Giants by Jacob Kidd
Good Teachers A teenage boy stands in the bitter heat along a highway somewhere in the dry plains Northeastern Texas, his hand pitched out to catch the attention of drivers in passing eighteen-wheelers. Along his back is cast a stolen U-Haul packing blanket stitched into a pack containing all the clothes he owns. Growing up with a military officer for a father, Robert Free-
man frequently moved around a lot “from Texas to California to England back to California.” During his junior year of high school in San Jose, his parents divorced. His father stated he didn’t want a kid, so his mother took him with her to Texas. Desperately missing his old teachers, Freeman ran away from home and hitchhiked back to San Jose to complete his high school education. When he arrived there, however, he had nowhere to live, and became homeless. “I was taken in by my high school chemistry teacher,” Freeman tells me, “who figured out, you know, here’s a smart kid, missing class, falling asleep in class, never bathed, and always wearing the same clothes. So she let me sleep on her couch.” In turn, Freeman made a promise to Ms. Montag, his chemistry teacher, that he would one day give back to the world the opportunity she had given to him. He promised to one day make the world a better place.
And Freeman is, in fact, now changing the world for the better with his “One Dollar For Life” philosophy—if everyone gives a little, we can do a lot. But I think we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here. He’s telling me there’s a long journey to cover here, and we haven’t much time. He may be old, but he’s still a busy man. So let’s jump right in: Freeman started college as a student of economics, but soon after dropped out. He joined the U.S. Marines, and ended up working on ships and traveling all across the world. In the Marines, Freeman was a shiphand on many ships that traveled around the world. Then one fateful day in 1978, Robert Freeman accidentally put his watch through the wash. Unfortunately, it was an expensive watch. It also happened an old one. So, out of curiousity, Freeman took the broken thing apart. “Inside my watch, there was
six different layers of gears and axles and springs and levers. It was a microcosm of industrial civilization, in one square inch area,” he says, holding up an invisible watch before me. “The precision of it was just beautiful.” Then, he says, he showed one of his friends, who then wanted to take apart his watch, too. His friend had a cheap, modern, plastic model. When the two opened it up, however, “we couldn’t figure out where the watch was. It was a little thin piece of plastic, with something that looked like a splatted bug on it, you know the legs going out like this and a little battery. We didn’t know it at the time, but it was a little circuit, a miniature circuit board inside the watch…. And I realized that has to be the future.” The “future” that Freeman is referring to is called computer science, and he became incessantly determined that it was where the money was. As a result, he went back to college, got an MBA in the computer industry, and ended up working in Silicon Valley as the Vice President of International Marketing at one of the largest marketing companies in the world. On a sabbatical from his job one day, years later, he recalled that promise he had made to Ms. Montag as a kid—you remember, to ‘one day give back to the world the opportunity she had given to him.’ “So I decided to
try substitute teaching,” he tells me. Supposedly, it could be a means of fulfilling that promise. He discovered that he enjoyed teaching a lot, so much so that he applied to be a full-time economics teacher at Los Altos High School, and quit his job in the computer industry altogether. “Well, they hired me to teach Economics. But there wasn’t enough courses to occupy someone full-time to teach Economics, so they assigned me to teach History. But the last History course I took was in 9th grade.” At this, we laugh. “So I had to teach myself the history.” I asked Freeman what it was that makes a good teacher. He modestly responds, “You know that if you Google ‘what makes a good teacher,’ there’s a half a billion articles in the world on that subject? And the number one piece in the world is by me!”
he exclaims, showering himself in intellectual glory. He jumps to his computer in excitement and brings up the article, meanwhile reciting aloud his philosophy as if they were the Three Commandments: “The first thing that makes a good teacher is the capacity to emphasize with the student, to know what’s on the student’s mind and how the student’s mind works. The second thing is to have some subject matter knowledge, and the third thing is to understand how the new knowledge will get structured in their minds.”
