Revamping Balboa Park, Mexico’s Violence, Deeper Learning
KPBS Midday Edition / May 7, 2019
City Councilman Chris Ward wants to reinvest $9.5 million in unused Plaza de Panama project funds to spruce up Balboa Park. Also, a new University of San Diego report shows that Mexico’s bloodshed is fed by many different criminal enterprises, the health of trees in Balboa Park is getting some extra attention, a retired California chef is building a community through his volunteer cooking and a San Diego educator’s quest to find “deeper learning.”
Speaker 1: 00:00 From bathrooms that don't work to leaky roofs. Conditions in Balboa Park have been described as an embarrassment. Now there's a push to reinvest the nine point $5 million budgeted for the Plaza de Panama Project and use that money for a wide range of improvements across the park. Supporters Point to a list of neglected repairs like old plumbing that may burst and damage artifacts and museums to explain how else that money could be used as John Bolthouse, executive director of the nonprofit friends of Balbo a park. John, welcome. Thank you very much Jane. So most of the park as we see it today, was created during the Panama California Exposition of 1915. What was the plan or expectation for those buildings afterwards?
Speaker 2: 00:42 They were intended to be temporary. They were put into place to celebrate the exposition and then to be removed and returning all of Balboa Park back to a open space. But the community had such a love for the architecture for the buildings, so it was going to be hard to tear them all down. Some of them were in fact torn down, but uh, many of them stood in place and many of them are still there today.
Speaker 1: 01:05 Not meant to be permanent, but here we are. I'm so, can you explain the scope of responsibility for upkeep then between those who run the museums and the city who manages the park?
Speaker 2: 01:15 It's been described as Byzantine I think is, uh, the, the term, uh, but in, in a nutshell, jade Babel park is owned by the citizens of San Diego and therefore the city of San Diego is ultimately responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of Balboa Park. The organizations that have the resident institutions inside the buildings, they're responsible. I'm broad brushing because there are some nuances on some of the leases a, but they're responsible for the interior of the museums painting and any renovations, exhibit installations. That's strictly the organizations that occupy the, the buildings. So the parks and recreation department is responsible for everything. The open spaces, the exterior of the buildings, all the infrastructure that feeds those buildings. That's a, you and me, the taxpayers through the city of San Diego.
Speaker 1: 02:00 And there have been complaints about a leaky roofs and faulty plumbing that threatened the collection and archives of certain museums. Can you give me an example of one and what's being done about it?
Speaker 2: 02:10 Oh, uh, yes. Boy. Where to start. You know, the most recent one, well I shouldn't say the most recent because it happens frequently. I may not be keeping up with how often it happens, but uh, there was a penetration of, of rain, uh, on the roof of the custody Balboa a about a year ago and had compromised and then threatened to the, uh, the collections at the San Diego History Center. I used to work at the air and space museum, which is in the historic Ford building. We constantly dealt with penetration of a, of rain water coming into the roofs and also storm water coming and running in and under the, under the doors as well.
Speaker 1: 02:43 And some have said the public restrooms in the park are just an embarrassment. What condition are they in and what's needed to fix them.
Speaker 2: 02:50 That is the straw that broke the camel's back on really coalescing everybody in bowel ballparks saying, come on, hey, this affects everybody. There are a couple of dozen restrooms in the park and virtually every single one of them is either in monstrous repair or woeful disrepair. The whole programming for comfort stations, restrooms and needs to be looked at. And there's a question of is it more cost effective to scrape them and start from scratch or to do a renovation? It's probably a combination of those, uh, but whatever it is, it needs to have our focus. And, uh, let's do it now
Speaker 1: 03:22 and I understand that some studies have put a price tag of $300 million to really properly address all the issues involving Balboa Park. If the 9.5 million that was earmarked for the Plaza de Panama project is reinvested for improvements, which doesn't sound like is enough money to fix everything, uh, how do you prioritize which areas will get fixed first?
Speaker 2: 03:44 That is an excellent question. Various stakeholders within and outside of Balboa Park have their own ideas about what best to do with a, with that CIP money, I think we've kind of coalesced, or the Babel park institutions, the leadership Balbo Park Philanthropists have kind of coalesced about, let's see, let's get the mundane, but absolutely unnecessary, uh, issue of the, of the restrooms addressed. Uh, uh, that being said, there are also some, I think a triage is a good term. So identifying those buildings that are really under threat, if they're compromised, it will compromise the collections and the, uh, the programming of some of the institutions. I think those need to need to rise on the level of the list of priorities as well. There are some fundamental improvements to Babel park that I think just about everyone can agree on. So perhaps we can focus there first.
