Mixologi believes the children are our future, (teach them well and let them lead the way) and our good friend Matt Haney is running for San Francisco Board of Education. (Have you registered to vote yet?) We sat down with Matt and talked to him about his background, diversity in schools, and his views on education.
1. How has growing up in such a diverse area, shaped your views on education?
I’ve been able to see firsthand the tremendous power of education and how it has opened up opportunities for countless people. But I’ve also seen how the education system has failed so many people in systematic and structural ways. It has unrivaled power as an equalizer, but also often serves to reinforce and cement inequalities. In the Bay Area, you can see all of this. You see how different opportunities are for people depending on where they live, from Piedmont vs. West Oakland, or even the parts of Westside SF vs. the Southeast. And you can see it within schools as well. Our schools are highly segregated and becoming more segregated, and more often than not the schools with the highest number of Latino and African-American students are also the ones without resources. It is the biggest civil rights and equity issue that we face as a country, and we see that acutely here in the Bay Area. So growing up here in the Bay Area has helped me understand the power of education, but also how much work we still need to do to address the systematic inequalities that still exist.
2. How can our education system benefit from its students coming from different ethnic backgrounds?
The greatest power of public education is in not in what we learn from books, but in what we learn from each other. Diversity is one of the reasons why public education is so essential. Everyone has the world that they are a part of with their family and their private life, but in public education we all come together. And when we come together, the idea is not just that we’re all given the basic skills and knowledge that we need to succeed in our society, but we also learn about each other in way that will allow us to function as a democracy. Public education helps us not just understand our own story and experiences, but also the stories and experiences of others.
3. Why did you decide to minor in African American Studies at Cal?
You can’t understand the American story or how our society has become what it is today without understanding the African American story. Our country was built on slavery and racial discrimination. Yet African Americans have resisted, adapted, struggled, fought, and shaped in the most fundamental ways what our country has become. America is what it is not just because of the terrible legacy of racial discrimination, but also because of the ways in which those who were victimized by racism responded with courage, creativity and fearlessness. I learned about America through the African American story, and that has helped to shape my understanding of the world we live in and my role in it.
4. How well is the SF education system fostering the creative side of its students?
We should do better. Every student should have access not just to art, but also to music, drama, graphic design, and new media. They should should be central to the education that every student receives, but unfortunately they are often the first thing cut. The 21st century economy, especially here in the Bay Area, requires creativity. It’s what we do. Yet our education system doesn’t always reflect that. Being really good at memorization isn’t going to get you a job at Google. You have to be creative, you have to be innovative, you have to understand technology. This is all the more important for kids who are struggling, because art and creativity are often the only things that engage them at school and prevent them from dropping out.
5. You are a fairly young dude, how can that help you be a better school board member?
I think it’s important to have some folks on School Boards and in education policy that are a bit closer to the experience of students. I still see things from their perspective in many ways. We’re part of the same generation. A lot has changed in the way that kids learn, how we access and process information, and what motivates us–I think I have a good sense of that. I also will make sure that the voices of students are heard in any decision that we make–unfortunately that’s a voice that is often ignored or left out. We make decisions that impact students, first and foremost, but we aren’t asking students what they think about it and whether it is working for them.