it's because it's about the money. It's, it's not going to make sense.
Yeah. Oh, this just really, this is, this is doesn't feel good. You know?
So what is it that you see you being able to do if you are elected? When is that election anyway it's in November of 22 and you might be thinking, my gosh, why are you starting so early? I'm starting this early because I am in a very red, very rural district that has not elected a Democrat since 1992. And I hate to say that out loud, but it's true. And they have never elected a woman to represent the district. And I am, I'm not here to be on the ballot. A lot of people are like, ah, just get a dim on every ballot. And I'm like, no, there's no way I'm, I'm signing up for this unless I'm in it to win it. And that's definitely what I'm doing. So I know I need to raise money. So I put myself out there early.
And if I, if I get elected, there's a lot of things I'd like to address. The first thing is fully funding public education because our rules schools are suffering. We're losing teachers because Missouri funds education at 49th in the nation, we are 49th in the nation are, our teachers are always in the lowest batch for getting paid. So we're losing everyone to border states. They're just running from here. So I would fully fund, you know, education. I'm concerned about concentrated animal feeding operations, which are called [inaudible]. those are farms that are coming in and damaging our air and our water. And they don't care because they don't live in Missouri. so I'm concerned about those. I'm concerned about our roads trembling. I'm concerned about rural broadband and then rural health here as well because our hospitals without proper funding, they close in rural areas and we have folks, you know, that don't have access to adequate health care.
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And I know all about that. I used to be the actuary for healthcare corporation of America. When Rick Scott came in, he is the Senator in Florida who used to be the governor there. He came in, this was back in the early nineties to mid nineties. He came in, took over the company. It was Columbia HCA. And then after three years of an unbelievable number of acquisitions and I mean, they acquired every hospital, every surgery group, every doctor, group, everything you could possibly imagine, they acquired it over those three years. And then the government stepped in and was like, oh, they uncovered some sort of Medicare fraud because the pressure was just so high for these, all these places to make money. And really the rural hospitals are just not going to make money, you know, not like not like you see the ones in the cities.
Right. And and then we'd had to turn around and divest all of those things that had been bought. And it was just really a really difficult situation. He got ousted as the CEO and they brought back in Dr. Frist, who had started the company in the seventies and the first place or his father had. And then he had taken it over and he came out of retirement to run the company. And it's like, it's like everything changed. Everything went back to, let's make this more efficient. Let's look at how we can run this smoothly. Let's you know, really run this the way we need to run it. We're going to divest these hospitals. And we're going to make two more companies that are viable companies or, you know, whatever it was they were doing. And it just, it was just a better place to be pastor Rick Scott had left because he wanted to create this whole branding of health care.
And it was just money, money, money, money, money, and the focus was just not in the right place. And I think that people don't understand that until they hear the stories and hear it from people like you, who were their neighbors, their friends, their teachers, the people that are in the communities, and also have this command of what's happening all around the country, not just in their local area. So I really appreciate that. And I, and I love the fact that you mentioned the cases at well as well, because at some point maybe we could come back and discuss that further.
Absolutely. And just touching on that for just a second, a lot of folks, especially my area, you know, there's a lot of in sentiment, but basically because he's a Democrat, but the Biden administration just last week signed some executive order saying that that, that farm family farms and family farms should be able to compete.
And also putting a label of origin on beef, which people are like, what does that mean? That means that you know, where your beef came from. I know where mine came from because I grow it. But other people don't, and you should be able to know that it was raised in this place. It was butchered here. It was processed here, but right now you don't know that. And so the Biden administration is really coming through for family farmers. And I think if, if we get that message out, that's going to change minds in rural America. Cory Booker is writing a bill right now against CAFOs, Cory Booker. And so I just, I think that people need to know they're there fighting for us. Yeah.
And I love that. I I've spent a lot of time in Europe and, and I have, we have really great friends in Germany and they have this brand in the grocery stores, that's called bio something.
And whenever you pick up a, you know, a shrink wrap thing, you know, styrofoam thing of made, or they don't use styrofoam, they use like paper thicker paper. But anyway, you pick that up, it's got a number on it and you can literally go to a nearby farm. And every horse, not horse, every cow has a tag on their ear with that number. And so when it's, when that meat is processed, it's one cow. And then you get the same label on the package that you pick up at the grocery store.
Yeah, yeah, that's right. It is. And that helps family farmers in Missouri. I mean, we've just, we've lost, we've lost an entire generation of crop farmers to corporate producers, to people like Smithville. 50% of the pork that we eat in America is, is born and own 50%. And during the pandemic, we realized what happens when we don't have control of our own food supply. We went to the grocery stores and there was no meat. It wasn't, it was because it was, it was a foreign owned company. And they're going to worry about taking care of their folks before they take care of Americans.
I agree with you. And I love the fact that you are, are looking to champion that cause as well. So what about your hope for the future? What are you seeing happening? What, what do you want to see?
I, my whole thing about running is that progressive folks in Missouri have no representation. We are not represented at all. We have a super majority of GOP, super majority you know, what the Democrats don't even have to show up to work because the Republicans have a quorum without them. So just to even have a voice, just to give a voice to folks that aren't necessarily, you know, in line with the GOP, I'm really hopeful that we can make changes in Missouri and that my grandkids will stay here. And that my kids can find gainful employment here. And I, and I get to be around them because as it is right now they're, you know, they're likely to leave to find employment or because of things like abortion bans and right to work legislation and the, and keeping our wages low and it makes it a struggle.
And so my big thing is progressive voices. We're out here. And I don't care who I represent. I want to have their best interest at heart. I don't care if they're flying screw you Biden flag right now. I want, I want to help you. And I want your children to do well in school. And I want them to have healthcare. And I want us all to have, you know, a better world and it starts really local. It starts you know, in our states and our local communities.
Thank you. I love that. Thank you. All right. Well, that's it for today for shout your cause. Everybody, please subscribe to the podcast and visit our website for show notes and for an opportunity to get more information on our articles and other podcast episodes. And we will talk to you soon. Thank you.
You for listening today. My name is Sally Hendrick. Be sure to visit our website for show notes and more information on how you can inspire others. If you would like to contribute content to our magazine, please apply on our website at shoutyourcause.com.