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AMANPOUR ON PBS

Amanpour on PBS

 

Featuring conversations with global leaders and decision makers on the issues affecting the world today, Amanpour on PBS adds to the long tradition of public affairs programming that has been a hallmark of public media for decades.

 

 

AMERICAN MASTERS
Hedy Lamarr

 

Discover the ingenious inventor behind the beautiful face as the Hollywood star tells her own story in a newly discovered interview. Learn
how Hedy Lamarr’s pioneering work is the basis for secure WiFi, GPS and Bluetooth technology.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Ted Dintersmith

 

As a child who played a lot of baseball in rural Virginia, Ted Dintersmith wanted to be a Major League Baseball pitcher. By serendipity, he says, life took him on a completely different path, when he got a job at a high-tech startup. For 25 years, he made a name for himself in the venture capital realm, before leading the charge in America as an advocate for transforming education. He is Executive Producer of the documentary Most Likely to Succeed and a co-author of the book by the same name. In the 2015-16 school year, Dintersmith visited all 50 states to meet with parents, students, educators and politicians, and encouraged communities to work collectively to re-imagine school and its purpose.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, May 13 at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Ted Dintersmith Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

So, you start to realize, what is the point? Is the point of school to weed people out and to rank people on relatively irrelevant measures, or is the purpose of school to help every individual, every child develop their full potential? I think right now, in American education—this is not a Hawai‘i statement, but a fifty-state statement, the purpose of school is to rank kids’ potential on a very artificial limited measure that gives outsized advantage to the affluent. And we have to do better than that.

 

He’s on a personal crusade to bring about change to the American school system. Ex-venture capitalist turned champion of education reinvention, Ted Dintersmith, next on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. After a career as a highly successful venture capitalist, Ted Dintersmith of Virginia found a new calling as a crusader and philanthropist committed to seeing the reinvention of our education system. He’s been traveling eighty percent of the time, and dedicating millions of dollars of his personal finances to bring about change and innovation in the U.S. school system. To show how classroom education could be more effective, Ted Dintersmith produced a documentary called “Most Likely To Succeed”. Starting in 2015, Dintersmith took the film to all fifty states to encourage communities to rethink how children are educated in this country. Among the states where he’s found real promise and breakthroughs in innovation is Hawai‘i. More on that later. Ted Dintersmith grew up in a small town just twenty miles from Washington, D.C., but the family wasn’t much interested in the political scene. The family struggled to make ends meet with blue collar wages.

 

Oh, my dad, you know, for most of the time I was growing up, was a carpenter. You know, my mother stayed at home. She was really the intensity in our family. And so, she was the one who, in a fierce way, fought for her kids and wanted life to be better for us. Had a lot of good aspects to it, it had some things that might not be entirely positive. But we were just sort of, I’d say, fairly, you know, lower income, lower middle income. We didn’t have a lot of money, for sure. And you know, it was one of those neighborhoods where there were no fences. People just rolled out of the back. Every family had two, three, four, five kids. And we would just play all the time. Back then, school was maybe a third, maybe less than half of our life, and the rest of the time had nothing to do with it. You know, very little to no homework, just kinda do things.

 

You didn’t have play dates?

 

No. No. You know, it was like, it was just random. And you know, you realize the incredible value of growing up in a situation where you just are given that kind of space to go figure out yourself.

 

You learned something about your father after you grew up.

 

Yeah.

 

And it made all the difference in understanding him.

 

So, my dad was in World War II. And he enlisted in the Navy before he was eighteen years old. So, didn’t finish high school. And within a month or two, he was on a destroyer in the Pacific Rim, and he went through six combat exchanges. You know, the really bad one. People blew up around him, he came close to dying multiple times. But you name a major Pacific Rim exchange in that window, he was in it, and affected. And in number six, something happened. I obviously wasn’t there. And he was discharged with a partial nervous breakdown.

 

What was the battle?

 

I think that was Iwo Jima. And so, he came back home, and met my mother, and they got married. You know, in the postwar, you know, euphoria, they got married. And you know, then they had kids. And he was not easy to be around, growing up. You know, angry a lot. You know, my mother pushed him a lot to do more with his life. You know, there were some difficult things as a kid in that family. And my siblings, we talk about it, and I think we’d all share that perspective. You know, we grew up the whole time knowing kind of that he was in World War II, but nothing about being discharged with a nervous breakdown.

 

Even your mother?

 

She knew. But this was not to be talked about. Now, what that dynamic was, whether they both agreed never to talk about it, or whether … well, I don’t know. And only when he died, did we find—now, he died twenty years ago. So, I was forty-five-ish when he died, and then we found out. And for all of it was like, oh, my gosh. You know, like had we known growing up.

 

Had you known, what? I mean, what would you have done differently?

 

You know, as a kid, when you’re seven years old and your father is furious at you, you don’t think: Oh, so he’s got an issue going on from his past and it’s not me. You think: What did I do? Like, you know, like it ripples down generations.

 

Did you feel he thought you weren’t good enough?

 

I think I probably felt that at some level. I certainly felt enormous pressure to do well on behalf of the family. And I felt—you know, it’s like always feeling so nervous around the house, because you never knew what would trigger something.

 

Was he violent, as well?

 

Never hit; nothing ever physical.

 

Your father, you say, was a carpenter.

 

Yeah.

 

And I believe your grandfather was bricklayer.

 

He was.

 

Were you expected to follow in the family tradition of, you know, blue collar work?

 

Well, no. And I actually speak about this a lot, because I think we underestimate the power of learning by doing. We underestimate and don’t give kids a chance to do more. My vintage was vocational education or career and technical education, so I actually today have sort of come full circle. But when I was growing up, my mother was crystal clear; all of her kids were going to college, period. And in those years, right, college was, you know, kind of an equalizer. I mean, my college tuition, senior year—so, I went to a public college in Virginia. for the entire year, the tuition was two hundred and fifty dollars. Not for an hour, not for a course, not for a quarter or semester; two hundred and fifty bucks. You know, I mean, I could make that much money easily in the summer, you know, minimum wage. I bagged groceries in a grocery store. You know, today, it’s a totally different story. But for my mother, that was really an important value. And we all did go.

 

What about your dad? Did he want you to go to college?

 

Honestly, in our family, with our dynamic, my father wanted what my mother wanted. You know, it was pretty clear who the CEO of our family was. And it was my mother; no question about it.

 

So, you went to college.

 

I did.

 

And majored in?

 

I majored in, which people will say, Ah, he must be a Gemini; I majored in physics and English. I did. And I am a fierce advocate for the liberal arts. Those are great vehicles for developing the skills and the mindsets that help you later in life. I often tell people that majoring in English helped me a lot more in a career in business and technology, than the physics ever did.

 

Well, what did you do after attending your college?

