Eggers On Education
Best-selling author Dave Eggers was in Sonoma last week screening the feature-length documentary film he produced, “American Teacher,” at a Sonoma Valley Education Foundation event at Hanna Boys Center.
While his attention is now largely focused on educational initiatives, Eggers is best known for his book, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Since then, he has written two more books, launched an independent publishing company and founded magazines and literary journals. His new novel, “A Hologram For The King,” is available at Readers’ Books.
But it has been Eggers’ work as visionary education philanthropist that has gained him the most acclaim. Twelve years ago, Eggers founded 826 Valencia, a San Francisco-based writing and tutoring center for young people, which has since opened six more locations around the United States. In 2010, he launched ScholarMatch, a nonprofit organization that connects donors with students to make college more affordable. His widely acclaimed Ted Talk about the idea behind his tutoring centers brought Eggers one of the first TED Prize’s that provided him with $100,000 to launch the website onceuponaschool.org. The site features inspiring stories of communities that have personally invested in their local public schools with notable results.
Eggers lives in the Bay Area with his wife, author Vendela Vida, and their two children. While in Sonoma last week, Eggers took a few minutes to answer some questions from the Index Tribune.
What is the biggest misconception about teachers in America today?
There is a very strange perception that the job is easy. Because people have been in a classroom (as students), they assume they could teach, too. But that’s like assuming you could be an air-traffic controller because you’ve been on an airplane.
Why did “American Teacher” need to be made?
We wanted to do a pretty basic thing, which was to follow five teachers through their daily lives, so viewers could see how demanding the job is, and how many barriers we put between teachers and their ability to live and work as highly educated and creative professionals.
Those of us in our 40s were pretty casual about our education when we were growing up. Why is that attitude no longer an option today (for us and our children)?
I grew up in a town where we all went to public school, no one really thought about private school; you simply walked to the neighborhood school and knew you’d get a good education. We’re in a period of flux right now, with the world of education atomizing and re-inventing itself every few years. Some of this experimentation is great. And some of it leads to the constant, misguided attempt to find some silver bullet that will magically bring every child’s test score up to whatever level. The fact is, that until we treat teachers right, and slow down the profession’s incredible turnover rate, as a nation we’re not going to get where we want to be.
You founded Once Upon A School with the hope of sharing stories of communities creatively engaging with local public schools. What is one example of that kind of engagement?
826 National’s specialty is offering an army of volunteer tutors to the city’s teachers. The teachers find hundreds of ways to make the tutors useful, and we find that the increased one-on-one attention helps everyone – teachers, students, schools and the tutors themselves.
How did you come to screen “American Teacher” here in Sonoma?
A couple of old friends of mine, Jessica Strachan and Tom Kimball, told me the schools here could use a boost, and that a screening might help. Ninive Calegari and Jonathan Dearman, who are also involved in the movie, came with me, and all three of us have deep Bay Area roots.
An audience of more than 150 gathered for the film screening and Q&A with Eggers, co-producer Calegari and former teacher Dearman on Oct. 18. Sonoma Valley School Superintendent Louann Carlomagno welcomed the crowd and thanked the participants for bringing the film to Sonoma. After the lights came up, the discussion continued and the crowd stayed on for more than an hour asking questions. Laura Zimmerman, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation said, “We were thrilled by the energy in the room and by the passion in our community toward education. This film is a great launching point for a crucial discussion about the teaching profession, as a country and right here in Sonoma.”
The film can be downloaded from Netflix and iTunes and more information is available at teachersalaryproject.org.