Speaker 1: 04:30 Maybe the restroom's right. There we go. What can lease holders of the museums do to stay ahead of any repairs? What can they, and what can the city do to raise funds and, and manage those risks?
Speaker 2: 04:41 I'll take the latter part first. How about that? Because that's the bigger issue. Uh, and this is just something historic for bowel ballpark and frankly for most of the parks and the, and the city's a park system is a reliable revenue stream that stays with that park. And Balboa Park of course is kind of unique because it is a, it has a, it's a developed park. It's an open space park and a developed park. So the infrastructure maintenance needs are a uniquely different and immensely larger than most other parks in I'm in San Diego. So the challenges is the city and you know, uh, we're in partnership with nonprofits of philanthropic community identifying revenue sources that are meaningful, that can be guaranteed to stay in Balboa Park. We just don't have that right now. There are some ideas out there, uh, that I think should be explored. I think we need to approach it with an open mind and we need to start thinking much more creatively and critically about those opportunities.
Speaker 2: 05:41 So jade, you had the other question. The other part of your question was what can the lease holders do? You know what they're going to continue doing. What they've been trying to do for decades since they've been in the park is just taking care of their, part of the responsibility on the interiors. And actually, you know, I'm proud of my, my colleagues in the park, uh, the fellow institutions in the park that are taking care of, of their programming and their interior interior maintenance, uh, it's estimated that a, just, you know, within the last couple of decades, the institutions themselves, I put $18 million into the buildings themselves, at least holders and much of that they weren't required to do from the leases. They just did it because it had to be done and there was no money at the city. So do you think that taxpayers need to make more of an investment here or do you think that tax dollars just haven't been allocated in a way that's impactful?
Speaker 2: 06:30 Yes. On the first part of your question, look, Balboa Park is owned by the citizens of San Diego. It is a city, it is a municipal park of the city of San Diego. If we have standards and expectations for our municipal parks that are ostensibly owned by the citizens, there's a responsibility there. Now it's up to us as stakeholders, internal stakeholders and lovers of Balboa Park to raise the awareness within the community that the users of Balboa Park are the owners of Balboa Park. And we're loving it to death. Right? And if we want to continue loving it and passing it along to future generations to ensure that what we inherited from our predecessors is just as magnificent, if not better than a, the way that we found it. Uh, that's, that's our responsibility. So we need to raise the awareness that, uh, Hey Ababil park is worth supporting. Uh, and uh, that includes public investment. The other part of your question, jade, was, uh, you know, where are they just as the tax dollars just not being spent? Well, hmm. Government not spending tax dollars. Well, heaven forbid, a, that's very subjective. Uh, but uh, you, you could certainly make the case work to be done. Certainly I've been speaking with John Belt House Executive Director of the nonprofit friends about the Allen Park. John, thanks so much for joining us. Thank you so much for having me.
Speaker 1: 00:00 For our next story. We're going to stay at Balboa Park where the health of the trees there is getting some extra love from the Balbo a park conservancy. That's because the parks urban forest isn't as healthy as it used to be. KPBS environment reporter Eric Anderson explains,
Speaker 2: 00:17 and it looks like we're about there. One worst group when you're good. Arborist in Balboa Park Tree. Stuart Bradley. Michael Brown is helping volunteers, planter Bohemia tree in Balboa Park near Quince Street.
Speaker 3: 00:29 It's a Hong Kong orchid is a common name and soil. Think if it grows right in five or 10 years, it's going to look like a big flowery
Speaker 2: 00:35 Sri and dozens of trees were planted during a recent Arbor day celebration.
Speaker 3: 00:39 And then the idea is that hopefully the molds, you know, they'll go down around here. That'll help protect that root system. But this one's gonna be
Speaker 2: 00:45 the planting mark, the completion of a cal fire funded efforts that put 500 new trees in the ground.
Speaker 4: 00:53 Okay.