 

I got into a graduate program in physics at Stanford. I said: Don’t know if I’m really gonna want to stay in physics, but California, that sounds pretty good. And they have a lot of different things, so it would give me different options. Best decision I ever made. And I got there, and I’d say within a month, I said: Uh-oh, you know, like, these people that I’m in graduate school with are way smarter than I am in physics, and far more interested than I am in physics. That’s not a good leading indicator. And I just said: I’m going to be a mediocre physicist if I stay here. Then I started just meeting and talking to other people, and I found this different program that was, for me, very interesting. It was sort of math modeling, applied math to real problems. Switched into that, got my PhD there. And I was just happy to be in Silicon Valley, where every month or two, a new building would pop up for Intel, or Apple, or you know, all these companies, many of which have disappeared at this point. And I just kind of said: You know, this high tech stuff sounds interesting, like maybe I should do that.

 

Ted Dintersmith of Virginia pursued his interest in high tech, and was hired at Analog Devices, a company at the forefront of the digital revolution. In 1981, he made the move from Palo Alto, California to Boston, Massachusetts, and at age thirty-two, Dintersmith became the general manager of one of the company’s businesses.

 

But I was miserable, and I wasn’t good at managing people, and I didn’t like it. And I did it for like, three and a half years, then I finally just said: Oh, I just can’t do this anymore. And that’s how I ended up in venture capital.

 

Well, okay, that’s not a natural. How did you end up in venture capital?

 

When I joined them, they were pretty small, Analog Devices, and they just got bigger, and bigger. I had some ideas to start a business. And then, somebody said: Oh, if you’re gonna start something new, you ought to talk to these people in Boston called Venture Capitalist. And so, I put together a little outline of the business, and used some friends and connections, and started meeting with some. And in one of the meetings, kinda like this, somebody said: You know, your business, that might be interesting, but have you ever thought about being a venture capitalist? We have a search underway to find a new associate, and you’ve got a really good background for it. It was one of those where I said to myself: Do I be honest and say, honestly, I don’t have an idea of what—I mean, I don’t know what a venture capitalist is, I know nothing, or do I say, which I did, you know, that’s always been something I’ve thought about and wasn’t sure whether this was the right time, but that would be a discussion I’d like to have.

 

It was kind of a fake it ‘til you make it.

 

Yeah, yeah; a little bit. Try not to say something totally dishonest. And I ended up joining this group. And you know, as difficult and as unhappy as I was as a manager of a business, it was just a totally different world for me in venture capital. I just loved the business. It, you know, went well, and those were great years for me.

 

So, you were shaping businesses, even though you hadn’t really owned a business yourself?

 

Right; right. Oftentimes, this is kind of the kiss of death in venture is, you fail every single time if your attitude is: I want to work with people that will listen to me and do what I tell them to do. You want to back people who know what they want to do. I mean, it’s great if they listen, and they should be open-minded, but I always said to people: If you don’t reject nine out of ten of my suggestions, I’ve backed the wrong person. Because if I’m making a bunch of suggestions to you, somebody else is as well, and somebody else is as well.

 

Talk about a judgment call on your part. Because the money is big.

 

Yeah; sometimes. And I did feel like, you know, I picked people well. I mean, if I have any claim to fame in venture, I think I did over forty early stage, kind of one to three person startups. And I don’t have these exact, it’s been a while, but eighty-five percent were successes. You know, it’s an industry where if it’s one-third that succeed at that stage, that’s pretty good. So, my hit rate, my success rate was really quite good.

 

And it’s the Charles River …

 

Charles River Ventures. And so, our eighth fund, which we raised in 1997, on a fund, not on a given investment, but we raised a hundred million bucks, and we returned twenty times that. It’s one of the best funds in the history of venture capital. And it was a cross of a bunch of different companies.

 

As a partner in the Boston-based firm Charles River Ventures, Ted Dintersmith became one of the most successful venture capitalists in America during the mid to late 90s, funding innovative startup companies. High risk, high reward; it was a great run. After a quarter century as a venture capitalist, Dintersmith shifted priorities.

 

My kids were like five and seven. And I said: You know, like, I can either keep doing what I’ve done for the last twenty-five years, and knowing that there’s way too much money in the industry and it was gonna be really tough, or I could just say I’m gonna really spend time with my kids.

 

And how old were you at the time?

 

I was about fifty.

 

Okay.

 

Yeah; fifty, fifty-five.

 

And did your kids go to public schools?

 

I figured if they charged money, they’ve gotta be better. Big mistake. They were in this private school in Central Virginia. Then I got this note to parents saying: Brown bag lunch, come listen us, we’ve got these new programs to teach your kids important life skills. And it got me thinking. Like, why do you need a new program? Isn’t it obvious that schools should be preparing kids for life? I mean, a new initiative to teach kids life skills? I mean, isn’t that what school is all about? And I went to the program, and it was about, you know, like we’ll teach kids to drive safely by showing pictures and videos of car crashes, we’ll teach kids not to smoke by showing them tar-infested lungs and people who’ve had their larynx removed. And it’s like, you know, like I get that, but you know. But I made this list, and I said, you know, like important life skills, irrelevant life skills, and started paying attention to what my kids were doing in school. And very little, almost nothing was falling into the important life skills category, and a lot was falling in the irrelevant. But I had to add a new column, which was: harming them. What was actually going to damage my kids going forward? Because I knew, having lived and breathed innovation, how kids need to be prepared for a world where everything’s changing on a regular basis. And I knew, you know, you ask a million questions, you know, learn how to learn, think outside of the box, question everything. You know, like certain things that I just had seen over and over were the success predictors for people in these innovative companies. Not that they had to start the company, but just to be part of it and on the team, and do well.

 

M-hm.

 

You need to have certain mindsets. And I said, these are all disappearing, right in front of my eyes, for my kids in this school process. And this was a school most parents thought was great, certainly was expensive. I said: Whoa, you know, if this is going on in a school people think is great, what’s going on in other schools? And that just sort of led to complete immersion. I wasn’t feeling like they were doing good things, and I went in and met with the headmaster, and sort of laid out my concerns. And to his credit, he was honest with me. He said: I agree with you completely, but if I tried to do this, my board and the parent community would fire me. And as I say, I joke, but it’s not really a joke. That’s when my life turned into a cause. You know, like a lot of the things that normal people do, certainly at a point where they could retire, I don’t do anymore. And I just sort of am, this is the issue, and I feel it’s the most important issue of our ages.

 

Ted Dintersmith of Virginia put to use the analytical skills and out-of-the-box thinking that made him a successful venture capitalist, and he observed and reimagined what he calls an obsolete American education system.

 

I think one of the most misunderstood things in education is, what’s it mean to learn something? Lawrenceville Academy, which is extremely exclusive, very expensive, feeds all the Ivy League schools, and they took kids who had done really well in courses in a year, and when they came back in the fall, they gave them a subset of their final exam questions. Just the essential concepts they thought every kid had mastered. In two years across all these students, the average grade went from a B-plus to an F, and not one kid retained every concept that the faculty thought every kid had retained. And you start to say, the best of our best students in a school that’s on most people’s list of the top twenty private schools in the country, if they’re not really remembering …

 

I’ve heard that, too, from Ivy League grads who said they retained information as long as they had to.

