tv Q A CSPAN December 27, 2009 8:00pm-9:00pm EST
he asked for i was going next. he said to come on and i will buy you a subway ticket. i must have looked like i needed money. we were sitting there and this woman comes up to him, and him and says," i am omar wasow's . >> i was taking creative writing with frank mccord and he made an impression on me. he wrote one of my college recommendations. to this day, i think about what he said in that class. there were stories of him going into bars and being a theatrical character. that is what he was like as a teacher. telling stories and engaging us in unexpected ways.
>> can you remember something you learn about writing? >> it is totally not about writing. he would ask us what the capital city of albania was. he would say that we would not pay attention to him. nobody cares about what he wants. on the second to last day, i looked up what the capital city was into this tday i know it. -- to this day i know it. he was always jousting with the class and teasing us. in terms of creative writing, one of the things that was at the heart of what he wanted for his students was for them to find their own voice. he was very supportive without
having a conventional creative writing approach which is to say that you had to have the protagonist and antagonized. it was more like, tell us something that moved you. i remember that the things that i submitted -- he was a very supportive teacher. it was a privilege to have him. >> on the other side of that meeting, your mother. you come from a german/jewish father and an african-american mother. i searched for a lot of parents and i look very carefully and these have potential my parents -- potential. my parents are not particularly unusual, but what has been a privilege, in a way, what is
less significant is being the child of the civil-rights movement. being a child that was born during this great transformation of america. when they got married in 1968, and next month it will be 41 years, what is powerful for me is that i feel like i am a part of a piece of history and have this real obligation or debt to live up to the ideas of my mother and my father and my grandparents, who i see as freedom fighters. my grandfather had to flee germany. they undertook great risks to
help themselves and family members. they were in integrated neighborhoods and underwent all sorts of discrimination. i feel like i carried this mental of needing to be -- dismantle -- this mantle of needing to carry that way. >> what is your father doing? >> my father was a professor and is in retirement. he works with aid projects. he spends a lot of time playing solitaire on the computer. he travels in mexico. my mom has been an educator,
working with five and six year- old. she went on to become the dean. she is helping to grow a program and she is about to retire. my dad is very excited because he will have a travel partner. >> we have seen you in many different settings, including when you have dreadlocks and you weighed more. what are you doing today? >> i am a graduate student. i am for seeipursuing a ph.d.. i will graduate, hopefully, in a year-and-a-half with a ph.d. in african-american studies and political science. >> why did you want to do that?
>> i had spent a dozen years in the internet industry and i continue to be fascinated with social media, but i saw that things that i was interested in, education and criminal justice issues, and were not going to be understood. how do we help reduce the amount of crime and incarceration in this country? going back to school has been a real gift for me to go deep on those topics. >> when do to start at harvard? >> 4 and 1/2 years ago. i am a very humble graduate student. i am required to take statistics glasses. these are kids that have been
doing calculus' up until a year ago and i had not done it in 20 years. -- calculus up until a year ago and i had not done it in 20 years. luckily, i found the wherewithal to turn in those papers and keep going. it has been a wonderful experience overall. >> probably, you were the most visible on the oprah show. what year did you do the 12 lessons on how to use the internet? >> the 12 part series we did with oprah was in 1999 or early 2000. to this day, that is one of the things that i remembered most for -- i am remembered most for. that was an experience as well.
there are all these moments -- she was skeptical about the 12 parts the reason did not really want to do it at first. by the end of it, as we were breaking down the sets, she had a conversion experience. >> how did it happen? >> i had been doing television reporting. as an on-air gadget do route, wash gadget guru -- gadget guru, i was just going to have a bit role in the 12 part show. oprah took a bit of a shining to me and included me in almost all of the episodes. >> i see that you are writing
about the obama presidential race and the internet. did you work for the campaign? if you did not, why not? but i did not work for the campaign -- eli >> i did not work for the campaign. -- >> i did not work for the campaign. i felt that we had some personal comparisons. his father is from kenya and my father is from kenya. i come from a mixed race and he comes from a mixed race. there is sort of a generational thing. it feels like he could be a peer. he has a funny first name. there are all sorts of things that are arbitrary and substantive that gave me a strong connection to him.
