The Role of Curiosity and Agility in Education, Career, and Politics with Michael Kotick [IEP 021]
We’re joined by Michael Kotick, Congressional candidate from California’s 48th District. Michael has built his career on turning large bureaucratic businesses around and helping them become more efficient. Now, he is running for Congress and hopes to bring that same vigor to the government.
Full show transcript at the bottom of this post.
What We Discuss in This Episode:
- Why despite the political chaos in this country, Michael still believes there’s a way for us all to come together
- How Michael seeks to understand his constituents (even those with opposing views) in order to encourage dialogue
- How he’s using social media to engage in conversation and get the word out about what matters
- The increased role women business and politics are playing
- How the hand that Millennials were dealt, in terms of the bad economy and crippling student debt, is precisely what allows us to bond together
- Why STEM classes are great but they’re really just a reflection of human curiosity
- How can politics and politicians become more responsive and allow for people to get involved at the moment they decide they want to get involved
- Why there is no such thing as one-track to success
April 5th Townhall and other upcoming events
Thank you for listening!
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Full Show Transcript
Vickie: Welcome to The Inclusive Education Project. I’m Vickie Brett.
Amanda: I’m Amanda Selogie. We’re two civil rights lawyers on a mission to change the conversation about education.
Vickie: Civil rights.
Amanda: And modern activism.
Vickie: Each week, we’re going to explore new topics, which are going to educate and empower others.
Amanda: And give them a platform to enact change in education and level the playing field. Everyone, welcome back.
Vickie: What’s up, projectors?
Amanda: Oh god, she’s doing that again. Vickie loves to joke around.
Vickie: Nobody has emailed me something better, so that’s what we’re sticking with.
Amanda: I guess so. Today is a fun day. We’re on location, but over the weekend, we had our paralympic games ended, closing ceremonies last night. Did you watch any of it?
Vickie: I have only seen some of the clips. We were talking about the hockey game that was insanity.
Amanda: You think hockey normally is fierce, you watch that flood hockey, it is insane. I loved it, and the US Paralympics team were bosses compared to the men’s USA regular team, let’s be honest. They got gold.
Vickie: I think there was a total of like 36 medals that the US took away, which they were in the lead with-
Amanda: The top, yes. It was awesome to sit and watch some of the paralympic games and you just see some of those athletes, and it’s amazing how much that they can do, and they are just like any other athlete. That was fun to watch these last two weeks ending after the regular winter Olympics ended, but how was your weekend?
Vickie: It was good. I’m trying to think. Oh, I guess when people are hearing this for us, it was St. Patrick’s Day weekend.
Amanda: Vickie had some luck of the Irish.
Vickie: Oh, no, not really.
Amanda: Oh, you’re not going to try an accent today?
Vickie: You tried it, so I didn’t want to try it. The luck of the Irish. See? That was good.
Amanda: Oh, actually, that was better than some of your other accents.
Vickie: I was going to do it. I was going to do it.
Amanda: Oh, man.
Vickie: We have a really special episode today. Do you want to tell them?
Amanda: I’m going to say not special. I’m going to say it was a very important episode, right? Today we’re actually on location in Costa Mesa. You all have heard us talk about our calls to action and how important it is for you to get involved, especially all of our listeners that have kids in Orange County and really looking towards changing. We’ve talked about flipping the 48 before and getting Dana Rohrabacher out, so today with us, our special guest is Michael Kotick. He’s running for District 48 trying to get Dana Rohrabacher, so welcome to the pod.
Michael: Thanks for having me. This is great.
Vickie: Why don’t you tell the people, the projectors, a little bit about yourself?
Michael: My name’s Michael Kotick, for those who don’t know me. I was born and raised in southern California, and I actually went to public schools pretty much my entire life, so all the way K through 12, then went Michigan State University both for undergrad and grad school, which was exceptional. A little bit cold, but exceptional.
Vickie: I was going to say, it snows there.
Michael: Yes, yes.
Amanda: Did you move out to California because you had it with the snow?
Michael: It was done, yes. I actually played soccer in high school and in college, and in college, it’s a fall sport, and here it’s a winter sport, right? It’s a different sport in the Midwest, but it was a lot of fun. I built my career over the course of the last decade or so, essentially turning large bureaucratic organizations around. You had old stodgy businesses that were failing because they didn’t keep up with the times or they didn’t adjust to how people were changing, and how do you empower essentially a change maker to come in and rethink everything.
