Last week I filed papers to run as a candidate for the Tamalpais Union High School District. I will be on the November 6 ballot, and I ask for your vote.
There are many reasons I chose to run for this governing position and I look forward to serving the community on the highest level possible, while I ask hard questions along the way.
My campaign may be different than others. I refuse to play the political game as its been played in the past. I believe in the power of positive efforts and not downplaying my opponents. Why? If one is to be a leader, than one needs to show our youth how leadership is won and that is with integrity, honesty and vision. In addition, I plan to demonstrate authenticity and respect and not buy into marketing techniques of logos, tag lines or other levels of cheap branding. I want to keep it real. And these are the values I uphold.
If elected, I plan to ask hard questions. Though there are many reasons to celebrate our schools, we must also look at the challenges we have not only in our schools, but society at large. If we are to be the true leaders, than our schools need to also recognize the vast challenges our children are facing. I believe our schools can step up on a higher level to face these challenges on the level that they should.
Our kids are coming into very uncertain times: horrific environmental issues of ocean acidification, pollution and climate change, and also the risk of losing our very rights and constitution as we struggle to understand our values and responsibility related to freedom of speech, intellectual questioning, economic and racial equality and more, a very important topic in our very own Marin County. These are questions and issues I plan to address during my term on the board if I am elected.
In addition, many of our students are so overworked and cope with anxiety, depression and suicide (see recent Marin IJ article). They don’t even time to step back and think for themselves. Are we serving ALL our students on a responsible level? Can we question our approach on a healthy, intellectual level without feeling threatened or angry? I believe so.
The reason I am driven by these questions is because I have reason to. I pulled my daughter out of one of our California Distinguished Elementary Schools after her first year of kindergarten because I noticed a big change in her behavior during that one year of kindergarten, one of anxiety, stress and more. I saw how much over stimulation the children were receiving and I didn’t agree with it, though I had no basis to articulate why. I mean, what do I know? And I was lead to believe it was one of the best public elementary schools around. I then homeschooled my daughter for four years with the guidance of an independent public charter school and with a small community of other like minded progressive families. It was the most beautiful, freeing experience I could imagine, filled with rich literature, nature play, art and plenty of time for her to explore her passions, imagination and dreams, AND be free of technology gadgets and media. Then I had to transferred her back to a public middle school, as my circumstances had changed. They had her tested and she scored in the top percentile . . . and this was a California Distinguished Middle School. The girl never had more than seven hours of academics a week during her homeschooling years.
My jaw dropped. I realized that we need to ask hard questions of our schools. How can a child who never spent more than seven hours of academics a week score so high in a school that spends so much money and instructs children over 35 hours a week? The questions began to grow. Is our educational system serving our children on a level it should? Can we learn from other nations who are taking lead in education with very dynamic changes.
I earned Teacher of the Year award at a top university in China the very first year I taught and the first year out of college. I actually put myself through college, because I understood the value of a strong education. Coming from a working class family and a father who risked and nearly lost everything to stand for political honesty in 1981, I grew up learning hard politics and how to navigate a system that does not favor those who come with little economic support, a society that overvalues how much a person has rather than what they do.
I signed up for graduate school at Dominican UC the same day I walked out of my son’s second grade class, again with my jaw dropping, after I came face to face with the level of technology use in the classroom and how much value we put into this style of learning. The teacher was pushing gadgets onto these young little children who were exhibiting severe anxiety because of it. Why are we doing this when all the research is pointing to the fact that screen time in early years has more negative impact than positive? When you discuss the fact the tech industry in our nation’s schools is a $60 billion industry, perhaps its time to ask is our money being well spent on these gadgets? I asked the teacher for the reason behind the use of the gadgets. She replied, while sipping her coffee, “oh, so we can monitor their improvement and submit those statistical reports to the state which, in turns, secures funding.”
When did such information based learning become so valued? Is the anxiety worth these statistics? What are we losing? Are our kids guinea pigs for big tech money? Great research has risen these last years about screen addiction akin to heroine addiction and other major neurological issues. Schools in France ban cell phones on campus. Finland is aggressively reducing homework. Do all kids have to feel that university it the only answer? What kind of pressure are we putting on these kids? It’s time to ask these questions, especially as more funding is being driven into high school “wellness centers,” a proverbial bandaid to the real issues our teens are facing.
During the homeschooling years, I also had the opportunity to create an outdoor educational program, which I did for four years with a small group of girls. The experience was powerful, as it not only enriched the children with a connection to nature and its wonder, but also allowed them to explore real science, writings by our powerful American nature writers, art and natural history of our very own community, literally in our backyards. I am currently putting together a book about these learnings and the pedagogy which I followed, which is very much in line with some of our country’s leading teachers, such as Richard Louv. In addition, I ran a nonprofit organization leading youth to discover the magic of our oceans and waterways with a sailing organization that taught them to trust themselves, leading to a high level of confidence, as well as a relationship to nature. I was blessed to see these children thrive and grow into leaders today. With our disconnect to nature, what can we do to ensure our children have a strong relationship with it.
In addition, my film projects, specifically Racing with Copepods, which went international, are made with the intention to inspire our youth and adults, to demonstrate the power of passion and connection with what really matters in the world, as we have to face, straight on, some major issues.
I ask for your vote in the upcoming election, if you share the same values as I do. I look to support our amazing teachers, staff and students on a level they should be supported, while I gently urge all of us to take a hard look at ourselves to ask what can we all do to ensure we are a model of success and inspiration for the rest of the nation.
We need big leaders in our country right now. And I believe the Tamalpais Union High School District can deliver on this leadership model and inspire the rest of our country. I look to collaborate with the other leaders on a positive level, so we can all rise together.