After covering education for eight years in the nation’s capital for NPR-affiliate WAMU, Kavitha Cardoza joins Education Week on Aug. 1, as a part of its video team and a contributor to EdWeek’s collaboration with the PBS NewsHour.
Cardoza, who spent most of her childhood in India and has degrees from the Manipal Institute of Communication in India and the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, did remarkably deep, compelling reporting on the issues of childhood, education and poverty in her “Breaking Ground” documentary series.
She shared some of the personal and professional experiences she brings with her to the new role at EdWeek.
Caffeine seems like it would be a staple in a journalist’s diet. Is that right? Are you a coffee or tea drinker?
Both! I drink just one cup of coffee in the morning to wake up and have a cup of tea in the evening.
What’s the most interesting interview you’ve done while covering education?
The most interesting interview is always the one I’m going to do next! I love finding out stuff and as soon as I get answers, I want to move on to the next thing. Education is so fascinating because everyone has an opinion.
It kind of seems like the saying “all politics is local” also applies to education. People care most about what’s going on close to home. How do you balance local storytelling versus covering broader policy debates?
Journalism is a blend of facts and feelings, so I try to make people care about the people affected first. Once they do, I can slip in more wonky policy issues.
Yes, people do care about what’s going on close to home, but it’s amazing how many of those issues are playing out locally across the nation.
Talk about your background and education and what part that played in your career.
I was born in England, did most of my education in India and then came to the U.S. as a grad student 15 years ago. So my background (and accent) is a mishmash of all three places.
All three systems of education are so different, even though the goal is the same, and it’s that tension that drew me to covering this beat. I love meeting people of different cultures, and to me I could learn so much about the U.S. through being a journalist and asking nosy questions. And the best part is no one tells you to be quiet!
What are the most striking memories or takeaways from your “Breaking Ground” documentary series?
Each one was so different. With “Yesterday’s Dropouts” about adult education, the most striking takeaway was how people hid the fact they couldn’t read. They talked about looking at colors on top of milk cartons to figure out whether it was full-fat or 2-percent.
They pointed to pictures of food in restaurants because they couldn’t read menus. And they asked for landmarks instead of directions because they couldn’t read street signs. You could really feel the weight of their shame.
“Military Children” was an amazing experience because I didn’t know anything about their educational system or lives, really. And I grew to respect these children so much for moving multiple times, having to cope with a parent being gone for months on end and learning to sacrifice their own wants for the good of the “unit” at an early age.
It was one of the most difficult moments personally and professionally when I interviewed children whose parents died during the wars or by suicide. I learned that these children “serve” as well.
And “Lower Income, Higher Ed” was literally a journey for me because I followed one student whom I had known since he was a junior in high school. He was an interviewer’s dream because he was so honest and open about his challenges as a low-income, first-generation college student.
We went to Michigan and interviewed some of his former professors and friends to really figure out what went wrong. Christopher Feaster was the face of all the policy issues and national debates around this population getting into college but not completing. And I’m happy to say Christopher is taking classes at a community college, so he’s back on track.
You have degrees from universities half a world apart. Are you a world traveler? What’s your favorite place on Earth?
I love traveling. When my sisters would go back to India to see my parents, we realized we were so busy meeting friends and relatives we didn’t get to spend time with each other.
So about 12 years ago we started taking family vacations together to different countries. I’ve been to so many wonderful places including Thailand, Russia, Kenya, Vietnam, Cambodia, Brazil and Sri Lanka. Each one is so different, but I really believe people are the same.