Speaker 2: 00:54 Brown says trees are one of the things that make the park unique,
Speaker 3: 00:58 such a different feeling than being out in the middle of a concrete or an asphalt parking lot and then being under a grove of ficus trees. You know, everyone can imagine that, right? I'm going to who wants to be out in a a hot parking lot? Well that's what the trees, they help to help prevent that, that parking lot effect
Speaker 2: 01:14 in spite of the newly planted trees, the parks forest still faces challenges.
Speaker 4: 01:19 What we were able to do is we digitize the old data from 20 years ago.
Speaker 2: 01:24 Jacqueline Higgins works for the bell ball park conservancy. She says every tree in the park is now tracked in an online app called open tree map
Speaker 4: 01:33 and we overlaid our new data from the recent inventory that was done last year and we're able to compare and contrast the data sets
Speaker 2: 01:41 and the findings were not particularly reassuring. The latest survey found 4% of the parks' trees were dead. He can says another 4% suffer from poor health.
Speaker 4: 01:51 When you look at that, it's not a huge number because we're talking over 15,000 trees that we're looking at, but when you put numbers to that, the structural value of that 8% decrease is $5 million. So that's a city asset that has just decreased in value for $5 million.
Speaker 2: 02:10 Conservationists are working to reverse the decline. Tomas Herrera Mishler is the president and CEO of the Bell Ball Park Conservancy and he says it's no mystery. Why are the trees are struggling?
Speaker 5: 02:21 Over the course of the last two decades, there's been a real impact from climate change with increased temperatures. Insects that were never here before had been migrating north, and so there's a quite an impact on the health of the trees.
Speaker 2: 02:36 Herrera Mishler says the conservancy is making a concerted effort to care for the health of the city signature urban forest diversity is the key.
Speaker 5: 02:45 So 20 years ago we had 348 different species of trees in the park. We're now up to 448 different tree species in the park. The reason why that's important is because the more diversity, the more resilient forest is, we need have resilient forests because of all the impacts of disease, old age insects and drought.
Speaker 2: 03:07 Diversity means there are fewer eucalyptus trees. There are those tall, fast growing trees with shallow root systems which are prone to falling. When storms hit, they used to account for 40% of the parks' trees. That's down to just over 20% and bell ballparks forest is what the rest of the city could look like. The city's climate action plan in fact calls for a much denser tree canopy outside the park.
Speaker 5: 03:33 We're around 5% in the city now if you want to see what about 30% looks like come to Balboa Park cause that's what we have here in the park. It's super important for many reasons for improved air quality and Lord knows we need that in San Diego.
Speaker 2: 03:47 San Diego is not close to hitting that 30% target outside of Bell Ball Park, but it remains an important goal. Trees clean the air filter storm water, reduce heat and sequester carbon. Eric Anderson KPBS news
Speaker 1: 04:02 from Balboa Park to the city of San Diego. One of the goals of the city's climate action plan is to increase the urban tree canopy to shade 15% of the city by 2020 and increasing that to 35% by 2035 joining me now to talk about the status of that goal is Brian Weidner. He is the forester for the city of San Diego. Brian, welcome. Thank you. Glad to be here. So the last time you were on midday edition, shortly after you started your job in 2017 you estimated that San Diego had about 250,000 trees representing an urban tree canopy over a, that covers about 13% of the city. How close is the city now to meeting the 15% goal by 2020 now?
Speaker 6: 04:46 So right now we're actually doing a tree inventory. We've completed a first phase of that inventory last year and we just got a grant to complete a second phase of our street tree inventory. So we believe, yes, maybe up to 250,000 street trees are within the city limits, but we were, we don't have that final number yet. We're still working on that. Um, as far as, yes, we were 13% canopy cover from 2014 data and we've been planting hundreds of trees each year. We actually planted over 2,500 trees in parks and street tree areas last year. And we're also increasing our efforts to protect our existing trees, uh, by maintaining them better. So that also contributes to increasing our canopy cover. And finally, what we really need to do is do another, uh, assessment, a remote sensing assessment of our canopy cover since it's been about five years since that first assessment was done. Um, and that's how we can really tell where we're at with the canopy cover.
Speaker 1: 05:50 And, and why is this goal so important to the city's climate action plan?
Speaker 6: 05:55 It's important to the city's climate action because the better forest that we have, the more resilient environment there, we're going to have trees, uh, make our community is much more sustainable with the ecosystem benefits of it provided to us, such as storm water runoff. Uh, they clean our air, they do carbon sequestration, uh, but in general two trees actually just make our communities much more livable by providing shade and just having better aesthetics that are on the streets.
