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Meet Batsheva Frankel of Overthrowing Education Podcast in West LA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Batsheva Frankel.

Batsheva, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
All through my childhood, I wanted to be an actor. I performed in community theatre throughout high school and then went to NYU’s drama school, where I realized that I also loved directing. With thoughts of becoming a film director, I started working as an assistant film editor at a trailer house in NY. Eventually, I moved to LA to work in production. However, after working in the film industry for over eight years, I realized that I wasn’t feeling fulfilled and decided to embark on a career in education with the goal of contributing to the betterment of education as a whole. Using creativity in my lessons and assessments became a hallmark of my teaching methods and propelled me to administrative positions as well. But I wanted to have an effect beyond a classroom or school.

In 2011, I won a large grant and developed a line of games for 4th grade – college age students that deal with big philosophical issues and in 2017 my book, “The Jewish Educator’s Companion” was published by Behrman House. I have also been teaching educational workshops all over the US and the UK since 2010 and eventually formalized my business as New Lens Educational Consulting. In 2019, I completed my master’s degree in teaching. But one of the most life-changing events for me was when I started teaching at one the most amazing high schools I could imagine, Areté Preparatory Academy in 2013.

During the interview process for my job at Areté, the head of school, Jim Hahn and I spent over an hour discussing educational philosophies; it was clear that we agreed on what makes great education. Over the next few years, as Jim and I continued discussing, debating, experimenting and learning about what works, our goal of creating meaningful and deep learning grew beyond Areté. We wanted to participate in the exciting global conversation about what works and what needs to change in education. The Areté Institute was founded on the desire to help parents and students understand the possibilities of what great education could be, and to train and support teachers to achieve the ability to provide it. With our annual GameLevelLearnCon we help educators level up their classes with workshops on game-based learning, and we provide philosophical salons for parents.

As much as it has been exciting for The Areté Institute to make an impact in Los Angeles, we really wanted to make an even bigger commitment to helping education, and I was also looking for the perfect outlet for my creativity in writing, performing and editing – and so my podcast called Overthrowing Education was born. It is a celebration of what great educators out there are doing and a way to move the conversation forward and involve everyone who cares about education. And like a good class, the podcast is engaging, humorous, informative and inspiring. Every episode begins with a fauxmercial – a commercial parody about fake educational products we wish were real. I love writing them (some are written by Eve Hirshcman), casting, directing, often performing and editing them.

Then, after each interview with an expert on that episode’s topic, I make my guests play The 5-Minute Game Show (my homage to the NPR show/podcast “Ask Me Another.”) which I write (or co-write with Eve) specifically for that person and topic. Then I feature teachers and students telling it like is on the segment “In the Trenches”. The most amazing thing is that I get to combine all of my talents with my crazy passion for great education and share it all with the fantastic listeners. Hearing the feedback about the way it makes people question traditional paradigms and inspires them to try new things is really gratifying. One of the best compliments I got was from a parent listener who said, “After I listen to each episodes, it makes me want to be a teacher!”

Has it been a smooth road?
One of the biggest challenges is the one I’m still facing – how to make real inroads on our educational system. How do we reach the people who need to hear our podcast the most? Sometimes, it seems hopeless – like I’m hitting my head on a brick wall. But then I see a Tweet or read about something amazing some teacher is doing and my faith is renewed!

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
There are hundreds of educational podcasts – and many them are quite good. However, almost all of them are geared only towards educators, whereas Overthrowing Education is also meant for parents and students. Also, no other educational podcast adds all the funny bits – the fauxmercials, the game show and other creative parts that make the show as entertaining as it is informative. I’m so proud of the writing, the humor and the great conversations I get to have with amazing educational experts. The other thing that sets us apart is that we tackle three kinds of topics – 1) Pedagogical approaches such as blended learning, game-based learning and how to use technology effectively; 2) Bigger educational issues such as the problems with grading, why we need to re-examine the transactional nature of our schools, and the importance of equity in education; and 3) The pervasive issues in our society that affect our classrooms and schools such as how to have civil conversations with people we don’t agree with and how to overcome implicit bias. Because we focus on all three of these areas instead of just one of them, we hope to start or continue many important conversations.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Los Angeles is the perfect place to work in education and for starting a podcast. Even when I lived in NYC, the opportunities for me to grow as an educator seemed limited. But in LA we are surrounded by creative and interesting people to learn from and be inspired by. It was an LA organization that awarded me my grant which, while my games eventually went worldwide, was originally given to help the local LA community. I’ve also had easy access to talented designers, voice-over artists (for the fauxmercials) and musicians including the band Distant Cousins who play our theme song, Raise it Up. Additionally, I’m part of a group called “Women Who Podcast” and many of the over 300 women in the group are right here in LA so we can meet and support each other. I can’t imagine trying to do what I do in any other city.

For someone just starting out, I would suggest taking full advantage of all that Los Angeles has to offer. There is so much more to this city than its stereotypes. Be inspired to create by visiting all of the different neighborhoods and try something new as often as possible. Then you can take all that you’ve seen, heard and learned and create something great!

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Image Credit:
Charlie Watson, Jean Farrell

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