i was the student body president of my high school. i thought i would go on and run for office. i care deeply about politics and i had the privilege to work with bill gray. when i was in college, i intern with him. one of the things that i took away is that i did not want to work in politics. it was to far removed -- it was too too far removed -- it was too far removed from what i wanted to do. the way i could make a contribution in the world is to instill issues into a more
understandable form so people could take action. >> your at stanford when you work with bill gray as an intern. what did you learn the most at that juncture? >> there were a couple of things that stood out. this is not in reference to bill gray, but it deals with politics. a candid it came and spoke to our born -- our dorm. you could tell that this speech had been said so many times that the life had been beaten out of it. i thought that i did not want to be in a career were the things i care about most deeply have the life beaten out of them. i want to cherish the work a little more. it seems sosubtle.
bill gray had two offices and i was in the philadelphia office. after 13 weeks, we got to go across to the leadership office and meet him. this was exciting. we finally got to meet him. we got ushered into the office and they took a photo and we shook his hand and they assured us out. -- ushered us out. as an intern, i have very little power and very little status and was given very little regard. >> what year did you get out of stanford? 1992. >> a degree in what? >> race and ethnic relations.
>> duwaik figure 39 or 40 right now? >> 38. >> how does this world look to you? >> in terms of any particular thing? >> es. >> one of the things that is most exciting about the obama victory is that, historically, when there have been major successes as it relates to racial equality, they happened in very strange political times. you were talking about the civil war and the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement which had some of its biggest victories in the wake of the assassination of john f. kennedy. what is very encouraging to me
about what has happened in the last few years is that obama built a winning political majority. it was not -- he did not win because he was a third-party candidate. it was a very broad coalition that came together. as much as i was enthusiastic about his candidacy, i was very skeptical about his ability to win because i doubted the capacity of this country to make that kind of coalition. one thing that gives me great optimism about the way the country is going is that there is proof that people are willing to build multiracial coalitions as a function of normal politics. it does not have to be something that follows from something extreme like an assassination. >> politicians are looking at the future, saying that my
grandchildren will not have any of this because we are in deep financial trouble. how does somebody your age look at it? >> at the same time that i am encouraged, i am nervous about the growth of the federal government. i come from being and the entrepreneur and i have an enthusiasm about the power of markets and small business people to reinvent the future and i looked at -- look at the commitments that the federal level, i get very nervous about the future of this country as it relates to having a sustainable society that we have come to expect a lot of benefits and none of the cost from. that is obviously not sustainable given the debt. i also have great optimism for
the kind of reform movements that happened on the side of -- i think that one of the things that i hope -- in my mind, there is this huge majority in the middle that is socially liberal and fiscally conservative. if that kind of voting center is able to exert more influence, then it would work as a check on some of the social conservative extremism around demonizing gays and lesbians and worked as a check on the massive expansion of government. >> something called blackplanet.com sold for $38 million. does that make you a rich man? >> it does not make me rich man. by the time that we havd had sod
it, my share was very small. it has an owner that is very committed to growing ait. i am so glad that it had a happy ending. it is still getting about 5 million visitors a month. >> why did you leave? >> it comes back to the question that you asked earlier. i have been working in social media and social networking for nearly a dozen years and a lot of the questions about business and opportunities, to figure out how on japan or ship -- out of japan air -- how on japan or -- entrepeneurship changes the world.
going back to school, that was a way to answer -- to ask new questions. >> the brooklyn charter school. why did you get involved in that and what year did you get involved and is it still there? >> i am the child to educators. almost everybody in my family is a teacher. my grandfather turned to me and said that you do not need a high school diploma to go into business. i had violated the family business. i continue to love small business, but starting a charter school has been a kind of penance to the educators and my family. i am still connected to this family trade of education.
