written by: Gretchen Hovan
The Jesuit ideals—of working for the greater good, of standing for and with others—have guided many of my thoughts and decisions since I ended my time in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps. They are part of why I decided to switch, after twelve years of teaching social studies and English, to become a math teacher and look for work in an urban public school. I believe that free public education is one of the things that has made the United States of America a good country—both in how it treats its citizens and in how it has grown in the world. It is one of the ways that our country has worked for the greater good—offering education to all people.
This election I am not sure yet which presidential candidate is truly standing with our students, with our schools. This year, my first in a large public school system, has helped me to more fully realize how complicated the problems facing schools are. There will be no easy and quick fix. No Child Left Behind gave us more testing and confirmed what we knew through other measures: our education system is not having the same results for all students. What we need to do now is figure out why.
It is too easy to blame the teachers, the parents or the students themselves for why students are “underperforming.” We want there to be an easy fix. But do we really think that schools, teachers, families and students are so foolish that they wouldn’t use the magic solution to the achievement gap if it existed?
Fixing the achievement gap is going to require change to many of our systems and structures, not just the ones in schools, and this year when I vote, I will be looking for the candidates who are thinking about those systems and about how things can’t be solved just by bundling our students up with “their” money and letting them go to a school that “works.”
When I vote, I will be looking, too, for the candidates who recognize that all of our students need to feel safe in our schools, and that legislation that limits the rights of some people, especially LGBTQ people, sends a powerful message about who is valued. I appreciate that there are many different, strongly held and religious beliefs about sexuality, but none of those beliefs should result in the kind of bullying and harassment that make schools dangerous places for a student. None of these beliefs should limit some students access to good, public education.
If I want to stand for and with my students, I need to vote for the candidates that see that public education is worth fixing and that the fixing will not be quick or simple.
Gretchen Hovan is a teacher at a middle school in North Minneapolis. She served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps from 1995-1996 in Jersey City, NJ and 1996-1997 in Portland, Oregon. She earned a graduate degree from Fordham University.