Speaker 1: 06:23 And so the Union Tribune reported earlier this year that according to a senior city planner, in order to meet that goal, the city would have to plant about half a million more large trees. What's the city doing to achieve that number?
Speaker 6: 06:36 So again, we are planting hundreds of trees every year. We've been doing that for the last several years, both in parks and as street trees. Uh, the city also been working with the state agency cal fire, they're urban forestry division to go after climate investment of funding for grants to plant additional trees. So, uh, and then on top of that too, we've been working with some of our nonprofit partners, uh, in particular tree San Diego and urban core that have also received some grant funding to plan additional trees. The, the idea that just planting trees is going to get us to that canopy cover coal is not completely correct because again, we need to actually protect and maintain the existing trees that we have, which actually is also outlined in the climate action plan too as well.
Speaker 1: 07:25 And you mentioned a grant. What other funding and resources has the city made available to plant all these trees?
Speaker 6: 07:31 So the city's using a general funds to be planting the trees, um, and we're able to again, tap into those cal fire phones. There's actually a unique foundation foundational fund that we've been using called the fig fund. Uh, so we've tapped into that, uh, under the fig fund. We're only allowed to plant Jacaranda trees, but that's, uh, I guess you could call that sort of the official unofficial tree of the city of San Diego. It's a great tree. It's a pretty good sized tree and, and puts out really nice purple flowers, um, for several months, actually throughout the year.
Speaker 1: 08:07 That sounds fantastic. And I was going to ask, are some trees better, uh, for a canopy than others?
Speaker 6: 08:13 You know, um, it depends on the spacing that you're looking at when you're planting a tree. So if you're planting a tree in a very small space, it's only two or three feet wide, then maybe you'll need to only be able to plant a small tree is such as a crepe myrtle or a Hong Kong orchid. Um, if you have a large space where you can plant trees, then you might want to plant, uh, like a ray wood ash that's gonna grow to be a taller tree, um, and provide more shade and provide more of those ecosystem benefits. But it really just depends on what the space in his like. And on top of that, we want a diversity of trees within our city. So really every tree is playing a critical role, um, not just for a crown canopy cover throughout the city, but again, making our communities much more livable.
Speaker 1: 08:59 And the city has a portal on its website where residents can apply to receive a tree that they can plant on their property. How is that program contributing to the overall goal?
Speaker 6: 09:09 So we have a, a initiative that was started last fall, a free tree SD. It's on the city's website, San diego.gov/. Trees. It's a feature that you click on, takes about a minute or two for folks to sign up for a tree. They agreed to water the tree for the first three years. Uh, the tree can only be planted within the city right away. So that's almost always in the parkway is it can't be planted on private property. And so far it's been pretty successful. We probably get nearly a hundred requests a month, uh, for that initiative.
Speaker 1: 09:42 And how can people participate in this program?
Speaker 6: 09:45 So many ways, right? Obviously plant a tree, it would be number one and there is, there does seem to be evidence that there's probably a lot of opportunity to increase our canopy cover over private property. So, uh, we believe that private, private property, private properties have a lot of space where new trees can be planted.
Speaker 1: 10:05 Right. I've been speaking with Brian Weidner, the forester for the city of San Diego. Brian, thank you so much for joining us.
Speaker 6: 10:11 Thank you. Glad to be here.
Speaker 7: 10:20 Yeah.
Speaker 1: 00:00 As more and more Californians get older and retire. There's a growing pool of people with time and skills that community organizations could put to work, but seniors here have a relatively low volunteer rate and often feel isolated. Well, a 77 year old San Francisco man has found a way to stay involved. He forgets about his arthritis and his cane to do what he loves, Best Cook for his community. As part of our grain California series, Kq eds for Rita job for Romero has the story
Speaker 2: 00:34 in his small kitchen. Emam Saber holds a butcher knife and trims one of the 30 New York stakes. He's laid out on a cutting board charity and they beat everybody in my own money. That's his $660 social security check and money. His wife, Hawaii, that earns from running a daycare out of their apartment in San Francisco in the kitchen next to the living room where the kids are in. Mom's got two pants
Speaker 3: 01:08 though. He says the oil has to be smoking hot before putting the meat on it. All the Jews come down or you lose everything.