 

Yeah. I think the main skill that gets developed in a lot of schools is short-term memory. We don’t even give them courses on memorization techniques. A teacher in high school in Minot, North Dakota related to me this. He said he told his high school juniors, one class period a week you can work on whatever you’re interested in. He said over half the kids did a Google search: What should I be interested in? And you know, when I relate that anecdote to audiences, the pattern is always the same. Lots of laughter, and then it settles in. And people realize, my gosh, are we hollowing out all the passion and interest, and joy from the kids, all in the sake of covering every possible smidgen of content that some committee has decided they need to know.

 

And how did all of that happen with our school systems?

 

Well, I think the short version is, thoughtfully invented a hundred and twenty-five years ago to prepare people for a world of routine worked well in manufacturing, from manufacturing to paper processing and shuffling, and bureaucracy still worked well.

 

But that was a long time ago.

 

Long time ago.

 

During the covered wagon era.

 

Yeah; long time ago. And then, I’d say over the last twenty years, we sort of made a choice.   And I frame it this way. Do we do things better, or do we do better things? But instead of saying: Let’s reinvent, let’s reimagine, let’s do something really different that makes sense for a world where content is at your fingertips and where you’ve got to solve big bold problems, instead, it was a lot easier to say: Hm, test scores are flat, let’s do everything we can to get test scores to go up. Five years later, ten years later, with No Child Left Behind, they’re not budging. Oh, I know; let’s hold teachers accountable to those test scores. Ah, still not going up; what do we do? And so, doing things better, or I always say doing obsolete things better, you know, doesn’t do anybody any good. We need to reimagine education.

 

To help inspire innovation in American education, Ted Dintersmith funded and produced an education documentary called “Most Likely To Succeed”. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2015, and Dintersmith took the film across the nation, all fifty states, for community screenings and discussion. He wanted to convey the value of project-based learning, and yes, the need to rethink how to educate children.

 

I mean, after I came to this epiphany about life skills, and were my kids really being prepared for life, and then saying not only are they not, they actually may be damaged through this process, it may be actually harmful, I said: I gotta do something. And so, I went through a process. I said, so I’m anonymous. You know, like I’m not famous. I’m not Bill Gates; I’m like, Joe Bag of Donuts. And I said, like, I could write a book, and you know, like, yeah, maybe somebody would read it. I just sort of thought of like, I’m telling you what you guys know so well. I mean, how do you change people’s mind? Visual, something with emotion. And so, I said: This could fall flat, it could be a waste of time and money, but if we could somehow come together and produce something really remarkable, that would have a chance to sort of start changing the discussion broadly.

 

The things I think in life that give us some of the greatest satisfaction is making something that wasn’t there before.

 

I can’t wait for that moment, when it does work and I’m completely done with it. And it’s like always, it’ll be…

 

Kids have that feeling that’s transformative; I made this, and everyone’s going to look at it.

 

We filmed for two years, six hundred hours, times two, two cameras. And just got lucky with something that really does kinda get people energized about what could be done in school, and shows them kids learning in a way that doesn’t look like normal school, that they ordinarily might view as summer camp, you know, that you know, you watch these kids and they’re building things, and making things, and working in teams. And if I’d written about that, people would say, “that sounds good.” When they see it, when they see how it affects those kids, when they see teachers trusted to teach to their passions and do what they entered into the profession to do, it just makes an indelible mark on the audience. And so, we only do community screenings, we’ve done two here with you guys, which have been great. And we wanted to bring people together for discussion.

 

And you’ve had many discussions.

 

Yeah.

 

All over.

 

Over four thousand around the world, four hundred in Hawaii alone. And you know, but it’s what you guys know; right? It’s what’s so special about what your work is all about. It’s community, it’s family, it’s bringing people together.

 

In 2016, Ted Dintersmith made his first visit to Hawai‘i to show the film. He also met with local leaders, and visited a variety of island schools. He saw a fertile field for change, and he’s come back again, and again. His national crusade was intensive, and he’s not yet.

 

And so, this was not just like come there and have a meeting or two. I mean, I had for nine months, fifty states, every day from seven-thirty in the morning ‘til ten at night, meeting, after meeting, after meeting, after meeting. You know, from governors to commissioners of education, but lots, and lots, and lots of school visits, meeting with teachers, meeting with parents, meeting with students.

 

And out of those fifty states, you find yourself revisiting two states.

 

Two states.

 

Would you tell us about that?

 

The two states which are very, very different states, and I’m on the plane tonight to the second one, but North Dakota and here. And for very different reasons. But North Dakota, tomorrow I’ll be there, it’ll be the eighth time in two years. And I’ve gone all over the state, and working really closely with their governor and their superintendent of public instruction. And you know, we’re funding some things that they find helpful, and they’re just very all-in at the state level for preparing their kids for a world that’s really different. And they’ve got a lot of things that I think are great, and I think they’ve got a real chance. And I did almost every town, and we had community events. But with me on all these events were either the superintendent of public instruction or the number two, one of the top two or three from the teachers union, one of the top two or three from the chamber of commerce. You can go to a lot of states where those two people won’t even be in the same city.

 

And you bring money to the table, as well as insight?

 

I give some grants. And so, you know, I don’t charge for any—I mean, it’s always an embarrassing thing, because, you know, when I give these talks, what I know is that I’m doing it all on my own nickel, and I’m actually supporting things. And it sounds braggy to say that. But then it gets like, when you come to North Dakota or Hawai‘i, and you say: You guys can do amazing things, you know, I’d hate it if people in the audience say: Well, somebody must be just paying him to say that. You know, what drew me back here, honestly, I wouldn’t keep coming back if it weren’t for this guy Josh Reppun.

 

And he’s a former educator.

 

A former educator, and now just passionate about his state, about the heritage of the state, about what people can do about giving these kids opportunities. So, that first week was unbelievable. You know, they did a documentary on the visit. And the reason I keep coming back here, you know, the people here doing the innovative work in education—

 

In Hawai‘i.

 

In Hawai‘i. Are the best of the best. I would challenge anybody to go to any other state in the country, and I’ve been to them all, and find other examples that are better. You’ve got remarkable innovations going on in your schools here. But if you want to get really energized about education, you know, go to, you know, Waipahu. See what Keith Hayashi’s doing there. I mean, it’s just like, whoa, this is like, education at its finest.

 

And he is the principal of Waipahu High School, who, you know, left the number two position in the DOE, because he wanted to be at his school.

 

Yeah. Go to Waianae, go to Candy Suiso’s, you know, media arts program. I mean, you sit there and you talk to these students, and if you ask them: What are you working on, and why does this matter to you? They have great answers; right? Most places I go to, if you say to a student: What are you working on? They’re not even sure. You know, you go observe a lab and you say: What are you doing? They’ll say: Step 3. What’s more inspiring than what these kids have in this state? And so, I just say, like these people, they just care about it. So, for me, it’s tiring ‘cause I travel all the time, but it’s inspiring.