Vickie: Oh, so you were like a change maker? I like that.
Michael: Change maker.
Vickie: Hashtag change maker.
Michael: You got it. That was really my job. I worked on a bunch of different businesses across the country and across the world, and what I saw was there were some tenets and some values that I believed in that weren’t being reflected in politics, so I believe that in politics, our representatives have stopped listening, have stopped really being ingrained in a part of the communities they represent, and frankly exerting a level of responsible leadership that they should be doing, and I think we see signals of that all over the country, and frankly we see it a lot in the 48th district with Dana Rohrabacher.
Vickie: When did that overwhelm you, that sense of, “Wow, they haven’t listened to us”? Was that after the 2016 election? Was that kind of already in your head before that?
Michael: It started I think a little bit before that, but I think what a lot of us are feeling, and this is true for me too, is there was this compounding effect. You had this feeling, and then you had the 2016 election where I woke up the day after the election and just said, “Am I disconnected from the country? Is the country in a different place than I am?” Because it shocked me. I think it shocked a lot of people, and how do you compound that with, “I don’t feel listened to. I’m now being represented by people who I don’t think represent me”?
Then, the straw that broke the camel’s back for me was just watching the divisiveness happen in the country. I actually don’t think that represents us. I think a majority of the country is actually very much open and listening to each other and wanting to sit more in the middle, but our political system is pulling so far to both extremes that I feel like we’re abandoning a lot of the everyday people like you and me.
Amanda: Yes. We have more in common than most people realize.
Amanda: It’s about getting down to the roots of that and getting people to realize we’re all human. We’re all here trying to make a difference.
Vickie: I think the reason why we have this podcast and we say we want to change the conversation is because it’s a conversation. Being online and being behind a computer and then I think social media has played a major role in that divisiveness, and in the memes and all this stuff, and it’s so toxic. I think that’s what we saw at the election in November, and then since then, it really hasn’t stopped.
Amanda: No. We saw it right away. I think in February of last year, we were getting reports from parents that kids were getting bullied differently because now the bullies were saying, “Well, Trump said it, so I can say it.” Seeing kids, children, in sixth grade, fifth grade, fourth grade saying things like that, that I think the change for us, what we need to be looking at, how we need to be looking at it, and we always say it’s so important that we’re instilling good values into the next generation because they’re the ones who are going to be taking care of us. They’re the ones who are going to be running the country. They’re going to be taking over, and so when we look at education, we look at it being the most important thing because educating children and educating people in general is so important.
Michael: I think we’ve also lost the fact that elected leaders are supposed to serve two roles, one, govern the country of course. The other one is to set a great example for people, and I actually take that responsibility incredibly with a lot of weight, because when I first announced I was running for congress back in July of last year, there was an onslaught of Twitter trolls that just wanted to tear me apart for everything that I stood for.
I made a conscious decision that I wasn’t just going to ignore it, at least at the beginning, and I was going to dig in and ask why they felt that way and seek to understand. What I found is after two back and forths or three back and forths, a lot of people just ended up going, “You know, we’re both American. We both have a general sense of where we want to go. We just may want to get there in a different way.” Getting to that truth I think allows you to approach a conversation better.
I actually think we need to teach children that, too. How do we seek to understand? How do we ask questions? How do we have curiosity for what someone else is feeling, and how do we have empathy for other people? I actually think that is one of the things that has fundamentally evaded the country.
Amanda: Oh, absolutely. It’s crazy how it’s not there enough.
Vickie: Well, it’s the respect of the office, right, and that position in 2016 was a shock for a lot of people, and continuing, and the social media and how we’re getting people fired from the White House through Twitter. It’s just like, “Oh my gosh, where is the sense of civility?” These things weren’t out in the public, and it’s interesting to see within it, but I think that that’s what your campaign has been doing with its social media in a positive light, kind of like, look behind the curtain, like, “This is what we’re doing,” and being transparent, which is great and something that we appreciate, because we strive to do that, as well. It’s not easy.
Michael: That said, I think the other piece is how do we take what happened in 2016 and search for the meaning of it and search for any type of a silver lining, right? For me, I think I’ve been inspired continuously every day since January of 2017 about how everyone has decided and understood that democracy requires your effort. It requires your advocacy. It requires your energy.