Speaker 2: 01:24 Your mom worked for decades as a chef at fancy hotels and a French restaurant. Even now that he's retired and has arthritis, he loves
Speaker 3: 01:33 to cook. Why do you like it?
Speaker 2: 01:40 Growing up in Cairo, Egypt, he was one of 19 kids. He remembers watching his mother cook big meals with neighbors to share. He says in those days, men weren't allowed in the kitchen. No, because from seven years old and I couldn't stop resisting that in mom came to San Francisco in 1969 he's lived in the same flat ever since. Recreating that bustling family feel from his childhood. For him, community is number one to be around each other for decades and mom has cooked for people that mosques, schools and nonprofits. He's the guy that volunteers to bring food for Ramadan, a baby shower or the Christmas party at Saint Anthony's and organization that feeds the homeless. What I, what sticks with me the most when I think about the mom is his generosity and his, his joyful spirit. Lydia Brandston works at Saint Anthony's. She says four years. Ima made a delicious Middle Eastern banquet of chicken rice with elements and a polenta dessert with rosewater and honey. And
Speaker 4: 03:00 he brings to his cooking and his meals, this, this love of community and this, um, this sense of that through sharing a meal with another human being that you build relationship. And it's those relationships that keep us together in the end.
Speaker 3: 03:20 Enough
Speaker 2: 03:22 back at her mom's flat dinner is finally ready. He lays the cooked steaks on beds of rice, Huh?
Speaker 3: 03:29 Oh, I'm always busy. 50 years here I'm and visit for stuff. He covers the trays with foil and gets ready to deliver them. That's it.
Speaker 2: 03:41 He says goodbye to the kids in the living room who just woke up from their nap, a man of purpose on his way to feed the people.
Speaker 3: 03:53 Bye Bye.
Speaker 2: 03:58 In San Francisco. I'm Friday that Dev Valero.
Speaker 1: 00:00 In a country that saw a record breaking 33,000 homicides last year to Kuana topped the list as the most violent city in Mexico. A new report from the Justice in Mexico research program at the University of San Diego suggest this year the number of homicides is once again on track to be record breaking. The report is also examining different ways to address the rise in violence. David Shirk one of the authors of that report and the director of the Justice and Mexico project joins us to talk about it. David, welcome. Thanks for having me. So this year there's been a change to the title of the report. You moved away from drug related violence and instead chose to use the term organized crime and violence. Why the change?
Speaker 2: 00:41 Well, we've been doing this report for the last 10 years and over the last decade what we've seen is a shift in the nature of organized crime activities in Mexico. Um, while 10 years ago the dominant players, uh, and, and the vast majority of the violence was associated with drug trafficking organizations. Those organizations have since become more fragmented. Uh, and in the process they have become more diversified in the range of criminal activities that they are involved in. Uh, so that includes things like kidnapping, extortion, even a larceny. Uh, this year in particular, we saw a lot of violence associated with fuel theft, uh, in certain places, particularly Guanajuato. So the change in the title reflects, I think, changes that we're seeing are, we have seen, uh, in recent years in the way organized crime operates in Mexico
Speaker 1: 01:36 and organized crime has been a major factor in Mexico. His problems are a large share of homicides tied to organize grime.
Speaker 2: 01:43 Yeah, we've, we've seen, uh, over the last decade, uh, again, that, uh, depending on the numbers used, uh, we have, uh, calculated that somewhere between a third and half of the violence we've seen over the last decade has been associated with organized crime groups, including gangs, drug trafficking organizations, and the like. And walk us through some of the other highlights in the report. Well, I think, um, what has generated the most headlines this year is the fact that 2018 was a record year for homicides in Mexico. There were over 33,000 homicide victims, uh, reported by Mexico's National Public Security System. This is, this is an unprecedented level of violence. And one of the things that we, we calculated is that we've seen an increase in the homicide rate in Mexico from about 17 murders per 100,000 people in a 2015 to around, uh, 27 homicides per hundred thousand people in 2018. So there's been a big jump in the, in the relative level of violence in Mexico from just a few years ago.