 

Former top venture capitalist Ted Dintersmith says he’ll continue to be a change agent for education by personally funding and gathering resources for innovative learning approaches such as those shown in his film, “Most Likely To Succeed”. Mahalo to frequent Hawaii visitor Ted Dintersmith of Earlysville, Virginia for sharing your story with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store, or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

I was in West Maui, and I’m talking to these kids. I said: Well, tell me what you’re interested in. When I ask kids even in sixth grade that question, the question they’re often hearing is: What career should I have? And I always say: Don’t worry about that. Right? You’re in sixth grade. You know, and I tell them, you know, that I did fairly well in business, and if you’d asked me at age twenty-eight what a business was, I didn’t know.

 

 

Kī Hōʻalu: Slack Key, The Hawaiian Way (1993)

KĪ HŌʻALU SLACK KEY: The Hawaiian Way

 

A collection of candid interviews and archival images, combined with the music of an array of virtuoso performers, this film tells the story of Hawaiian slack key. It depicts how this unique style of playing has become fundamental to Hawai‘i’s musical, cultural and familial traditions.

 





PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
Hidden Legacy: Japanese Traditional Performing Arts in the WWII Internment Camps

 

Using historical footage and interviews from artists who were interned, this film tells the story of how traditional Japanese cultural arts were maintained at a time when the War Relocation Authority emphasized the importance of assimilation and Americanization. Included are stories of artists in the fields of music, dance and drama who were interned at Tule Lake, Manzanar, Amache/Granada, Rohwer, Gila River and Topaz.

 

 

POV examines police militarization on ‘Do Not Resist’

SWAT officers in Ferguson, Missouri.

Do Not Resist explores the militarization of local police departments and their Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams – in their training, tactics and acquisition of equipment – since 9/11. With unprecedented access to police conventions, equipment expos, and officers themselves, filmmaker Craig Atkinson has crafted an observational, nonpartisan look at the changing face of law enforcement in America. The documentary makes its POV broadcast premiere on Monday, February 12 at 10 pm on PBS Hawaiʻi.

 

Liberty Peralta, Vice President of Communications at PBS Hawaiʻi, recently spoke with Atkinson (pictured, below) by phone about the film.

 

PBS Hawaiʻi: Could you talk about your own personal connection to law enforcement, within your family?
Craig Atkinson

Craig Atkinson: My father was a police officer for 29 years, outside of Detroit, and he was a SWAT officer for 13 of those years. Growing up, he used to take me on SWAT training exercises. When I was really young, I’d be a hostage, and when I got a little bit older, I would be an armed assailant, so it would be me vs. the SWAT team in an abandoned factory in Detroit. It was a way for him to create greater obstacles for his team, and it was very fun as a kid to go and participate in something like that. So I was relatively familiar with SWAT and tactical teams, going into this film, but I think that just allowed me to empathize with the police officers, because my dad was a very upstanding officer, and I know his heart and I know he was always trying to do it right, and I know there are a lot of cops out there trying to do it right, as well.

 

What was your expectation going in to make Do Not Resist, and how did that vision change as you went along?

I felt when we started making the film that we would be able to show the full range of a SWAT officer’s experience. We worked really hard to try to find teams that we thought could demonstrate an appropriate use of SWAT. I point people towards the Pulse nightclub shooting [in Miami], where they took an armored vehicle, punctured a hole in the side of the nightclub and were able to save those hostages. Showing an appropriate use of SWAT only strengthens the film in general: Here’s an appropriate use of SWAT, thus we can see an inappropriate use of SWAT.

 

Unfortunately, despite our efforts and despite filming in 22 states and spending three years on it and going on dozens of ride-alongs, we never came across an opportunity that demonstrated the use of SWAT that we were being told by the officers that it was actually going to be used for, which was for counter-terrorism or for really violent situations. Every single search warrant that we went out for was a proactive search warrant, and in our case, 90% of those were for drugs, and oftentimes, low-level drug offenses, which was so shocking.

 

Do Not Resist was completed in 2016, after three years of production. What’s changed since then?

One of the main things that I point people towards is the scene that people find to be the most shocking in the film, which is the asset forfeiture scene: Police in South Carolina retrieve a small amount of marijuana and end up not only arresting the 22-year-old college student, but they also take $800 of his money, claiming that it was drug money, although he claims that it was for a landscape business. This process of seizing someone’s assets became completely abused amongst law enforcement for decades.

 

There were states that were changing laws and requiring a criminal conviction before seizing assets. This was doing a lot to dissuade law enforcement from going out and just randomly seizing funds that would then go back to their departments. With the appointment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he reversed the Obama-era changes to asset forfeiture. Mind you, these changes weren’t doing a lot in order to really stop the abuse of asset forfeiture. They found a way to exercise federal law to circumvent the state law, and I’m not the first to point out how that, in the long term, can be completely detrimental to the fabric of our society.

 

What was your awareness of this asset forfeiture abuse before you set out to make the film?

My father came up in the first wave, or almost-second wave, of SWAT in the mid-’80s, responding to the crack epidemic. In my father’s era, [there were] maybe 29 search warrants total. He was a police officer for almost 30 years, but he was only a SWAT member for 13 of those years. He only did 29 search warrants total. Contrast that with these teams that we went out with while making the film, they’re doing 200 raids a year, three to four times a day.

 

What I observed to be a major shift is the fact that we incentivize police departments to directly benefit from the money that they take. Classically speaking, asset forfeiture – anything that you took from a member of your community – the money would have to go into a general fund for the city, so the city could then use those funds to improve the community. That’s all well and good on paper, but the federal government came in and said, “If you include one federal agent on your task force, you get to keep 80% of the funds, and we’ll only keep 20%. Not just for a general fund for the city, but for your department itself.” You started to see police departments raising their operating revenue from ticketing their citizens and from seizing their assets.

 

That’s what was going on in Ferguson, Missouri. You had municipalities raising up to 50% of their operating revenue from ticketing their citizens. Imagine living in that community – you pay your taxes, and your police department can’t fund itself unless it raises up to 50% of the money that it needs to operate from additional ticketing. And when you give police departments the tools of war, you give them no indication of how to use those tools, and then you financially incentivize them if you use those tools in this way to seize assets, you actually financially benefit from it. That was a major shift that I saw in SWAT from my dad’s era to the SWAT that we are seeing unfold while making the film.

 

 

How have police departments reacted to Do Not Resist?

The thing that I’m most encouraged by is the fact that police departments have used the film as a teaching tool. I was really hoping that was going to happen – that we don’t necessarily condemn the individuals or departments in the film, but more of the style of policing that’s portrayed in the film.

 

We actually did a police academy screening tour with the film, where we took the film and showed it in academies and police departments. There was one police department that allowed their officers to have access to the film on their squad car computers. We’ve had a really interesting response from law enforcement agencies as big as the NYPD, who showed it at the John Jay Criminal Justice College with 300 active NYPD officers. It was an amazing response. A lot of officers got up and said things like, “This film does reflect reality. It shows many of the things that we ourselves are concerned with, and are trying to work with in our department. We’re actually happy that we have this example because it allows us to go to our command staff, who often aren’t sensitive to these issues, and we have an example to show them.”