this was a way to marry my love of small business and education. >> how did you do it? >> i initially was involved with a group that was lobbying for a charter bill and the state. that got passed in 1997. i applied with a small group of friends to start a charter school. i got rejected twice. in the third go round, in 2000, we got approved, which was thrilling. we took an extra year to get the foundation right. september 11 happened in 2001. there were suggestions that they should freeze all new charters because of budget constraints. it was a long road.
it was a kindergarten through 12th grade charter school. that allowed us to bring in real experts who had done it a lot. it was very much a partnership. i was the founding president of the board. people used to talk about some of the big challenges of the charter school. a few weeks then, we had gotten a building and we had gotten a principle. then our principal fell through and the building fell through. it has been a real roller- coaster ride. i am proud to say that 27% of
our students were proficient in math. now 95% are. >> what are you doing? >> a friend of mine says that it is not one 100% solution, it is 100 1% solutions. it is making sure that when anybody is not -- if anyone on the team does not share the mission that we are going to make our kids work hard, but give them a lot of support, those -- if you do not support that vision, you will not be on board for long. >> how many teachers? >> it is 650 kids and i believe it is a staff now of 30 total. >> what do you not have to follow that every other school that is run by the city has to follow? >> as a charter school, we are a
public school. we have to follow the mainstream laws that you would expect. we are ada compliance. we cannot discriminate against anybody on the basis of race. we were subject to lot of rules and regulations. we have to take the same tests. the main tradeoff that a charter school makes is that we give up -- we will be held more accountable. we have outcomes at the end of five years, and if we do not meet those, we get close. we get more freedom to set the length of our school day and our school year. we have more freedom in hiring and firing. that reduced red tape gives us a lot of room to create decorum on the staff and make sure that we can invest in a curriculum that we like and that is different from what the state wants.
we can do all of that as long as the kids do well. >> kendeigh teachers belong to a union? >> they can -- can the teachers belong to a union? >> the law does not specify. almost all of our teachers are certified, but we're given some latitude to have teachers that are not certified. the real difference is not so much in unionization, but rather can we let teachers go when they are not performing. can we let a principal go if he or she does not share our vision? we make sure that everyone is held accountable. >> do you stay away from tenure? >> there is not a formal tender -- tenure policy.
if you do your job well, you were encouraged to come back. if you do not do your job well, it is not serving the kids. >> tell us what a day is like for you and the internet. when do you first get on it? >> a day like today is typical. i wake up and reach for my cellphone and pull the e-mail down at all my cell phone. >> what kind of cell phone? >> i use an old trio and i have been playing with an iphone, which i have enjoyed a lot. both have their strengths. >> do you respond right away? >> i will see what has come in and wait until i get to my laptop to respond. >> where is your laptop? >> it is in the living room and
it is also -- i office -- i obviously have a wireless network and i checked the news and respond to e-mail before brush my teeth were have breakfast -- or have breakfast. >> what is likely to be happening in your world that you have to get on the computer? >> i lead a funny life. my primary job is getting a ph.d.. i associate with my old company and i do some media work. the today show, oprah, and occasionally i will have a bunch of emails about producing a segment. i do a lot of public speaking and i am grateful for these opportunities to speak to libraries. >> do you make a part of your living from speaking?
>> yes. >> who pays? >> it is crazy that anybody would pay. i think i find it remarkable. i mentioned library associations. they are an example of groups that are looking for someone who has experience with the internet, social media, and can talk about how the internet is transforming our businesses and industries. it is a lot of professional associations or industry associations that are curious about the way the internet is transforming their work. >> specifically, when you are up in the morning, where do you go for your news? >> i am a new york times junkie. that is always the first place i looked. i am paying fan of news.google.
i have a bunch of keywords so that i can track certain people or companies and trends. a couple of other sites i am fond of it is "talking points memo." i should say that i do some work for the "washington post." more broadly, and scanning lots of different news sites throughout the day, but not with any particular kind of structure. "huffington opp post." there is a sight that i like that is called thenextright.com.
