Venezuelan army helicopters fly over the Sierra de Perija national park, where poppy and marijuana plants are often discovered.
Scheer: I’ve seen young teachers, but sometimes it’s hard because there’s also that kind of systematic ... the administrator might say you have to teach it my way. I don’t know about the rest of the country, but in California, you’re not automatically in the union. You have to keep getting your job. If that administrator is saying “I don’t like the way you’re teaching, you have to teach it this way,” and even if nobody in the class wants to learn that way, I think there needs to be a lot of imagination and changing.
Duster: Again, this is public policy and not individual teachers. And that’s why No Child Left Behind has gotten into a lot of trouble, because it’s getting school systems to get teachers to teach to the test, so what’s happening is that there’s now a revolt, people are saying maybe we should have a different kind of strategy than teaching to the test. And I was saying at this conference yesterday that there’s a movement in the country, called engaged learning, where you want to get students out of this kind of classroom boredom. Here’s a good example. In the last 30 years we’ve seen remarkable increases in the number of diagnoses of hyperactive disorder, ADHD. Now, we know that in the short space of 20 to 30 years you don’t get much change in the biochemistry of humans. What you’re getting is a different diagnostic. And so we’re giving these kids Ritalin, or they’ve got attention deficit disorder. Now the same kid that has been so diagnosed, you give him a Gameboy, and there he is riveted to attention for hours after hours. Now what is that all about? That’s not all about attention deficit. That’s about him being bored in the classroom. So engaged learning turns that around. It says “let’s find a way to get students out of this situation where they are totally bored of the curriculum, and get them into an engaged process. ...” You take them out into the world, into the street, into the gardens, and you tell them the world is a much more complex place ... than by someone giving a didactic top-down. And I think that’s where education has to go. But you’re going to have to have resources, and we’re back to where we began, which is public policy.
Harris: How do we change public policy?
Scheer: Well, we can get better people elected. That’s something to talk about, because the fact is I know we had Mike Gravel on the other day, and he was talking about presidential term limits ... and even in Congress which has been struck down before, you get into these neighborhoods where, wherever I’ve lived has typically been the same congressman for the last 30 years. It’s almost you’re born into it and you die and you give it to someone you want to have that. Maybe we should take a closer look at who we’ve been electing. ...
Duster: We should take a closer look. On the other hand, we have to be careful of term limits, because that has its own dynamic. What’s happened in Sacramento with term limits is people that come in, they’re only going to be in for a few years, and the governor becomes the one who sees this and gets more and more power. I think that there’s a trade-off here. I don’t think there’s any one political structure or system that’s better, but I think it’s a combination of checks and balances and if people have been around 18 to 20 years, like Willie Brown was. And yet he was able to get things done in a relatively progressive way. I’d prefer that then to have some of these six-year term limit people who are right wing, interested in only what they regard as Christian theology. It’s not just term limits. ...
Scheer: What I’m saying is that there has to be a closer look, at least, because some people, the surface may be good, but if you keep on digging they may not be the perfect person for the district or they may not be doing enough fighting.
Harris: You are suggesting, perhaps, direct democracy. People helping politicians shape the laws. But here’s my take on it: People, day-to-day folks, have their own set of issues. They have to worry about whether or not they have enough money to pay for private schools, to pay for groceries. Are they really going to have enough time to make and shape their own laws? Do they really care at the end of the day; are people willing to do the homework? I think across the board, no.
Scheer: I think the thing is, yeah, direct democracy may not work, and people have their own concerns, but at the same time if you give them a black and white, or a shade of gray of this is the way laws should be, or this is the way that should be ...
Duster: Well, Joshua, I’m definitely on this side of the issue of lazy, it’s like attention deficit. I mean, yeah, people have attention deficit when they’re bored. The very same person can have attention focus when they’re animated, energized, engaged. So on the question of laziness. You know, you can say the population is lazy, until they get animated. So what happened in Chicago with Mayor Washington, the black community, which had been laying back and not engaged in the process for 25 to 30 years. All of a sudden when Harold Washington is there, they get engaged. And the turnout was the biggest in the history of the city, in the black community. So I do think, you’re right, if people are lazy under certain conditions, in other conditions that same population gets animated.
Harris: Barack Obama, on a national level, has done the same thing. And Barack Obama, what does he stand for, what are his politics? But I tell you what, you talk about getting engaged, 12,000 people just got engaged in Oakland and they’re doing it every day. He’s outfunding Hillary not based on corporate money, but on individual gifts. People are engaged in that guy, I’d just love to hear his thoughts, Dr. Duster, about Obama.
Duster: You put things in the right perspective. Hillary has the right money coming from corporate donors. People are donating $2,000 each, and having big fundraisers. That’s where most of her money is coming from. And Barack is able to get people to donate $25, $100, a lot of his money is coming from this huge base, and in the long run, if he keeps that up, he’ll win going away. Because her base, in some ways, has already been tapped. There’s more money there, but there’s more people to be tapped. And at a certain point, if it looks like Barack has an ascendancy, then that big money is going to shift. Big money has allegiances as long as a breath if they see things changing. So I think Barack really has an advantage at the moment, but we’ll see. The thing about YouTube and every breath you take, every move you make, they’re watching you. ... I’m actually concerned that since all of us are human, any blip on the screen that happens in the next six months can take somebody down. Remember George Allen and “macaca.” And think that everybody has a camera on Obama looking for something.
Scheer: George Allen, also, he kind of ruined his own self, though, because he kept on lying. Because he said, “I don’t know what that word meant,” but then you’re raised by an Algerian, and you speak Algerian, you speak this, you know exactly what you were saying. ... James and I were talking about Obama, and I’m not as sold on him as, say, James is. But I certainly don’t want Hillary Clinton because I do think she’s tied into the corporate donors. I was just saying that all the candidates in the field; we don’t know where Obama is coming from. He’s a special guy; when he speaks you are engaged, but he’s not been there long enough to see if those relationships have formed. Is he going to be backed by credit card people in the next election? We don’t know yet.
Duster: Well, probably, anyone who gets selected is going to be backed by power—that’s what people do.
Scheer: It’s sad, but—.
Harris: We’ve seen a very wicked last 25 years, and I think the bright spot in those 25 years was Bill Clinton. Let people tell it, let the Green Party tell it, he was a lot like Reagan, or he was a lot like Bush. But I think the question Obama raises is he’s not saying the things that other people are saying, he’s a lot like those other guys. But I certainly get a lot more excited when he’s talking than when they’re talking. And maybe that’s what this comes down to, because what we’re talking about. You look at the issues, Oakland, Katrina, profiling, drugs, you look at the issues and these have all been run-of-the-mill issues. Maybe we need somebody who can get us excited, maybe the president’s job in the future shouldn’t be to tell us what to do but to get us excited and invigorated, i.e. or à la Harold Washington in Chicago.