 

Aside from asset forfeiture, another thing that was most often pointed out is the [retired Army Lieutenant Colonel and law enforcement trainer] Dave Grossman aspect of training, which is like preparing for the next Al Qaeda attack, although you’re actually going out to write traffic tickets. A former commander of the NYPD SWAT team got up and denounced Dave Grossman in front of the class. He said, “Yes, he has been influential in various law enforcement circles for a very long time, but I assure you that we are moving away from his teaching style, and it is not indicative of what we want the NYPD or the NYPD SWAT to be going in.” I thought that was a very powerful statement to make publicly, and it was very encouraging.

 

The thing that I’m most encouraged by is the fact that police departments have used the film as a teaching tool.

-Craig Atkinson, Do Not Resist filmmaker

 

In the film, the Department of Homeland Security admits that there is no reporting procedure in place for them to track how military-grade equipment given to police departments is used.

Since we started filming [in 2013], Homeland Security gave [police departments] $34 billion of equipment, and the Department of Defense is giving people $5 billion. You’re talking about nearly $40 billion worth of equipment. There was only one state that required reporting, and that was in Maryland, because the mayor of Berwyn Heights, Maryland, had a SWAT team come to his home because they were raiding the wrong house. They shot and killed his dog, and had him on the ground handcuffed. Because it happened to someone who was in a position of power, people started to pay attention, and sure enough, he passed laws in Maryland that required reporting statistics for SWAT teams. And sure enough, SWAT teams were being used 90% of the time for drug search warrants, and oftentimes those are low-level offenses. That initiative came up on the ballot, and it was dropped, so now even Maryland doesn’t even require reporting statistics for law enforcement.

 

While riding along with SWAT teams, a lot of the teams who were made up from really respected, upstanding individuals wanted to know nationally what the statistics were for SWAT because they figure the ones that were doing it right would only help them do their jobs better. They said, “Reporting isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We could really hone in on what we’re doing if we had those figures, but they’re just not required to keep them,” which obviously opened the door for tremendous abuse for teams who aren’t so upstanding.

 

What did the ratio of “upstanding” versus “non-upstanding” officers look like?

The majority of police officers that I came in contact with were people who truly wanted to protect and serve. We did find an alarming number of people who maybe had the best intentions, but didn’t even realize themselves their implicit bias, just seeing which cars they pay attention to, and who they decide to pull over. It was almost as if even the well-intended officers weren’t fully aware of their innate bias and racism.

 

As a whole, I would say that the majority of officers are there to do the right thing. However, oftentimes they’re given the top-down objectives that puts them at odds with their community. And a lot of it was coming from the federal government. I think that if you left communities to their own devices, you would reach an equilibrium, where the police department realizes that it’s putting them at odds with their community when you’re requiring them to raise their operating revenue from ticketing and seizing the assets of their citizens.

 

Does this mean that this is a systemic issue, that individuals aren’t necessarily responsible for this current situation?

I think you can’t let individuals off the hook, because that’s where the actual change happens. And I’m really reluctant to do that because there were so many officers who were just kind of hiding behind the badge and their power, and they truly needed to be held accountable themselves. By no means am I trying to make it seem like it’s just a bunch of Boy Scouts out there and if the policies change, the fabric of policing will change. I kind of straddle both sides of the fence because I understand the law enforcement perspective, just seeing what my dad went through, but also seeing all the problems in his own department and how, when you multiply that as a whole, it really does become individuals caught in it. The individuals need to hold strong and really think about the way they’re interacting with the community.

 

One thing that I think we can all do is not treat everyone as a collective mass. The police department is not a collective mass. Protesters are not a collective mass. They’re made up of individuals. There’s a protest scene in Do Not Resist, and there’s an officer yelling at a protestor. He’s like, “I’ve known you since you were little. And you’re out here now and burning things down and why is this?” That officer actually got in trouble from management for engaging in conversation with the individual. We caught up with that officer after the fact, and he was just mentioning to us how obviously the police and community relations are so strained, but he uses small moments to access the community. He’s an officer that gets out of his car. He’s not bombarded by the technology in the squad car, the computer, all the scanning devices. He rolls down his window. He’ll stop at a neighborhood barbecue, he’ll talk to people.

 

That officer actually came to our screening in St. Louis, and he did the Q&A with me. And when he got up, a woman from the community said, “What happened to the police department? When I was growing up, all the police officers had baseball cards. We used to run up to a squad car because all the police officers would give us baseball cards.” To me, it just totally created a snapshot in my mind of a forgotten history of our police-community relationship. But wouldn’t you know, this officer, who was off-duty and in plain clothes, reaches into his leather jacket and pulls out baseball cards. He still does it. He’s the type of officer that will go out and engage the community and try to build that relationship.

A Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle driving through a neighborhood in Juneau County, Wisconsin, pop. 24,000.

 

What would you say to someone who sees the trailer for your film and thinks, “Oh, this isn’t happening in my community. I don’t need to worry about this”?

We had some screenings where people would come up afterwards, and it was usually older white women who would be so baffled. They were asking where the raid actually took place, the one in South Carolina, as if we were actually in South Africa or something. They couldn’t really comprehend that this was going on. And we’re like, “Oh no, that was one of four raids that day in that community.” I think that there’s such a difference between the geographical location of where someone lives, and what they’re exposed to on a day-to-day basis. This is something that’s happening three or four times in a county, usually in one specific region of a county. And you just think about the long term effect of a SWAT team coming through your neighborhood three or four times a day. We can’t wake up a decade from now and wonder why people have resentment towards police departments, when they were basically doing home invasion, Fallujah-style home invasions in their house while growing up the entire time. When we see the physical application of force and the SWAT home entries, it’s very shocking. And that may only be contained to certain areas of a city where some people can completely avoid that their entire lives.

 

However, when it comes to surveillance technology, this is something that is universally applied. It doesn’t matter if people are in Hawaiʻi, or no matter where they are, so long as they’re an internet user, no one is able to get away from the ubiquitous surveillance of their social media posts, of their e-mails, of all the information that we’re contributing online. That’s all now being collected and being analyzed. This is not something that people are going to be able to shy away from in the coming decades. It’s not just going to happen in the lower income communities where we can push it aside and never think about it again. Everyone is implicated in that, so long as they’re an internet user.

 

It seems like we’re at a crossroads between human, face-to-face interaction, and technology. How are you feeling about where law enforcement is headed?

I think it’s reflecting on the bigger picture as a whole. I think that we would benefit more in our society in general with far more interaction than what’s happening. Everything is going behind social media posts, and the amount of time people are interacting is going down, and that’s indicative of the law enforcement community relationship itself.

 

One thing that it comes down to is financing. We had a police chief in Dayton, Ohio, say, “I can’t hire ten more officers. I can’t afford all of that. But what I can do is hire one police officer and all of this additional surveillance technology and for the same cost, I can have one officer use this technology as a ‘force multiplier.’” And I think that this type of reliance on technology is not just restricted to law enforcement.

 

Am I hopeful? Yes, because I still believe in people. I am not without hope because I believe humans have the ability to adapt and to be creative, and I think that’s what we need to bring to any situation, whether it be reforming law enforcement or otherwise.

