Monday Profile: Charley Weiland
Allow me to put a chink in your stay-at-home parent/school volunteer stereotype, if you have one. Meet Charley Weiland, a father of two girls at Otis School. Weiland holds a Ph.D. in marine geophysics and was most recently employed as a project manager building an earthquake observatory through the San Andreas fault — before the government cut funding for the project and sent him on hiatus. But earthquake science’s loss was Alameda’s gain. Since his research was put on hold, Charley has become a nearly full-time volunteer at Otis and the community at large, bringing all his energy and resourcefulness along — from founding a Dads Club at Otis School to teaching Go classes at the library and actively working on the Measure E campaign — among other things.
I know that you are involved with the Otis Dads Club, Lego and math nights, and I often see you with the Frisbee classes after school. You also teach Go classes once a month at the library. What else do you do?
Yes, I am a co-founder of the Otis Dads Club. Bill Tobin (another Otis dad) is the other co-founder. We organize monthly activities for the kids and parents that are fun and educational and build community. We do field trips to Chabot science center, family math night, drumming night, build-o-rama, games night, end-of-the-year dance, and a summer camping trip. I also do gardening with a couple of the classes at Otis, and I have been teaching the stock market to fifth graders as part of the district’s GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) program. I am also involved in the Measure E campaign, and serve as the treasurer for APLUS, the political action committee that supports it.
Scanning the activities you get involved in, you seem like a person who loves to play — true?
I do love to play. I suppose it satisfies my need to enjoy life, to be creative perhaps, to avoid dealing with the abject misery of the human condition around our planet.
Lets talk about some of the activities you are involved with. Teaching the stock market to fifth graders? Why that?
I had some free time last fall and wanted to do something math-related with my kids, so I offered to teach a stock market game to fifth graders, as a supplemental activity. The teachers selected 15 students; I have the same number this spring also at Otis, and more than 70 students from all 10 elementary schools in the district.
Are the kids into it?
The kids are into it; they want to buy stocks and they seem to understand what they are buying, but they are not exactly competitive yet because they don’t understand the complexities of the stock market and the business world. So in order to increase the competitive juices and the fun I tried to bring in more teams from other schools and make it a district-wide competition. I now teach the same game to six schools, and Franklin, Edison, Bay Farm and Paden have parents who teach the same. We use the GATE program as a vehicle for recruiting kids, but we have students that are not in GATE. Teams compete against each other, and against others in California. Our teams are very good. The Franklin team is in first place out of approximately 180 teams statewide, and in third place in the NorCal region for elementary school teams (out of 70 teams).
Tell me about the game of Go. How long have you played?
I started playing Go around 1992, while on a research cruise in the central Pacific Ocean. There were, surprisingly, three others on that cruise who played the game. I studied with Tom Tamura, who was one of the first teachers to a boy named Michael Redmond. Michael became the first and only American-born player to achieve the rank of 9-dan professional by the Japanese Go association (this is the highest rank).
What about Go attracts you?
The attraction of Go is the immense complexity that arises from the very simple foundation of the game. The game has puzzles, artistry, combat — something for everyone! It is visually appealing, and intellectually challenging. Also, as the game is several thousand years old, there is a great body of literature about it, some fiction, but also game analysis of famous players and famous games, which makes for fun while studying. Currently there is a great Manga series called Hikaru-no-go.
You have been teaching free Go classes at the library since March. Who are the classes for?
The people who come are anywhere from kindergarten to seniors. The class is geared to the mechanics of the game, learning the rules, so age doesn’t really matter. The game itself of course takes a lifetime to master. We’ve only had three classes so far and we’ve already had repeat customers. The library too has been very supportive of the class, and they even bought three sets for us, in addition to the ones I bring.
You have 2-dan and you’ve played for 18 years. Is your goal to become a master (9-dan)?
Usually amateur ranking systems stop at 6- or 7-dan. I would love to get to that level, but I probably started too late in life for that. Also, now my time is spent playing rather than the intensive study that would be required to move up to the next level.
Is there any connection between Go and Eastern philosophy, or martial arts? What mindset do you need to be a good player?
I believe there is a connection. I am not steeped in it, but one thing is that Go requires balance, and inner peace. Another connection is that you use the energy of your opponent’s attack in your counterattack.
You spend a lot of time doing stuff with children. What play or other skills (if any) do you think are missing in today’s kids?
From observing my kids, the TV and computers are awfully attractive entertainment devices. So perhaps we are losing the fine art of entertaining one’s self. Also, physical fitness and nutrition seem to be on a decline nationally. I don’t see this a big problem in Alameda, but I understand one source of the problem relates to the instant gratification brain that makes TV/computers so attractive. Sports, dance, physical fitness are a key component of happiness. Fun is also a critical ingredient to any activity. All of our Dads Club activities are fun oriented.
What is the most important thing kids should learn?
I think an important thing that kids should learn is empathy, and that everybody has talent and nobody is any more special than anybody else.
You are working on the Measure E campaign. What are your hopes and fears about the measure and school funding in general?
Measure E is vital for the health and well-being of the Alameda school district and for my family. Being unemployed (hopefully temporarily) obviously makes spending the extra $350 a year difficult, but we cannot afford to move, and private schools are, of course, out of the question. Thus we are bound to the public schools, which attracted us to Alameda more than 10 years ago. Alameda currently has great schools with great teachers, and Measure E can maintain this local jewel, while the rest of the state insufferably continues to favor prisons over schools and struggles with a constitution that undermines the ability of the state to govern itself. After seven straight years of millions in cuts from the state funding stream, Alameda Unified has been cut to the bones. Further cuts by the state can only be managed by devastating structural changes (closing schools, increased class sizes, elimination of educational options) that will make the school district unrecognizable to anyone who is 10 years old or older.