The level of involvement that we’ve seen from a campaign perspective has been truly remarkable, and I think everything from women’s marches to March for our Lives coming up this next weekend, there’s a different level of advocacy. I think we all felt in 2016 that we could just vote and then check out, and we have all learned now that we have a greater responsibility, so I actually think like it or not, that is the hard and single gift in my opinion that Donald Trump gave this country was that we will not elect him again, and we need to make sure that we are taking the responsibility of what country we want moving forward.
Amanda: I think it’s having people take a look more at values, not only of candidates and people in office, but there’s a lot of people who vote based on one issue or another, a lot of it being maybe money and they’re not really looking at the heart of why are we doing some of the things that we’re doing, why is it that legislators or our representatives are pushing forward legislation or different policies. What is the purpose behind that, and I think a lot of people, and I saw this in my family and I know a lot of friends that I have too is a lot of people tend to have the same political beliefs as their family because they grew up, “Well, this is just the way it is, right? We vote republican or we vote democrat.” I think one thing I’ve seen is a lot more people saying, “I may go across the aisle,” or, “I may look at policies differently,” because it shouldn’t be republican or democrat. It should be what are your values and who shares those values with you.
Michael: I think we’ve seen a number of those shifts starting to happen, right? We saw, and we continue to see, the increased prominence in the role of women in higher office and in businesses, right? The whole Me Too movement has opened our eyes to the need for a greater number of women in places of power and influence.
I think the other thing we’ve seen is from the Parkland shooting all the way to Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania, the fact of the matter is a generational movement like the millennial movement is actually probably stronger than a political party association because we have all felt and experienced things that are more the same than different, right? We’ve been sold the dream that all you have to do is go to college and everything’s going to be great.
Vickie: And the student loans, yes.
Michael: Right, and then all of a sudden, we wake up and this is true for me, I get a $28,000 a year job coming out of school with student loan debt, right? We all have more in common than anything else that transcends party, and I think people are going to be looking more towards who can I see myself in, rather than do they have a D or an R next to their name, and I see promise in that.
Vickie: I was going to say, a lot of times people like the labels, right? We always say labels are for clothes, and that’s what we combat every day when we’re talking about different children and their abilities, right? We always try to make the conversation. We talk about changing the conversation, and it’s this tribalism with having the D or the R and just being able to find the fundamental, like you were saying, we have so much student debt. Oh man, I could buy a house once over.
Amanda: If I won the lottery right now, I wouldn’t be rich because I’d be paying off my student loans.
Michael: You bet.
Amanda: That in itself would be worth winning the lottery.
Amanda: We look at that, and what really drives us and inspires us is that millennial generation, and I’ve heard so many older people say, “Well, millennials, they’re never satisfied with anything. They bounce around from job to job, place to place,” and it’s like, that’s good. We shouldn’t stay static. We shouldn’t stay, so many people in our older generations have stuck with jobs because that was what you did.
Vickie: It was a different time.
Amanda: Yes. You got a job and you stayed with it. You got your pension or your retirement, and even though the majority of people hated what they did. I think one of the things that we always say that we do differently in our business is we never want to be in that place, right? We want to love what we do, and we absolutely do, but I think it’s important for everyone.
I think when we were younger, it was, “Well, only certain jobs,” you had to be really lucky to love what you do, right? I think the idea that there’s so many jobs out there that will give you the money to own your own house and have a future and send your kids to school and whatnot and pay off your student loans, then there’s those jobs that you’re going to love but you’re going to struggle. Why does it have to be that way? I think the millennial generation has figured that out. We don’t have to have it one way or the other. We can have it all.
Michael: Yes. I think what it comes down to, and I think this is actually just to tie it back to education too, is it comes back to the importance of curiosity. I think curiosity and critical thinking are two of the values in education that are most underrepresented and frankly, need to be brought into the education system in an accelerated fashion to help prepare people for jobs of tomorrow.
If you think about it, in my opinion, everyone talks about STEM. I think STEM is just shorthand for saying how do you take disparate subjects, push them together, and critically think about it, right? I know science technology and engineering, right, and math, are all phenomenally important, but the fact is most people aren’t going to go into those careers, but those careers are now a bedrock for any job.