i am guessing people in their '30's and '40's are simultaneously a very committed to republicans, but out -- i am actually politically moderate. there is a lot of overlap with folks like that. where i get lost with some of the republican rhetoric is around a divisive stories. going back to the election, what is most alienating in the election were these moments where people were talking about real americans. i think of myself as being born in kenya, a name that may not
show a lot in alaska, and i wonder if she is talking about denying me my american citizenship. when people talk in those kinds of terms, it is almost a declaration of war. that is very provocative and i find it to be a challenge. they have a more inclusive idea of what it means. they are still committed to ideas that i find very compelling. >> the the name omar wasow, is there a middle name? >> tomas, yeah.
they saw that this was a name that showed up over the world. it was int'l and it had a local appeal in kenya. my uncle was thomas wasow. wasow could be confusing. my grandfather was adopted. my father's father was adopted by a wasow, so waso is an adopted name. >> what kind of social world to you then? i fell in love with social
media, not in the last decade or 15 years, but as a student in junior high, using bulletin board systems where you would take a modem and call another local hobbyist or enthusiast in your area. it was like a nesmall aol. when i came out of college, i became fascinated with this idea that i could create a watering hole online as well. i had 20 phone lines coming into my apartment. people thought that i was running a phone sex operation. there was not enough room in my apartment for about a number of people. i had 20 modems that were hooked up to computers so that people could call into my small america
online that was called "new york online." this was before the web or the internet. it was a technology that was a little early. as the web took off, all of this social media began to migrate to the web. in the early days of the web, you really could not -- you think about the rhetoric that al gore used. the internet is one to be this injured -- and this information superhighway. my experience have been a bit of a supper club. -- had been a bit of a supper club. the web was sort of a neutron bomb on the internet because it took away all the people. what people have been doing over the past decade in half is
layering tools and technologies that was not there at the start to bring people back to the internet in the way it had always been, historically. with our first sight, it took off like wildfire because we were giving people things like easy instant messaging, easy chat rooms, ways to post profiles of themselves. for a while, you paid $20 a month for that on a well. -- on a well -- on aol. these were attempts by companies to recreate some of the core experiences that have been there decades ago in these early technologies, but had not been built into this information
management medium of the web. >> how many non-blacks use bla ckplanet.com. >> it is 90% african-american, but it is open to everybody. people come there because they enjoy interacting with other members. >> jump ahead 10 years. what will you be doing? >> i went back to school not just to go deep on these two topics, but to write better and so my fantasy is that i will be writing a lot and teaching and probably be involved in a small business. >>i was talking to him regularly
on that process. i think the most direct impact was that it really was an enormous amount of stress for him, not only because of all the media attention, but i think that he was genuinely frustrated by how he had been treated. following the beer summit, there was -- there was a return to his former self. people who do not know him would find it hard to understand. he is an incredibly proper guide. the idea that he was charged with disorderly conduct, a charge that you use when people are writing -- on rioting --
rioting. in an interesting kind of way, even though he has been an incredibly supporter of mine in the academy, his work has primarily been on literature and mine is in criminal justice issues. i am thrilled that he has this deep interest in criminal justice issues. not that he did not have it before. >> what is your dissertation? >> i am interested ind rates of violence through time. you can have to neighborhoods -- two neighborhoods and one will have a much higher raw homicide rate than the other. i am interested in a crime more
broadly and its effect on society and race relations. you have sort of a proxy for that. take a place like new york, in 1993, there were two and half thousand murders. now, it is about 500 a year. that is a very dramatic drop. trying to understand what led to the spike and the drop is at the heart of what i am trying to understand? >> why does someone study african american studies? that is a very good question. >> there is this real commitment to interdisciplinary work. people are blending different fields. what is nice about having disciplines like american studies and history of science, they are things that across
disciplines and it allows people to blend -- across disciplines and allows people to blend -- they are things that cross disciplines and allows people to blend. i have not just interested in criminal justice questions. -- i am not just interested in criminal justice questions. for me, i was interested in multiple methods, using statistics, using political science and history to answer these questions in a common theme of african-american -- sort of race in america. you can think of any interdisciplinary field as an attempt to mix methods around common topics. >> how does someone studying
