Adam, Co-Founder & COO, Father, DC
Adam lives in DC with his wife, Liat, and their daughter, Sivan. He’s the Co-Founder and COO of a technology startup. Adam was interviewed by his friend Erin.
When you think of your daughter, Sivan, what do you want for her when she’s grown up and out of school?
Well, I obviously want her to be content and to be cared for. And I want her to have the foundational skills and knowledge she needs to do whatever she wants to do. I don’t want her to feel like there’s anything that is out of her reach. Whatever she chooses to do would be great, though I’d like her to be independent, from a financial independence perspective. In a competitive economy, I want her to have the skills to do whatever she wants.
Thinking of this vision of Sivan as an adult – what’s the role of school in getting her there?
I probably want different things at different levels of school. At the youngest ages, I want schools to reinforce family values. We want them to give her a strong underpinning and sense of self. For instance, we discuss sending Sivan to a day school and that’s because we think it would give her a sense of community and tradition, and a sense of identity. And you need those things to be a strong adult in whatever you choose to do or be. So at a foundational level, particularly for elementary school, I hope it helps her develop those foundations. A lot of that will be what we do as a family, but I hope school helps.
I think school in later years has to give her experiences to help her figure out what she wants to do later in life. And figure out her strengths. Part of that is getting hands-on experiences in what real life and work situations are. School should help her understand what different work environments are like, and I would like her to understand at a relatively early age what different possible paths are.
Also, another thing I think about when choosing schools is that peers are really influential. In an ideal world she’d have exposure to a diverse set of kids in her school setting that would mimic the real world. Though, of course, the real world would depend on where you live in the world. But I would hope that school would give her exposure to kids of a variety of backgrounds and points of view. Ideally it would also give her a network that will ultimately be helpful to her when she’s trying to navigate her career, and also a support system when she has questions or wants to compare notes. So, in sum, schools should help her figure life out, understand her strengths, and open up doors for her later on.
Will school do this for her?
I think we are looking to school to help her figure out what she’s interested in and then give her the foundations to be able to pursue that, but I’m not completely convinced they will be able to do that. I don’t want her to do something just because it’s the only thing she heard about. I really believe kids end up choosing what they want to do because of what they’re exposed to. Either their parents, or someone came in to visit school, or they took a visit to a company. I think it really matters what they get exposed to.
The problem is that schools are still using ancient textbooks and largely not teaching students about new kinds of jobs. And the public schools, at least around here, don’t necessarily have a good sense of what’s happening – they don’t have as many resources or connections to be able to pull those kinds of experiences for the kids. Even more, they oftentimes don’t have the flexibility to do that even if they had the connections or resources.
From a diversity and network perspective it will depend on where we send her to school. Part of the reason we moved to this house is that the publics schools is known to be one of the better elementary schools. We have the option to send her to a public school nearby and it’s within walking distance, which is great. The positive aspects, from my perspective, are that you get exposed to a diverse group of kids, and the expense, the low cost, is a huge thing – we can put that money toward things for her and for us. The cons, and less so around here, but it’s still true that in a private school the network she could have could be important. The con is the expense and that she may sacrifice the diversity of kids she’s exposed to.
One of the private schools we looked at is where Obama sends his kids. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get exposed to a fairly diverse community – kids of diplomats, business people, and bright kids who get admitted from not as privileged backgrounds. But the school also makes it a point to stay on the cutting edge of what’s happening in education and in business.
The private school network travels with them throughout their life. My business partner went to a really wonderful private high school. Even today there’s a network he’s able to tap into across the country – there’s always someone he went to school with who we can talk to, even thought it’s from high school. And beyond that peer network, because he stayed with their families, he knows a broad range of people and he was exposed to people of really interesting backgrounds. Nothing intimidates him. I don’t want Sivan to be intimidated or feel like she can’t hold her own in a certain network of people.
For me, my fear as a parent is that later in life she feels like she didn’t have the opportunities that put her in a position to do what she wants to do later, whatever she that might be. I think of that more from an economic perspective. I feel like we as parents will do a lot of the socio-emotional side, though I think that schools can reinforce that.
Do you think people agree with you on these different levels?
People differ in their experiences. I’m privileged in my outlook on the world because I’m exposed to people at a different stratosphere economically and politically and I’ve seen the advantages those people have received to get where they are. So I want to make sure Sivan has the opportunities to get there if she wants to. I want to make that as easy of a decision as possible. I think our role is to facilitate whatever she wants to do.
In terms of the role of school in getting to an ideal life - I think a lot of people would disagree about it being the role of school to create an identity or even a national identity – I think they might say that’s the role of the family. There are values we share as a society and I think school can be helpful to seed that.
I think most people would say it’s a good thing for schools to identify the strengths of each kid and what the strengths correlate to in terms of opportunities. But other people might say the role is to give an education that’s well-rounded and it’s the role of parents to help them figure careers out.
I would also think most people would say they want their kids to have every opportunity. They want them to not be at a disadvantage in one way or another.
Overall, I want teachers to make Sivan feel like she can do anything. At the same time I want them to help her identify what her biggest strengths are so it’s not just about focusing on her weaknesses and shoring those up - rather that she’s using her strengths to get where she needs to go. Maybe you want schools to give every kid a sense of hope that they’re going to do whatever it is they want to do. Some people will argue that you shouldn’t give them false hope - that some kids aren’t going to be able to do some things. But I don’t know who’s going to get to judge that. I know so many people who have made it into positions where they wouldn’t have been the obvious candidate. So who can say what’s possible? I know for my daughter I want her to have that belief and sense of hope.
What do you think makes for an empowering educational experience?
There are many things, but one is agility – whether you call it improvising or something else – the ability to quickly change and prepare yourself for something different when things don’t work out exactly the way you planned. It’s knowing how to navigate that situation of uncertainty – which means schools have to build that foundation of skills and knowledge and understanding of the world.
For me, personally, I’ve in some sense changed careers and I was able to figure out what steps I had to take and learned how to be flexible in my position and transfer the skills to a new position. A lot of people get stuck or feel stuck – they don’t have the improvisational skillset to figure out how to use the variety of tools they have – their network, education, etc., to put themselves in a situation to succeed when the environment changes.
I’d be concerned with something that puts kids on a single track. We just don’t know enough about what the future will bring. The best thing we can do is give them the foundational skills so they can navigate a variety of different situations, and then the exposure to career tracks that give them a better idea of what work is actually like and what they’d need to do to succeed in those situations. I don’t think schools do a very good job at the latter part. What I regret about my school experience is that I didn’t get that exposure. I think it might have helped me make decisions faster. I didn’t have much in terms of career exposure, beyond very superficial things. I didn’t really have a sense for what the world was like beyond school. I really wish our school had been more interactive in that sense and less focused on sitting around in the classroom and learning about theory.