Marvin Lynn, Tigard-Tualatin School Board Pos. 5 – Candidate Interview
Interview by Dr. Michael Steele and Karolina Newcombe
WCD: What inspired you to run for local office?
I was encouraged to run for this position by local leaders, knowing of my deep commitment to public education and decades of experience in the classroom. I have a son who is also involved in city-wide leadership and I have had a good opportunity to see my son’s contributions. Accordingly, I know the value of having an impact at a local level. Based on my experience with large national organizations, I see limitations to the ability of those large organizations to contribute to making positive changes in society, especially at the local level. I see myself as a change agent for positive improvements and I can best make that happen at the local level.
WCD: How do your values and those of the Democratic party align?
As for alignment with Democratic Party views, I see myself even more aligned today than ever before. I am a lifelong Democrat. We are at an important crossroads in our society, with major forces operating against equality. I want, however, to promote equality in all phases of life. We need to be honest about the history of African-American action. With regard to education, we must support the social and emotional needs of students over too much policing. We must be thoughtful about the way we use available resources.
WCD: If you are elected, what is the one specific project or goal you most want to accomplish as a board member?
If elected (I am running unopposed) I want to take a serious look at the district’s equity plan and make sure that it is tied to specific and measurable goals. I see the country at a crucial crossroads with regards to the challenges facing equity issues.
WCD: How is the affordable housing crisis affecting the students in your school district?
Houselessness is a challenging problem affecting our students, and it’s hard to get data about it. There’s no recorded data available, so it’s a challenging question to respond to. I think part of the problem is because of privacy issues, and the district not wanting to reveal people’s personal business. What I have is information about what districts are expected to do to support homeless/houseless students. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is federal law. It’s a federal act that requires school districts to make sure that children who are houseless have the same services as all other students. And so every school in the district has a homeless liaison. There’s also a district liaison, who makes sure that houseless students get all the support that they need. What I do know that the problems are not as bad, compared to a large urban district, compared to Portland. But we do have the structures in place to support students and make sure that their needs are met.
WCD: What can we do to make sure all students feel included in our schools?
Our district is about half students of color and half white, and that figure is increasing on the students of color side. Most of the students of color are Latinx, and that’s where we see the gaps in graduation rates. I suspect that that is due to linguistic and cultural issues, which I think are being addressed, but one of the things I’m interested in doing is drawing on research and innovative teaching practices to support that population as well as others that might be struggling. My thoughts are related to thinking in a transformational way about how to teach our students in a way that fully considers their culture and language, and making sure that the curriculum also reflects that as well.
Inclusivity also has to involve people who have different abilities: we have to think about students who are gifted and talented, but also kids who have special needs, and how we create an environment where they can thrive as well. I think that there’s been some attention in the district to making sure that school professionals can distinguish between students with special needs, and those with cultural and linguistic differences.
I’ll also mention our LGBTQIA+ population. Right now, there’s not a lot of data being captured about this population. My understanding is we’re going to have more data captured to help us understand that population of students. We do know that they experience higher rates of harrassment and discrimination, and nationally they suffer from higher rates of suicidal ideation and suicide. I think it’s important especially for our transgender and non-binary students, who may not subscribe to traditional gender norms. In the realm of inclusivity, there’s a lot of work and growing we can all do.
WCD: What are your thoughts on re-opening schools safely?
I think there should be options for families. I know that there are parents that want to get their kids back in school, and I understand that. I do think that this has been really challenging for kids. I’m fortunate that I have multiples, so they can connect with each other. Also, we are well-resourced, so anything they need, I can get it for them. But there are kids that are home alone because their parents work all day, and school is a place of safety for some, so this situation is problematic for our most vulnerable population. TTSD’s “Packed With Pride” program is providing tons of food for free, and providing support for vulnerable families. But the districts have not had the opportunity to support the social and emotional needs of students, including students who have been experiencing violence in the home. I was one of those students who was struggling, so it’s very important for me to understand what those parents are experiencing.
I know there’s also parents who want the kids back in school because they have a specific political perspective, like they might not believe that COVID is real. But even for those families with a more conservative perspective, I think that their fervor is related to their concern for their kids, and as a parent, I understand that. But I want to ensure that it’s done in the safest way possible, following all the guidelines on the federal and state level, including mask-wearing.
I understand that, at the national level, there are plans underway to ensure availability of COVID-19 vaccine for people under the age of 16. I look forward to seeing that our school children are prioritized in getting the vaccine. I will be advocating with the governor and the state, to make sure that our kids are at the top of the list.
And then for parents who say they’re not ready yet, I know some of those parents too, and I understand that. I believe arrangements are being made to make sure that can happen.
I know that the Tualatin-Tigard school district will be presenting an option for hybrid education, so you will be able to attend school either fully online or in a hybrid form, where you go to school a few days a week, and where they’re ensuring that the schools are not crowded. My son has chosen a hybrid option. I left it up to my son, and he decided to go back, and I trust that he will be okay. The district is doing a lot to ensure his safety, so I’m not worried about his safety.
I don’t think that school board members can be ideologues about this, we have to look at this from both sides.
WCD: What are your thoughts about sexual health education in schools?