I think that’s what this generation has shown is that we don’t jump around because we’re impatient. We jump around because we’re inherently curious, and that’s important, because it also shows a level of agility that whatever is important at the time or the moment, we have now developed a skillset to be agile to adapt to it.
I think that is where, even look at the advocacy work. I frankly think that the older generations have shown a lot of agility and curiosity because overnight you see people who have never been involved digging deep into organizations, starting things. I actually think this is a crowning moment for every generation, but especially the younger generation to find their voice.
Vickie: I think with the STEM programming and it starting in high school, it could be earlier, right? You had touched on it where as children, we are just inherently curious, and then we go into this educational system and our past guest, Melanie Whitney, had talked about, and to kind of steal from Pink Floyd, just another brick in the wall. That’s what you become, right? It’s one of those things where you get that curiosity beaten out of you, and you go through elementary school and then high school and then it’s just like, “Oh, college. Well, I have to go.”
Melanie had mentioned that she as a college instructor, getting these baby 18 year olds, and they’re just like, “Well, I’m supposed to be here.” They don’t really understand it. I think that that’s something that when you see that passion for people coming out to your events and things like that and you’re kind of feeding that curiosity of them being like, “Well, wait, can I change something?” We always hear about that, right, like, “Rock the vote,” all that stuff, but it’s like now it’s really needed.
Amanda: Well, they need to hear more than just, “Every vote counts.” I think that’s been ingrained ever since the 2008 election, or even further, “Every vote counts.” Okay, and that’s kind of been the one thing that we’ve had young people, and I think what we’re seeing since Parkland is high school students and middle school students, and even elementary school students who came out and walked out of class and said, “We’re not going to take this anymore,” and they’re realizing, “No, we can do something.”
You think about back in school, they have school elections and you have your offices and your president, vice president, secretary and everything, and it somewhat becomes a popularity contest, but I don’t think it’s brought in enough. Most schools don’t do debates and stuff. You should be showing kids, “There’s so much more you can do,” but I think we’re seeing kids kind of stand up a little bit more, because it’s not just the millennial generation, the 18 year olds that can voe. It’s, “Okay, we want to instill the younger kids that when you become 18, we want you to vote.”
Michael: You bet.
Amanda: That’s important, too.
Michael: One of the things that we’re doing from a campaign perspective that sometimes gets overlooked, and I actually think there’s a tie on education in general, which is how do you allow people to engage at the speed and at the time in which they want to get involved.
I think one of the big misses that we have from an educational perspective is a STEM education curriculum is laid out from a very early age, and if you miss the boat in the beginning, you find yourself behind for your entire education, so how do we move to a more on demand model? How do we move to a more self-paced model where you can get to the finish line but you can do it at the pace of your either passion, curiosity, or frankly how fast you’re just developing?
That’s true of the campaigns that we’re running. A lot of times, early activists in a campaign seem to dominate the conversation because they’ve been around longer, so how do you self-guide someone to understand how do you identify which issues represent you best, how do you get people involved and registered to vote all the time, not just at a register to vote drive for two weeks during the year, right?
I think there’s a lot of parallels, but I think we need to do a better job of understanding that people are not a single entity and that everyone does have their own individualized view of how to engage and how fast to progress.
Amanda: I think we’re seeing more flexibility in the topics that are most important, right? I think when I look back to 2008, the first time I could vote for the presidential election, and I remember my sister said something about, “Well, you’re just a one issue voter because you care about education and that’s what you’re looking at,” and I go, “Well, I am looking at other things, but this is something that I think is most important.”
I think everyone has that one issue that comes forward. For a long time, everyone’s had that one issue, a lot of it be the same, whether it’s the economy or foreign relations or the war or things like that, and I never see enough people putting education first. I think that’s what drew us to you because you have put education as in the forefront, as being important, especially when we look at Orange County.
Orange County and District 48 is very diverse in our education. We’ve got some very low income schools and districts and we’ve got some very high income brackets, and do we have the diversity in the way our system operates, and I don’t think we do. We’re needing to kind of look at how the demographic of the different districts and different, when I say school districts, and the Orange County Department of Education.
It’s something that we need to be looking at, because I think we have told you, our listeners, a lot of them are parents. I would say most of my friends that are mothers, the most important thing to them is their children. I think education comes with being on the top priority. We want to make sure kids get an education so that they can become, but we also want to make sure the education system is suited for them and not this one size fits all.