african-american studies get a national science nomination grant? >> the national science foundation -- i was privileged to get a fellowship. they basically support social science. base support political scientists, economists, -- they support a political scientist at economists, anyone who can contribute to the solving of social problems. i am trained as a political scientist and have a master's in government. as a political scientist, i was granted the national science foundation research fellowship. what you are seeing, and this is a little nerdy, there is this
blending of the social sciences. there are tools that economists use that come from sociology. that kind of lending means that people use different tools based on the questions they are asking. -- blending means that people use different tools based on the questions they are asking. >> what impact is this having? >> i have had this conversation multiple times with friends. a good friend of mine has been trying to lose weight for years. he relayed to me that i can be more disciplined about my eating if there is a black president. there is a broad sense that the company has shown this imposes
-- we can raise the bar for ourselves. in a lot of different ways, i have had a conversation. we have a hard conversation into generational a. their work -- a generational -- between generations. one of my family friend was telling me that she did not want to vote for barack obama because she was afraid that he would get assassinated. for a younger generation, that is unacceptably cautious and i accept the bleak -- and unacceptably cautious. she thought -- as she saw martin
luther king killed and did not want to see that happening to obama. there was a broader conversation between generations that he was in forcing. -- he was in force and -- in for some -- enforcing. the big thing is what happened to the civil-rights movement. what happened to the black freedom struggle in this country because it kind of dissipated in the 1970's, 1980's, and 1990's. what is interesting about obama's election is it takes you back to the forefront. >> in 1996, and we saw the
dreadlocks. did you feel differently about the world? >> i had to redreads for several years. basically, it was not a hair -- it was here in knots -- hair in knots. i had the privilege of having some bosses at in this nbc -- at msnbc that saw it as a plus. even when i worked for bill gray, that was the first time i thought that i might have to cut my hair. i went down to my first day of my internship and i thought they would say that i would have to go cut my hair and come back.
i was not sure what i would do if they said that. they sent me down to get my id laminated. there are various junctions' where it was not considered so radical. it was a part of who i was. they were cool with it. fast forward. i went back to school and after having been in the national spotlight a little bit, i decided i wanted to be anonymous as a graduate student. i also had this idea that you should change your hair cut once a decade and that was coming up on two. -- check that -- haircut once a decade and that was coming up on two. what would have happened if there had not been an internet
in the obama campaign? >> the internet allows candidates who are inspiring on some kind of cause, whether it is ron paul for the libertarian community or others, if you have a message that is compelling, you can take passion and turn that into credibility and the offline world -- in the offline world. it fueled his campaign and he would not have gotten as far as he did with the internet. obama was the first candidate to take online passion to raise a significant amount of money on
line and turned that into people knocking on doors on the ground and advertisements on tv and house parties. online, you have niches, an offline, you have a base. you use that based on line to really build a broad coalition. without that the initial base, you cannot win. >> when you were writing about it, you mentioned at the fact that 3 million people give $600 million to barack obama. that is only 1% of the american people. what do you think about the future candidates. are they going to find it easier to raise that kind of money? >> one of the other interesting things, and you are exactly right, it is their abilita relal
amount of people that get to campaigns. any candidate that is interested in winning will ask how the camera -- replicate that model -- how they can replicate that model. what is great about the internet is it creates a gentle on ramp for people to become more engaged as citizens and activists. it would have been impossible, before the internet, to have a successful campaign that raised $10,000 chunks. online, you can allow people to give small amounts of money and there are all of these very
simple ways to dip your toe in on behalf of the candidate and incrementally get more and more committed. what i think we will see is an enhanced capacity driven by candidates that harness these technologies. >> what innovative things are you doing right now that we do not know about? >> i am really excited about the potential for technology to transform education. i have been very skeptical about this in the past. we spent $60 billion in this country wirings schools and we have very little to show for it. what i have seen that has changed my thinking is a company that developed tutoring software that does a really good job of helping students understand algebra and difficult
math. it helps to understand the specific things you are having difficulty with. for me, i think the most powerful force in education is a fear of avoiding humiliation. most students are thinking about how they will not look stupid in front of that boy or that girl. the power to have to bring in front of a computer, it is self directed, there is no self humiliation. how do we do more to help get high quality software to a large audience of people, particularly the poorest members of our society who may not have access to quality teaching. >> you went to a super high level school. where is the charter school?