Speaker 2: 02:52 Right. And take one, Quanta experienced a 41% increase in the number of reported homicides in 2018 compared to the year before in the past. You've said the violence in recent years could be attributed to a number of factors including the rise of the new generation cartel and lower level gangs, uh, as well as the capture of drug lord El Chapo Guzman. Is that still the case? I think so. We're still seeing the fallout from the disruptive effects of taking out Mexico's top kingpin, Chapo Guzman, and the power vacuum that has resulted in, in the, in the wake of those that, uh, important capture. Over the course of that process, we saw more and more fighting between different criminal organizations and in particular the new generation cartel, which you mentioned began encroaching on the territory of the Chapo Guzman's Sinaloa cartel. And, uh, those places where Chapo was mine was once dominant are the places that we now see the highest levels of violence.
Speaker 2: 03:53 And unfortunately, Tijuana, uh, is one of those t two, one I had seen terrible violence in 2008 and 2009 when, uh, Chapo Guzman was moving into the city to take over from the Iran oh Felix Organization. And in recent years, uh, he's been challenged, uh, for his organization has been challenged for control of the city by primarily by the new generation cartel and Mexico's president and has pledged to bring down violence. In fact, he's expanding the use of the new national guard, which was launched here in Tijuana back in February. Are there signs that strategy has been effective? Not yet. Unfortunately. The last few months we've seen a still record levels of violence month by month. Uh, in terms of homicides in Tijuana continues to have, uh, unfortunately, um, are very high levels of homicide. It remains to be seen what will come of of 2019. Uh, but the President Lopez Obrador who took office in December is trying to address this problem by creating a whole new police force.
Speaker 2: 05:00 Uh, and unfortunately that's, that's what every new president has done for the last four or five presidents. They've tried to reinvent the structure of federal law enforcement. Um, and what they're not doing, I think adequately is, um, is building in internal investigations to root out corruption. Lopez Obrador has said he believes the key to combat violence is to address the country's underlying socio economic problems based on what you've learned after studying Mexico's violence for more than 10 years. Now. Is that enough? So there's no doubt that there are socioeconomic and social problems that contribute to violence. Um, and I like to think of that as, as a, in some ways the, that's the fuel that drives violence in Mexico and, and, and many other problems. And so there, it's certainly laudable to try to take out to reduce the problem of poverty and inequality. And I think that will have a very positive effects, uh, in, in the fight against crime.
Speaker 2: 05:58 And to generally improve Mexico's social situation. Unfortunately though, our reports have consistently found that the real problem is, is high higher level organized crime because the battles between major criminal organizations are what mobilize or trigger, um, these massively violent, uh, scenarios. And so that's really the spark that sets off these, these, the, the fuel. That means that Lopez Obrador has to have some kind of a strategy for how he's going to deal with organized crime. And, and that's going to necessarily involve improving prosecutions, uh, improving, uh, law enforcement more generally. [inaudible] and also thinking very strategically about how we deal with the evolving industry of illicit drugs. Uh, here in the United States, we've been dramatically decriminalizing a certain substances, particularly marijuana. Uh, Lopez Obrador is also talking about possibly illegalizing drugs, uh, in his country. But even if what we've seen in the last years, even if you see these organizations moving away from drugs, there's still going to get involved in activities that can lead to violent, uh, criminal behavior. Whether that's a fighting among criminal organizations or predatory activities like extortion, kidnapping, etc. They're going to be looking for alternatives. And so there's no magic bullet or magic wand that you can wave, uh, just by legalizing drugs, uh, and expect all these criminal actors to suddenly, you know, go get a job at McDonald's. It's an issue that'll have to be addressed on many fronts. It sounds like. That's right. I've been speaking with David Shirk, director of the Justice and Mexico project at the University of San Diego. David, thanks for joining us. Thank you for having me.
Speaker 1: 00:00 A San Diego educator has been on a quest to transform the American high school. Her pursued has taken her to some of the most innovative schools across the country where teachers are focused on deepening student learning. KPBS evening edition Anchor Ebony Monet speaks with Sarah fine about her new book in search of deeper learning. So what does
Speaker 2: 00:20 learning mean for you? I spent the last eight years with my coauthor Jal Mehta from Harvard, trying to figure that out. Um, we did a study of 30 different high schools around the country where we were looking for evidence of kids that, who are really engaged in what they were learning in their classrooms. Um, but beyond engage really intellectually stimulated by what they were doing, found personal meaning and what they were doing. Um, and we're doing work that was kind of a conceptually rich, so some combination of rigor and engagement and joy. And I think we found that over time, kids who, who were engaged in that kind of learning found that they kind of came to identify with what they were doing. So, rather than I am a kid who sits in science class, I am a scientist or I am somebody who might become a scientist one day.
