Jaime Casap is chief education evangelist at Google. Before taking part in a Zócalo/Arizona State University panel titled “Can Digital Learning Dismantle the American Class System?” at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy in Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles, he spoke in the green room about his hip hop record collection, Jimmy Carter’s teleprompter, and going from zero to 60 in less than four and a half seconds.
You brought a drone with you?
It’s a DJI Mavic. It’s a foldable drone, it shoots 4K video, it flies a couple miles, you can take it anywhere. So it gets me outdoors. It’s a lot of fun.
Did you have nicknames as a kid?
I grew up in the hip-hop culture of New York, and we had what was called “snapping.” We would all stand around in a circle and make fun of each other, and we gave each other nicknames like “Egghead” or whatever it was. But it was nothing permanent. “Egghead” was one of mine, because I have a big head. That one kind of stuck. In college, my nickname was “Paco.” I didn’t realize at the time what a racist thing that was, because I was the only Latino out of the group. My mother’s from Argentina; my father is from Syria.
Was there a teacher or professor who really changed your life?
The first one was my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Riddick. It was the first time that someone handed me back a paper with no grade on it and said, “This is crap, you can do better than this.” And everything else was A’s—school was easy for me—and she was the first one, even though I would’ve gotten an A on it, she said, “This isn’t good enough for you.” So she challenged me. And then in college I had a political science professor, Dr. Ullman. I took all his classes. He was challenging and he would argue with me just for argument’s sake.
Do you have a favorite holiday?
I love Christmas, mostly because I just take the time off, and I shut down for those last two, three weeks in December.
Did you ever have a hero or an idol as a kid, or somebody you wanted to be like?
There was no one I necessarily wanted to be like but I did respect people in power, in a weird way. So like presidents and people in Congress, people who spoke smart. I’ve always been into politics, always been into public policy, and people who were thought leaders in that space. I remember Jimmy Carter when I was like 10 years old, and listening to him speak, wondering how he kept his thoughts together—not knowing that he was reading off the teleprompter at the time. I always had a respect for people who thought about things.
Do you remember the first record you bought?
I was 12 years old in 1979 when the hip hop era started, so I remember the Sugar Hill Gang. I was in clubs where Madonna was playing. I was a DJ in college so I had a lot of records. I don’t know where all those records went.
Do you have a favorite 20th-century author?
I do a lot of writing and Hemingway is the one that I relate to the most in terms of how he writes—like short, declarative, to-the-point sentences. So any time I write something, I re-read it as if I were Hemingway. Not that I could ever be him, but like, “Why am I using so many words?” or “How do you say something with 20 words when you can say it with three or four?” So I try to say things with fewer words.
Like with hip hop, there’s an economy of words.
What kind of car do you drive?
I have a Mini Cooper GP. There’s only 500 of these cars. I have No. 234. It goes from zero to 60 in 4.4 seconds. There’s no back seat. It’s a toy that they put a license plate on. And it’s the greatest car in the world. My six-year-old hates being in that car because he thinks he’s in a rocket ship, and I drive it very fast. It doesn’t go less than 85 miles per hour.