 

Do Not Resist premieres on POV Monday, February 12 at 10 pm on PBS Hawaiʻi.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Art Souza

 

As a teacher, Art Souza encouraged his students to approach learning from an experiential and exploratory angle. Now as a Hawai‘i Island complex area superintendent, he supports the 19 schools in his district from an administrative position, guided by his educational philosophy and an unyielding positivity.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, Jan. 16, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, Jan. 21, at 4:00 pm.

 

Art Souza Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Students have access to information, and learning, and knowledge that they’ve never had before. They’re more independent in their learning, and these are all good things. Technology has been a tremendous gift to young people, because it sparks creativity in thinking and learning. I think the challenge is … for the adults to catch up with the kids, and to have an understanding that kids can create their own learning because they have that technology available to them. And so, it’s kind of a reverse catch-up, if you wish. School hasn’t ever been that way before.

 

Art Souza’s ideas may sound new, but a lot of his philosophy is based on how he learned best; through experiences. West Hawaiʻi Island public education official Art Souza, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaiʻi’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kākou. I’m Leslie Wilcox Arthur Francis Souza, Jr. has gained a reputation as a visionary administrator of public schools. He oversees nineteen public schools and special education services at five charter schools over a large expanse of the Big Island. He started teaching on Hawaiʻi Island in 1989 at Honokaʻa High and Intermediate School. Originally from Honolulu, he was inspired in his teenage years to go into teaching.

 

I was a little local kid growing up. You know, grew up in Liliha and spent my time going between Liliha and Puʻunui, and Palama, and hanging out in Chinatown at the old Chinese herbology shops, and exploring the rivers, Nuʻuanu Stream, playing baseball. Just the way kids grew up in the 50s.

 

So, kids would travel all that territory alone?

 

Oh, yeah, yeah. Well, you went anywhere with a friend or a pack, a herd. And you know, you went up and down the street and just got yourself into any number of adventures.

 

Did you get into adventures that got you into trouble?

 

You know, nothing that ever got us into real serious trouble. I think we were smart enough to know what the limits were. But risk-taking; that was part of the adventure, right? So, we took every opportunity to do that.

 

What’s your ethnic background?

 

I’m Portuguese, Japanese.

 

And your mom was, too; right?

 

My mom was Portuguese, Japanese; yes.

 

So, at this time, that’s probably not that unusual. But for somebody your age, and for your mother, that was unusual. I mean, we have so many mixing of races, but those two races weren’t the most common races to mix.

 

Yeah; I think that’s probably true. Maybe that’s where a little bit of the risk-taking and the adventure comes from. I think my grandparents and my mom were that way. And I think that’s vestiges of the plantation camps. You know, I think the people had to rely on one another, and that sense of community was strong. So, that integration and that opportunity to engage with each other was greater, perhaps, than sometimes it is now. Yeah.

 

Was that an accepted intermarriage in your family?

 

Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah; it worked wonderfully well for my parents. I think my parents’ philosophy was real experiential. You know, they let us explore. At least, I had that opportunity. Maybe it was a little bit more tight-strung for my sisters. But I really had freedom to just kind of get involved in adventure, and to learn experientially.

 

What did your parents do for a living?

 

My dad was a sheet metal worker, Shop 39.

 

At Pearl Harbor?

 

Out at Pearl Harbor. And my mom was a registered nurse at Pearl Harbor as well, and before that, at St. Francis Hospital.

 

And you lived pretty much on the site of the current State Education Building?

 

Yeah, yeah; that’s right. From the time I was a little boy. I was born, and then until I was about six or seven years old, I guess—six years old, maybe, we lived in Perry’s Court, which was just … an interesting little enclave carved out of the middle of Honolulu, right where the Queen Liliʻuokalani Building is now. And there were about six or seven homes for rent in there, and that’s where we lived for the first five or six years of my life.

 

Did you ever report to work in that building on the land where you used to live?

 

You know, interesting enough, I probably do. Because I end up in the Liliʻuokalani Building often enough for meetings and Board of Education hearings, and those kinds of things. So, hadn’t thought about it that way, but yeah, you’re right. Yeah.

 

Did you have a sense that you would go into education?

 

Yeah; very early on. I think my inspiration was, as a sophomore in high school, I had an amazing social studies teacher who let us, you know, talk about things, and express ideas and thoughts, and share what we were pretty radical notions in 1962. And I just thought that was … to allow people to think and speak that way would be a really important thing to do. So, that’s what encouraged me, and I became a teacher, I think, as a result of that.

 

What was the teacher’s name?

 

Terrence Healy; he was a teacher that I had at St. Louis High School.

 

Did you ever have a chance to thank him later?

 

I did. One of the really neat things that happened. There was a reunion at one point; I don’t know if it was our fifteenth year reunion or something. But there was a football game out at the stadium, and he came to the game. And we had a reception before the game, and I had a chance to say that to him. So, he passed on shortly after that, so I was happy to have been able to do that.

 

So, you believe it was one teacher that sort of made you pivot?

 

Without question. You know, I had a lot of teachers, but there was something special about this guy, and he just let me to do what I want to do.

 

That’s when you started thinking, I might want to be an educator myself.

 

Yeah; yeah. Yeah; so that led me to the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. And I was fortunate to go to school probably in the most socially dynamic time in the history of our country. I started college at Mānoa in the Fall of 1966, and lived through so much of what was America at the time: the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam, the Women’s Movement. And so, boy, what an opportunity. I probably spent as much time at marches and peace gatherings as I did in classrooms. But I learned. I learned.

 

And you continued your education after UH Mānoa, where you majored in …

 

I was a history and English major; a dual major. Yeah; my education was interrupted quite a bit by travel. You know, I spent a lot of time independently traveling, and you know, it was a time when, you know, as a young man, you’re looking to make meaning for yourself as well. So, I spent a couple of years traveling around South America, and you know.

 

Did you do that alone?

 

Yeah. I traveled in South America, and then later, my current wife Vicky and I traveled for another couple of years space in time, and spent time in Africa and the subcontinent. So, I’ve spent a lot of time just on the road, and … you learn an awful lot about the human condition that way.

 

What kind of travel? Is this backpack travel?

 

Yeah; yeah. Just backpack, and you know.

 

No plans?

 

Vague ideas of where you want to go. But when I was traveling in 1971 and 72 in South America it was very inexpensive. You know, for a dollar a day, I was a rich man. Riding buses and hitchhiking and doing that kind of thing. But to be immersed in the indigenous cultures and to see the things that were there to see and experience was amazing.

 

Did you travel continuously?

 

You know, pretty much so. I mean, there were brief stops to do a little bit of work here and there, but it was pretty much continuous travel. And you know, starting in Mexico, and going through Latin America, and then all the way down into South America, and you know, I got all the way down into Tierra Del Fuego, and got out to the Galapagos Islands. And did a lot of things that a lot of people don’t have a chance to ever do.

 

That’s amazing. So, you just kind of broke out of college and said, This is what I’m gonna do right now?