Speaker 2: 01:03 And why did you focus on public schools? Well, we felt that, first of all, I'm a former high school teacher. Um, and so I know more than anybody how hard it is to come by that kind of learning with adolescence. Um, and I think we felt very deeply that it was likely that the least rich learning was happening for the least well served students who are in public schools for the most part. And I think we also really wanted to know what are the possibilities of public education. So what did you find? We found pockets of very powerful learning, but we did not find very many schools, which has whole institutions who are doing very well in terms of consistency of that work with all kids. Uh, and so that at first was a disappointment for us and then we kind of, um, change our lines a little bit and became more intrigued by those pockets.
Speaker 2: 01:44 Like what was it that was making those places tick? Why were, why was it so different, like at 10 o'clock in science class then what was happening at 11 o'clock in history class? Did you find that? We did. Yeah, we did. There's pocket. The thing that was really heartening is that there were pockets of deep learning in almost every school we went to regardless of whether they were a specialty schools well resourced, under resourced. Um, and it's felt like there was something sort of qualitatively different about those spaces for kids where teachers were seeing kids differently in the places where this was happening. So, um, they were treating kids as agents who really had lots of, could make some choices who really weren't creative and capable of um, rich thinking. They were sort of breaking down boundaries between the school and the world beyond school.
Speaker 2: 02:27 Uh, in some cases in really powerful ways where they're getting the kids out away from school and other cases where there was more constraint. They were bringing in outsiders helping kids to understand why they were doing what they were doing. I'm really trying to model their work after the real world rather than after some school version of math or school version of science. What's wrong with the current system? What should administrators who read this book? What should they do? Our current system is based on a conception of what it means to learn. That is about sort of filling kids' heads with stuff, right? Capital ass. Um, it's a very old tradition, sort of thinking about teaching as telling and what it means to be proficient at something means to know something. Capital K and in this case, um, it often means to be able to do well on advanced placement exams or on sats and or on state tests.
Speaker 2: 03:17 And that whole conception of knowledge is, is misaligned with the way that our world is developing right? Kids. It's not enough to know stuff. In fact, it's really not very relevant anymore to have memorized history from, you know, the Crusades to the present. Um, although clearly it, some knowledge of history is useful as a, as a foundation for other kinds of skills like analysis, but it's not those, it's not the kind of hard knowledge that is going to help kids succeed and navigating this the world we live in anymore. It's more about skills of analysis, synthesis, um, being able to take in a multiplicity of views and make sense of them and try and make some decisions about, okay, what do I, how do I make a choice based on these 17 dimensions? Um, and so we need schools that are helping kids learn to do that rather than continuing to tell them stuff and ask them to spit it back on exams when it's time to like actually get accepted into college.
Speaker 2: 04:09 Is there going to be that gap? Is there a problem there? I think the biggest problem is those schools that are making those choices are having to figure out how they can also have their kids do well enough inside of the sort of world we live in that they can still get into college, that they are still have some sort of criteria that certify them as ready. And that's really hard for those schools. Right? Because then they're, they're saying, well our kids need to do well enough on the test, but really we know that what kids need is not on those tests. So we're going to try to kind of play that game where we're cutting the middle. Think of what those schools could do and what other schools might be able to do if we could change the logic of how we're valuing kids and valuing what, you know, what gets you into higher education?
Speaker 2: 04:47 If we had assessments that were more about problem solving and critical thinking and less about regurgitating, you know, you remember the, the, the formula for the math problem. Do you think as many kids would succeed with this format? I think more kids would. I have, I have like a deep belief in the capacities of adolescents to do really powerful work. We, I think we like as a system, we undervalue adolescence. They are incredibly capable, uh, when given the right opportunity. There's so passionate. Think about the kids from Parkland and some of those who have joined that fight, they can do more than many adults can. They have like a sort of zealotry that a lot of adults, uh, let go of. Um, and when they're engaged, they just, they'll just hold onto it and go incredibly deep. But we don't often treat them that way in schools. More often we're saying, uh, you need to, you know, earn this credential. You need to memorize this thing. You need to take the pass to go to the bathroom. And, you know, um, we, we sort of infantilize them and we micromanage them rather than really leaning into what they could do. Sarah? Fine. Thanks so much. Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks for having me. That was San Diego author and educators here. We're fine speaking with KPBS evening edition Acre Ebony Monet.