BookLife Talks with Steve Mariotti
A sponsored Q&A with the author of 'Goodbye Homeboy '
What drew you to write your memoir now?
I wrote the first draft of Goodbye Homeboy during the 1987–88 school year, when I was teaching the class of dropouts. I wanted to write about my experience as a teacher to both illustrate how much school and the education system can impact young people and share my own mistakes and lessons learned. I searched for a publisher but was met with hundreds of rejection letters. Ever determined to keep writing, I vowed not to read any of them. I would scan the letter and file it under “Setbacks: Reexamine in the future.” When Goodbye Homeboy finally found a publisher, I went back and read them all, finally ready to consider what they said.
Since you’re writing about things that happened decades ago, how do you make sure you are telling “the truth,” or how do you refresh your memories when writing?
I’d written dozens of textbooks before publishing Goodbye Homeboy, and I’ve always found that the best way to stay organized is to chart out your story and facts and work from there.Why or how do you think this book is particularly relevant now?
The population of young people worldwide is growing, and the single most important lever to their success—whether economic, health, emotional, or otherwise—is education. Sadly, many politicians and policy makers, with little to no experience of teaching, see the issue in terms of dropout statistics and test scores. Numerous studies have shown that young people who do not graduate, who attend “drop-out factories,” are fed into the multi-billion-dollar prison industrial complex. At the same time, whenever I am privy to conversations at the Aspen Institute, Davos, SALT, or the like, I hear that the growing concern is how to find employment for these young people. What my career has taught me is that all young people have a comparative advantage. They know their schools, their neighborhoods, their generation’s tastes and tendencies. Their “street smarts” are actually business smarts; and with some background on how to start a business and how to be an owner, they can capitalize on those skills, not just to escape their own economic circumstances but to help improve their own communities.
What do you want to tell your readers about your book?
Goodbye Homeboy is more than just a true story about teaching in tough classrooms and neighborhoods. It is about the universal experience of overcoming challenges to find something new, insightful, and innovative about yourself and your career.
What’s next for you?
Twenty years ago, I was in the office of one of the top venture capitalists in the world. He came from a middle-class family and built a billion-dollar empire, creating hundreds of thousands of jobs and launching his own philanthropic work. He recounted the work his peers and colleagues had done and the enormous effect of their philanthropy. He told me about one of his most recent gifts—$5 million in scholarships for low-income students to attend fancy prep schools. When I got up to leave, I had to ask: $5 million for prep school but only $25,000 for teaching them about starting a business and becoming an owner. Why? Without hesitation, the finance wizard responded, “Who will do the work?” I was stunned. After a minute of pure silence, he muttered, “I didn’t mean it like that.” And his viewpoint was not unique. Many leading politicians and businesspeople still don’t see a point to including low-income people, disadvantaged people, or unique learners. So, I will continue my work to help change that.