Michael: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Amanda: We see it all the time. We say we want to level the playing field, but we want it to be more individualized. We want our kids to be able to get inspiration and figure out what they want to do, not just, “Oh, it’s reading and writing and arithmetic is the most important thing.” Well, it’s not. There’s so many ways that you can become successful.
Michael: I think that’s one of the things that I’ve been most alarmed by as I’ve gone through this process is there is a track. This is one success track. You go through these courses. You master these skills, and then you go to a four year university. That works for some people. That is a track that is great. We need to continue to support people to go to four year universities. That’s really important.
The challenge is is that I think as a country and as the world of work and jobs changes, we’re going to have to move from concept mastery to critical thinking. That shift is going to require us to rethink some courses. I think the next generation science standards are brilliant in how they start to connect different disciplines together.
What I do think is missing is the critical conversation that happens around 11th or 12th grade, which is, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The default is now, I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up at 11th or 12th grade, but I do have friends who knew that they did not have an interest in going straight to higher education. They wanted to go and they wanted to go and they wanted to fix cars. They wanted to go into the Army. They want to do a lot of different things, but we don’t always have those conversations at every school district.
When you look at the landscape work, frankly, the biggest opportunities exist at mid-skill level workforce, which is not a college educated workforce. I did something with the US Army where I helped veterans essentially bridge a gap in the automotive industry around automotive mechanics.
Now, if you told me how could I get an 11th grader to a six figure income as quickly as possible, I would send them to be an auto mechanic, because that is the fastest path. In Orange County, we need to have some critical conversations around what is the work going to look like, and how do we match passion with work, because passion at the end of the day will always win.
Vickie: If people are interested in learning more about you, where can they go?
Michael: Sure. I would say the easiest way is my website, which is www.kotickforcongress.com, and then I’m on every social media platform you can imagine. If you want the, I would say the spicier side of the campaign, you can go to Twitter, but if you want to see just the day to day engagements, we’re on Instagram and Facebook, as well.
Vickie: Going onto Facebook events, and then obviously on your website, you guys are always doing something. I always see all these great and fun things that I’m like, “Oh, I would love to do that after work,” which is great.
Michael: I will do a quick plug fOr we’re doing a town hall in Costa Mesa on April 5th. I think it’s really important to give people an opportunity to talk to someone who is ingrained in the issues and definitely has a vision for where we should be going, because Dana doesn’t seem to do that a whole lot or at all. That is an opportunity, and if you do go on our Facebook page, there are more details coming out every day.
Vickie: Excellent. Well, thank you so much for being on the pod. We’re very excited to have this post as soon as possible. Any closing thoughts?
Amanda: We touched on it, the March for our Lives this weekend. We will be going. We went to the women’s march in Orange County, and we thought about maybe going to LA this time, but we’re not sure. A little bit further for us.
Michael: Well, there’s two. There’s one in Huntingdon Beach and one in Santa Ana.
Amanda: Oh, is there?
Michael: You can pick your poison.
Amanda: Interesting. I can ride my bike to the one in Huntingdon.
Vickie: I was thinking Santa Ana.
Amanda: I think last time, yes, it took us like an hour to get out of the parking structure, but that was amazing that there were that many people there at the women’s march. We’re excited to be there and obviously by the time our listeners hear this, it will already happen, so hopefully it went very well. Anyone that’s listening, no matter what your political beliefs are or your values are or who you’re going to vote for, it’s just important to get out there and be educated on the issues. We hope that this helped give you a picture of one candidate and a candidate that we are endorsing, but of course, wanting to just get people, especially younger people, out to just be more involved, because it is so easy to do so. You’ve seen us do it before, on the pod and off and on social media, and just keep getting involved. Remember, if you want to keep making sure that these episodes come out every week on your phone or like Vickie said, go find a friend that has an iPhone and click on, which icon is it?
Vickie: I don’t know. It’s the podcast. Everybody has it.
Speaker 4: What is it, purple?
Vickie: Yes, it’s purple. It says podcast. You probably never go to it. Just go to it. Type in Inclusive Education Project. Hit subscribe. It’ll be the best decision you made all day. Keep on keeping on, and you will hear us next week, because I always say see you, and they don’t see. They don’t see.
Speaker 4: They see us on Instagram, I guess.
Vickie: I guess. Yes, that’s true. Okay, bye. Don’t be another brick in the wall.