>> it is in brooklyn. it is right on the edge of bushwick. it is a beautiful, a working- class community. it has incredibly housing stock and there is a lot that is wonderful there about the community. we found a building -- i think it is 89 years old, but it was just a shell. what i am most proud of is that we took this building and have turned it into a school that is serving people and become a institution in the community. >> what is the racial mix? >> it is 97% black. >> do you teach there? >> i have only visited, but i have not taught.
none of the students have laptops. >> how many computers to you have question marks -- do you have? the computer class is almost like having pencil class. you do not go down the hall to use the pencils, they should be integrated into the classroom. we use computers for testing so that we can do 3 assessments a year so that we can track how kids are doing. we use a lot of technology around and intranet so that teachers can track how their students are doing. we don't do a lot with computer- based curriculum. >> how many of those kids have gone to college. >> we only go to eighth grade, but we have not graduated a
class that has gotten through high school. all of our kids have gone on too competitive high schools. we are trying to dial back up so that even more kids could have the experience i did. >> when you look back at your school, which to give the most credit to? >> it is sort of a cliche, but i owe an incredible debt to my parents. >> what did they do? >> my parents and my grandparents encouraged me to be curious. i often get asked why we are not teaching kids to use microsoft office. the thing that i have to help our parents understand is that you do not succeed in this economy might knowing a certain piece of software. it you can succeed by constantly
learning. if i went to a museum with my mother, she would ask how you would do this museum differently. even as a 6-year-old, i was thinking about how i might create -- of the role i would play in redoing an exhibit. my grandparents -- my grandfather was not a greek himself, but he was always giving me educational components. at the heart of it, my parents were always encouraging me to take pleasure in learning. that propelled me to all these experiences. >> which teacher in your life stimulated you the most? >> vet is tough. i have been lucky to have incredible teachers.
frank mccord, henry louis gates at harvard, and all of them played a real significant late -- role -- real significant role. i feel an incredible dealt to one teacher that taught me to program. my parents saw that i loved programming and they did not get me an atari game machine, they got me this toy computer called a vic-20. you would not use it as a doorstop now. they gave me this sandbox to learn to program. >> what is the most important
social network? >> facebook is far and away the most powerful thing going on right now and social media. it has got less buzzed and torture right now, but there are 300 million people using it regularly. >> are you on it? >> i am. i am a heavy user. none of the prior sites -- what they spoke has figured out that those sites did not mail is how to offer something that is useful day in and day out. the other sides would have people join and in the use would taper off. facebook has figured out how to
make it useful in a sustained way. >> when will we call your doctor omar wasow? >> i think my doctor -- my father will be doing that. i am looking forward to claim my doctorate at the end of 2011. >> thanks a lot for joining us. >> thanks a lot for having me. >> for a dvd copy of this program, call 1-877-662-7726. for free transcripts or to give us your comments about this program, visit us at cspan.org. q&a programs are also available as c-span podcasts.
>> tonight, on c-span, a look back at 2009 from the bbc program "the record review." following that, on q&a, another chance to see omar wasow. >> on "washington journal," gregg stohr looks ahead at the dock it for next year and another vacancy on the high court. and then a look at how president obama is handling the economy with dean baker and peter morici.
as always, the day's news and your phone calls starting live at 7:00 a.m. eastern, here on c- span. >> this thursday, on c-span, a day of tributes on u.s. and world leaders including the dalai lama, ted kennedy, ronald reagan, walter cronkite, and colin powell. then, a look at what is ahead. presidential advisor is, the creator of the segue and the co- founder of the guitar hero. >> the british house of commons is in winter recess until january. this week, we work -- we are going to show you bbc's "the record review." this one our program discusses parliament scandal