a philanthropic organization to youth. “The way ODFL works is that we invite students to start a fundraiser in their school, where every student is invited to give one dollar,” he explains. “So we asked everybody at LAHS in the Spring of 2007 to give one dollar. There are 1,700 kids in the school, and we raised 1,800 dollars. So we found out, kids will actually give if they have a ODFL collection boxes are passed around in class to students. cause.” Co-founder of ODFL and “If each of your generation Freeman’s teacher in the science departdid just a little bit, it could be ment at Los Altos High, Lisa huge.” Cardellini, relates to me what it “And that,” said Freeman, Then, on one cold rainy day who had all the while been doing was working with Freeman on in the Winter of 2007, everyan interesting impression of bit- the project: “I had no idea how thing changed. ter teenagers, “was the moment passionate he was what a brilRobert Freeman was sitting liant man he was. And he can get ODFL was born.” at his desk in Room 313 of Los you excited about anything...He’s ODFL, or One Dollar For Altos High School. It was lunch someone who really knows how Life, is a double-edged sword. time. Five students sat in a corto inspire people and motivate It is a non-profit corporation ner of the room, eating away at designed to both address poverty the world.” their lunches and talking bitterly in the developing world and be about the terrible condition the world was in. “You could tell they had a lot of anxiety of how was the world going to turn out for them,” Freeman says, reflecting on their outlook. “You guys should listen to yourselves. It’s terrible. You just sound so bitter!” “Well, Mr. Freeman, you got to admit, the world is pretty messed up,” replies one. “Yeah I know it is. But what are YOU going to do about it?” “But what can we do about it? We’re only teenagers,” they Mrs. Cardellini, a science teacher at Los Altos High, is currently the on-camretort. pus ODFL club advisor.
Mrs. Cardellini on the ODFL trip to Nepal in 2009.
Curious as to what really motivates high schoolers to join the cause, I inquired current Vice President of ODFL, Elizabeth Bishop about why she joined. “I joined actually because I just wanted to go on the trip. I didn’t know that much about ODFL when I joined; I kind of just had friends going on the trip and I wanted to go with them.”
I asked Freeman about how one of their most famous drives got started. “[Elizabeth] came to me and said ‘Mr. Freeman, they have no toys down there!’ and I said ‘I know, Elizabeth.’ And she said, ‘Well, what are we going to do about it?’ and I said no, ‘What are you going to do about it?’” The two of them then came up with the idea of the 2011 Lego Drive. “So we started collecting Legos, making videos, and advertising throughout the school,” says Bishop excitedly. “Then once we got our tower going, a lot of other people wanted to join in and contribute to the tower, ‘cause it was going up, right?” Bishop tells me they ended up with over five-hundred pounds in Legos that they sent to five different ODFL-sponsored schools. It seemed that people really like the idea of being a part of something big. Especially if that something big was a massive Lego tower by the door in Room 313. “ODFL’s goal isn’t really to
build classrooms in third world countries,” Bishop informs me. “Its goal is to empower American students.” “Just to play devil’s advocate here,” I asked Cardellini, who is the current on-campus club advisor, “why does ODFL exclusively help thirdworld countries when it could be providing the same kind of assistance for schools in need in the U.S?”
“It’s sort of a bang for your buck idea,” she tells me. “If you build in America, it’s going to take a large amount of resources. Whereas you can build a school for about 15k abroad, reaching a wider community. And there’s more help given that way.” “Have you ever known a bigger person who takes things for themselves?” Freeman asks me. I shake my head. “No, the people you know and you respect are those who are generous. And so, kids want to be bigger people, they want a better world. I want to be a bigger person. I’m sixty years old. I’ve built forty-one projects in eight different countries in six years. I still want to be a bigger person. Don’t you want to be a bigger person? Everybody does. And ODFL is a way to do that and make the world a better place.”
“ODFL’s goal isn’t really to build classrooms in third world countries. Its goal is to empower American students.” Works Cited Freeman, Robert. Personal Interview. 15 September 2013 and 4 October 2013. Cardellini, Lisa. Personal Interview. 25 September 2013. Bishop, Elizabeth. Personal Interview. 21 September 2013. One Dollar for Life. One Dollar for Life, 2007. Web. 16 September 2013. <http://www.odfl.org/> Davis, Jessica; Bauman, Kurt. School Enrollment in the United States, 2011. U.S. Census Bureau, September 2013. Web. 17 September 2013. <http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/p20- 571.pdf>
2010 ODFL Lego/Duplex Drive