 

Yeah; I needed to do that. You know, college was stale. I was learning, I was experiencing. But I really wasn’t getting what I needed. So, this was something I wanted to do. You know, I tease people now that say that that was my retirement, that’s why I’m working so long now.

 

But it was the most important learning that I ever have experienced. It was worth twelve PhDs to have been able to do that kind of thing, and to just absorb people, and absorb cultures, and understand how people think, how people learn. It was really amazing.

 

After spending several years traveling the world, Art Souza came home. He went back to school, eventually earning two Master of Arts degrees in community leadership and in educational administration. In the meantime, he started teaching on Oʻahu, and later made a permanent move to the Big Island.

 

What made you move to the Big Island?

 

Thirty years ago, Oʻahu was crazy enough for me and my family. So, my wife and I just had our first child, and it was a chance to get to the Big Island and get to some place quieter.

 

Did you move directly to Waimea?

 

Yeah.

 

That’s where you live now.

 

Yeah. We did.

 

And why’d you choose Waimea? Did you have family?

 

You know, my wife and had been on vacation going up to the Big Island a number of times, and we just kinda fell in love with the area. And it all worked out nice, because the school I wanted to work at was at Honokaʻa High School. I wanted to teach at Honokaʻa High School. So, we ended up living in Waimea. I taught English at Honokaʻa, and eventually became a vice principal there. Went off and did principaling at Waikoloa Elementary School, and came back to be principal of Honokaʻa High School. So, it all worked out.

 

I think a teacher and a principal are not necessarily—I mean, that’s not necessarily an incremental step.

 

No.

 

Those are two different jobs. Really; aren’t they?

 

Yeah; they’re very different jobs. And you know, in all of my years of education, as an educator, there’s nothing that will replicate that time I had in the classroom. That’s the best work; working with the kids that way.

 

So, why did you go into administration?

 

You know, it’s one of those things. You do it for the right reasons. First of all, I was asked. And I said, If I’m gonna be asked and you have that kind of faith in me, Mr. Kainoa, I’ll step in and help out where I can. But over time, you come to understand that your span of help, your span of influence that you can over kids and communities becomes greater as an administrator. So, one thing led to the next.

 

So, the systems part of it attracted you? Being in charge of not just a classroom and individual lives, but a systems approach.

 

I guess you could call it a systems approach. Not a systems in in terms of the structural bureaucracy, but the systems approach in terms of, Wow, can do more for more kids.

 

Reach.

 

I can reach. And what if we did this with this community? You know. So, it was that kind of thinking. Yeah.

 

The community leadership masters came in handy?

 

Yeah; it did. It did. I think it just sparked a way of thinking about how we might be able to do education a little differently. Yeah.

 

So, from teacher to vice principal, to principal.

 

M-hm.

 

And, then what?

 

And then, to the complex area superintendent position. I was principal at Honokaʻa High School in 2005 at the time when Pat Hamamoto, who was superintendent then, asked if I could step in. There was a vacancy; the previous superintendent had left. And again, it was as much as anything, a call to duty. I was asked to do it. And you know, I hadn’t really thought about being a superintendent, but when asked to serve, and you think you can serve that purpose, you do it.

 

You know, for those who aren’t familiar with the structure of the DOE, people may not realize what a critical and strategic job the complex area superintendent is.

 

Yeah.

 

Would you explain that, what exactly it is that you do? And there are others statewide as well. Others in the state, as well.

 

Yeah. It’s an interesting structure. It’s one that was created by by Pat as a way to try to decentralize the Central Office and personalize supports in a very unique way for each unique community. So, a state superintendent sits at the top with a deputy and five assistant superintendents at the state level. And below that are fifteen of us; my colleagues. And we are scattered about in different areas of the State. So, my particular area is on the Big Island in West Hawaiʻi. My colleagues are Brad Bennett in Hilo-Waiākea, and Keone Farias in Keaau-Kau-Pāhoa. I have nineteen schools in my area; they’re all Title 1 schools, which means that they meet the poverty guidelines. So, we have access to federal dollars through that means. I also am responsible for special education services in five charter schools.

 

That is a huge responsibility. And you know, when you say West Hawaiʻi, I know that’s the title. Honokaʻa is really northeast; right?

 

Yeah.

 

So, you kinda go right around the top of the island, and down on the other side to Kohala.

 

Yeah; it’s an interesting geographic area. I go as far as east as Hilo to Paʻauilo, which is the school that’s furthest east. And then, I’m responsible for all of the schools in Waimea, Honokaʻa up to North Kohala, and then down through the Kealakehe complex in Waikoloa in the central part of the island.

 

That is a huge and diverse area.

 

Yeah; and then down to Kona. Yeah.

 

Down to Kona, too.

 

Yeah; down as far as Hoʻokena, near Miloliʻi, is where my area kind of stops.

 

That is monstrous.

 

It’s a large area.

 

That’s like an island in itself.

 

Yeah; I spend a lot of time on the road.

 

DOE Complex Area Superintendent for West Hawaiʻi Island, Art Souza, strongly believes that community building will help to build academic success in these rural areas.

 

The opportunity is the challenge, and the challenge is the opportunity. It’s how you reconcile all that. And it’s about how you lead, how you choose to lead, and how you build those partnerships and relationships with all those entities. And you get better at it over time. And I think I’ve gotten better at it over time.

 

How long have you been complex area superintendent?

 

This is my twelfth year. No one teaches you how to be a superintendent. You don’t go to superintendent school. So, I remember the turnover from the previous superintendent to me was about a thirty-minute meeting where I said, What is this job, what do you want me to do? He says, just read those books. And that was it. It was exploratory learning and experiential learning.

 

And that’s exactly what you love to do.

 

That’s exactly how I learn best. So, that wasn’t a challenge for me. I mean, yeah, you have to learn the rules and regulations, and yes, I did have to read those books. But finding my way, and creating the learning and creating the leadership as I learned it was really a remarkable opportunity.

 

Now, everyone talks about collaborative leadership.

 

Yeah.

 

And I believe you’re a collaborative leader. Were you always? Was that your nature?

 

I think so. Yeah; I think so. And I think that’s the only way we can learn and lead. You know, can I tell a story real quick?

 

Sure.

 

So … because it just strikes me as kind of a metaphor for education. But Gloria Steinem tells a story about a time when she was in graduate school, and she was out on a field trip with her class. And she watched as this turtle perched itself on the side of the road, a very, very busy thoroughfare. So, she raced over, picked the turtle up, and took the turtle back down the hill from whence it came, and dropped it back at the pond, and feeling good about herself because she salvaged a dangerous situation. Her professor came up to her and said: You realize what you just did; it took that turtle six weeks to get up the mountainside to come to a place where she could lay her eggs safely, away from the predators and allow her children to scamper down to the pond to safety. And so, Gloria Steinem asked him in return: Well, what should I have done differently? He said, Next time, ask the turtle. And I think it’s a great metaphor for education; it speaks to why we try to do education by infusing policy, whether it’s at the federal or state level, or we infuse millions of dollars in technology or fancy curriculum, but we don’t ask the turtle, we don’t ask the kids, we don’t ask the communities, we don’t ask the people who are most impacted by our work. So, I think if we kinda flip the notion of how we do education, and make it more of a community business, I think we’d get further with our outcomes.

