Pope Francis urged politicians last week’s in his apostolic exhortation (official papal message) to guarantee all citizens “dignified work, education and healthcare.” As a spiritual man, educated in high school by Jesuits, I was struck by the Pope’s pointed criticism of economic inequality.
He wrote, “I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor.” For me, a disillusioned Catholic for many decades, Pope Francis’ message inspires me to continue to press back against the monolithic power that is the institution of public education.
As a low-tier politician serving on the county Board of Education, I have staked a position, I believe, that is consistent with the Pope’s plea. My votes to approve innovative and high quality charter schools in impoverished areas of San Jose has been a vote to end the status quo and improve educational outcomes for low-income children. My goal, and the goal of my colleagues, is to find any means possible to increase the number of seats at the education table.
During my time as chair of the board, I suggested and voted to offer $1 million of Santa Clara County Office of Education funds to EDUCARE, a national model of best practices for early education. The goal was to improve outcomes for some of our most vulnerable children, from prenatal to birth to 3rd grade. I voted along with all my colleagues to allocate $1.5 million from SCCOE reserves to keep 140-plus 3 and 4 year olds in local Head Start programs this year. That funding was slashed by the federal sequester.
The system of public education in San Jose and Santa Clara County has maintained an achievement gap between poor and more affluent children for many years. This gap must be eliminated as a matter of social justice.
One mammoth initiative we should get behind, in line with the Pope’s apostolic exhortation, is to improve the prestige of teaching. Teachers are the real social justice engines. One exceptional teacher can motivate students to incredible academic heights. A system full of teachers who believe all students can learn, just not in the same way on the same day, will be the secular missionaries who bridge the economic divide.
In a column I wrote three years ago, I asserted that we must work to rebuild respect for teachers and the teaching profession. I pleaded for a gift of funds from corporate Silicon Valley to create a public relations and advertising campaign that recruits the best of our high school and college graduates to be teachers. Teaching should be a “calling.”
I was ecstatic to learn that the U.S. Department of Education—in partnership with the Advertising Council, Microsoft, State Farm Insurance, Teach For America, NEA and AFT—has recently unveiled a new public service campaign to recruit a new generation of graduates into the teaching profession. To learn more, go to Teach.org.
Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion and can be found weekly on San Jose Inside.