I’m a proponent of sexual education. My son is involved in classes right now, and he is learning a lot about the human body and how it works. Much more than I could ever teach him–I’m not a doctor. So I’m very much in favor of kids learning about the human body–particularly, the medical side of it. How it’s built, how it functions. They need to know more about STDs, for example.
What I have seen growing up on the Southside of Chicago, is that a lot of the challenges that kids face around sexuality are related to the lack of knowledge around it. You’d be surprised at the number of young girls who end up pregnant because they don’t understand how that works. I don’t blame the parents, because I know these are people who are working very hard. As a parent, I’m glad I have the school helping with that. And if I have questions, I can ask the school about it. But I don’t think that it should be removed from the curriculum.
I think a lot of the harassment that trans and nonbinary students get is based on lack of knowledge about the significant challenges they face. The more people know, the better they will respond and the more they will be tolerant.
I don’t believe that sex education encourages inappropriate activity among students. I’m a Christian. I’ve been a Christian all my life, admittedly not a conversative Christian–I’ve been connected to and have worked on progressive causes. But I understand that thinking, that something inappropriate will happen. I disagree with it.
I’m a professor, so I believe that knowledge makes a difference. The more we learn, the better off we will be.
WCD: Some school board candidates have talked about teaching “positive history” in our schools. What is your vision for teaching American history in your district?
(laughs) Positive history, like the 1776 Project? History is what it is, and this idea that there’s a positive or negative history is in many ways ludicrous Unfortunately, America’s history is very complicated, and much of it is negative, if you were looking at it honestly–considering the experience of Native peoples, the literal erasure of Native peoples from the landscape. Some of it was unintentional, like diseases that Europeans brought, but some of it was very intentional, treaties were broken. Or, when you consider slavery. I have studied history for the last 20-30 years, but I learn something new every day about the atrocities committed against Black people. It’s amazing. There is no end to the atrocities of slavery. Every community of color has a history in this country that’s pretty ugly, and I don’t think we can hide from that. And trying to cover that up or deny that is morally wrong. That is who we are as a country. Trying to pretend that these things didn’t happen because you’re trying to make a certain group of people feel comfortable, or trying to make a certain group of people feel good, I think that’s wrong. I think we can have an honest conversation about this country’s history without killing each other, rhetorically or literally. I think we can talk about this country’s history as it is, without putting a positive spin on it.
I was in Italy two years ago with my kids, and I’m always a little taken aback when people are that visceral and obvious about their disdain for me as a Black person. Part of that was that people made assumptions about who we were–they assumed we were from Africa. They have a particular disdain for Africans, who they think are entering their country and using up their resources. Part of the reason people can engage in that kind of ignorant behavior is because they don’t understand the history. They don’t understand the colonialism that drove many Africans to Europe, because of all the resources that were taken from Africa to build the European empire. So Africans in many ways have no choice but to run to Europe to support their families, but when Africans show up, people are confused.
I believe that if people were taught that history, it would help. That history’s not taught, and I think it’s the same in the US, I think if people understood how entire African-American communities were destroyed, displaced and jobs were taken away, you’d understand why there’s generational poverty among African-Americans for example, and there would be more willingness to create essential programs to help people get out of poverty. But there’s no understanding of that. People don’t understand why others can’t just pull themselves up by their bootstraps. That’s ahistorical. So if we’re going to solve the significant racial, social and economical problems we have in this country, we have to know the history. The more ignorant we are about our history, the less able we are to move ourselves forward. As angry as I get about slavery and about what happened to my ancestors, it also pushes me forward in thinking about how to solve our problems in a way that is sensitive to our history. That’s my hope for all children, that they understand history, and understand how we’ve become as divided as we are in this country. But they can’t do it if they continue to be ignorant.
I have been studying the history of the Native peoples of Oregon, and it’s made me so much more sensitive to their point of view, so any kind of policy I’m going to be moving forward, I’m going to be thinking about their perspective, and that’s only possible because of how much I’ve learned.
I’m part of a group of scholars and educators studying critical race theory and how it can be applied in schools. There is all this talk that critical race theory has infiltrated the schools, and that white children are being attacked in classrooms. I can tell you as an educator, that’s not what’s happening. But some are peddling this idea, that white people are being attacked in schools. We’re just saying: let’s understand this country’s history, how the law has been used to define who is white and who isn’t. Like, Oregon’s exclusion laws. When we look at the issues the African-American community is dealing with today, from a critical race history perspective, we would point exactly to that. Again, we need to understand that history. If we don’t understand, anything we propose to help Black people is not going to be helpful. This is not about attacking America, it’s not about making America look bad, it’s about saying, let’s understand our racial history. We can’t move forward if we don’t face it.
WCD: Is there any other important issue which needs to be tackled in the school district that I have missed?
Education funding in Oregon suffers, and there’s been a lot of effort to correct that. I’m of the opinion that we need to increase funding for schools and universities at all levels. We need to invest in education. The Student Success Act is a great start. There’s more to be done. I’m a big advocate of increasing teacher compensation, and making sure that the climate for teachers is a healthy one. I serve on the Oregon Educator Advancement Council. I’m interested in giving the teachers a voice and an opportunity to be involved in the conversation. Being involved on the school board gives one that opportunity. I look forward to being able to do that.
Learn more about Marvin Lynn, Candidate for Tigard-Tualatin School Board Position 5, at his campaign website.