 

And yet, there’s less and less of a sense of community, even in rural areas, because people are working or they’re isolated. How do we get that community fabric?

 

You know, I think it’s incumbent upon us as educators in schools to create that opportunity for community. You know, school traditionally has been a standalone process where kids come at eight o’clock in the morning, and they’re dropped, and at three o’clock they go home, and we’ve done our job. But we haven’t made ourselves very welcoming to community, and we have to recognize that there’s huge wealth and resource. The teachers are in the community, so how do we create the community as the classroom. So, I think it’s that reciprocal trust that has to be built. And we’re getting there; that’s kind of the process of what we’re trying to do in West Hawaiʻi now.

 

So, how does that actually help the students?

 

What happens is that we’re creating opportunities for site-based and place-based learning opportunities, mentorships, internship opportunities for kids. It’s a funding source that can hopefully help to develop opportunities for more money for our dual college and dual credit programs. And I think it just creates an opportunity to have more voices tell us what education should look like. Because you know, I believe that our authority and our accountability, and our authenticity as school leaders really comes not from us doing it, but from us being able to say, Are we acting that way on your behalf. And so, that’s kind of why I believe that through this partnership, and through this community building we’ll make some gains.

 

So, you feel empowered and free in your position to do what you think best? I mean, ‘cause you know, you just hear of so many people who feel like they’re just in straightjackets of bureaucracy.

 

You know, there are elements that are straightjacket-like. I mean, it’s the bureaucracy. But I think within that, there’s plenty of room for flexibility, there’s plenty of room for autonomy. But you have to be willing to take risks, and you have to be able to know that it’s not always gonna be easy to fund. There are those challenges. But you have to start somewhere; right?

 

What’s it gonna take? That’s a very complex—speaking of complex. You talked about that several times. That’s a tough thing, to change somebody’s way of thinking based on their experience and their concerns.

 

You know, one of my favorite metaphors, if I could share with you, is one I read in a Paul Theroux book some years back, where you know, we have so many entities that are involved in education; right? We have the department, we have the collective bargaining units, the legislature, the governor’s office; you name it. But traditionally in education, when we bring all these entities together, it’s much like two bald men arguing over a comb. You know, because—

 

Who said that; Paul Theroux?

 

Paul Theroux, it’s a great visual because when you think about it, ideally and philosophically, you’re there for the right reason. We’re here for kids, we’re gonna do the right thing for kids. But you so quickly default to: But I gotta take care of my kuleana first, and I’m gonna do what I need to do for my entity. We have to switch that thinking. And so, yeah, that’s the hard work of transformation, is it’s changing traditional ways of thinking, and getting agreement that, Can we get a common agenda around hopes and dreams for kids?

 

 

You’re not a digital native.

 

No.

 

No such thing as cell phones in your time, or nobody was using the web or smart TVs.

 

M-hm.

 

So, you’re teaching children who are all digital natives.

 

Yeah.

 

And obviously, infrastructure has been added, and policies have been made. But also, you know, there’s an argument that children are even hardwired differently now.

 

Yeah.

 

What have you seen?

 

I think students have access to information, and learning, and knowledge that they’ve never had before. I think they’re more independent in their learning, and these are all good things. I think that technology has been a tremendous gift to young people, because it sparks creativity in thinking and learning. I think the challenge is for the adults to catch up with the kids, and to have an understanding that kids can create their own learning because they have that technology available to them. And so, it’s kind of a reverse catch-up, if you wish. School hasn’t ever been that way before.

 

 

Where teachers sometimes have to get out of the way, or they have to be able to lead and follow.

 

That’s right; that’s right. And so, the role of the teacher is different, because you’re not just the dispenser of information and knowledge, but you’re a facilitator of learning. And that’s a different way of looking at it. The young people today are just absolutely brilliant. I’m amazed by, when I go and see what these guys are learning, what they’re capable of doing, when you see their senior projects and you see what they’ve accomplished at graduation. Sometimes, we just have to get out of the way and let ‘em learn.

 

And yet, you say all the schools in your district are Title 1?

 

Yeah. Yeah. So, we have those challenges, and you know, the social and emotional needs of our communities are such that, yeah, we have issues with drugs, and we have issues with teen wellness and teen suicide, and we have issues with teenage pregnancy and all. And the role of school has changed dramatically, and all the more reason why we have to understand we can’t do all of those things, and educate. But our job is to make kids well, to create leaders who will sustain their communities. You do that by having the community involved. So, if you have a successful student, I believe that has to be mirrored by a successful community. They’re one and the same, and we should have the same measures in defining what a successful student and a successful community look like.

 

You know, as you named some of the challenges, I thought, you know, you have to have a certain mindset to do the job you have. Because many people, when there’s a problem, when there’s a fear or a problem that takes precedence because that’s a danger. You have all of those things on your horizon, you know, as possible problems or threats, or immediate.

But you have to see the bright skies around the darkness, or you couldn’t do your job.

 

 

You know, I like to think of myself as irrationally optimistic. And I think you have to be. And I think if you ask any of my colleagues in any of the fourteen other complex areas, they have the same challenges I have. You know, some might be larger than others, but we have to remain positive in our belief that, you know, if we do it right, those goals, and aspirations, and hopes that kids have will be realized. They will be realized.

 

Although, on the other side of the fence, if you do it right today, it doesn’t mean it’ll work tomorrow.

 

Yeah.

 

So, you’re always having to change, as necessary.

 

Yeah; that’s a good point. You know, the work of the educator is probably the most dynamic one there is, and you always have to be aware of that. And that’s the biggest challenge in education when I’m asked. It’s not about lack of funding or resources; I think we have enough to work with. The challenge is changing mindsets. You know, I’ve been an educator for forty years, and we’ve been talking about transformation, but we haven’t really come much of a way toward real true transformation. So, it’s a constant effort to do that.

 

 

Following his philosophy of asking the turtle what it wants, State DOE Complex Area Superintendent for West Hawaiʻi Island, Art Souza, allowed his sons to find their own way in school. His older son Nathan graduated from private Hawaiʻi Preparatory Academy in Waimea, and gravitated to the arts. He now lives in Portland, Oregon. Ethan graduated from public school at Honokaʻa High, and works in environmental conservation on the Big Island. Mahalo to Art Souza for your passion and vision for quality public education in rural areas. And thank you for joining us. For PBS Hawaiʻi and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes store, or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Do you ever want to just get your backpack and hele out?

 

Oh, you know it; you know it. I don’t have too much longer for my formal working with the Department. I’m kind of ready to start that transition, I hope it includes some backpacking. Absolutely.

 

Where would you go now? You’ve been to South America and Africa.

 

Yeah, yeah. No, there’s a lot of places that I haven’t been. I’ve always had this fascination with the Trans-Siberian Railroad, and getting up into some of the more remote areas of what was previously the Soviet Union. I’d love to get to China; I’ve never been to China. Those would be two destinations.

 

[END]

 

 

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