A Kineño’s Journey:
On Family, Learning, and Public Service
(Grover E. Murray Studies in the American Southwest)
Lauro F. Cavazos & Gene P. Preuss
Genre: Memoir / Education
Publisher: Texas Tech University Press
Date of Publication: June 30, 2016
# of pages: 352
On September 20, 1988, the United States Senate unanimously confirmed Lauro F. Cavazos as the fourth Secretary of Education in President Ronald Reagan’s administration. A sixth-generation Texan and Kineño—a descendant of Mexican citizens who accepted work on Texas’s King Ranch in the 19th century—Cavazos was the first Hispanic appointed to a position in an American Presidential Cabinet.
The story of Cavazos’s journey leading up to his cabinet appointment is a portrait of a life devoted to the principles of education. In 1954, Cavazos married Peggy Ann Murdock; the couple had ten children, all of whom were educated in public schools. To enhance their children’s education, the Cavazoses traveled extensively, living out the principle that a holistic education includes exposure to others’ worldviews. During his service as Secretary of Education, Cavazos insisted that all children in America be educated to their fullest potential. A key tenet of Cavazos’s service was an emphasis on educating minority students—a passion Cavazos formed early on in his career, first as a faculty member at the Medical College of Virginia, then as a professor and Dean at the Tufts University School of Medicine, and later as President of Texas Tech University.
From the book:
My father told me when I was a young boy that he had three expectations of me. Dad said that I was expected to educate myself, serve my country, and never disgrace the Cavazos name. These three simple admonitions formed the bedrock of my future life, the foundation upon which my father told me to stand firm.
PURCHASE FROM TEXAS TECH PRESS:
I can only imagine what education in the U.S. would be like today if Cavazos had not been asked to resign as Secretary of Education by President George H. W. Bush. He recognized many issues back then that are prevalent today: lack of educational support for minority children (particularly those of Native Americans), overemphasis on standardized testing, and the need to make college education affordable. I don’t know if his dismissal came because he already achieved what the administration expected (more Hispanic support), or if his approach, which they saw as passive, was ineffective. But seeing the impact he had on Texas Tech University, Cavazos was anything but ineffective. Personally, I think they just didn’t know what to do with a political figure who didn’t thump his chest and yell like a politician. I think it’s sad that they didn’t see the value of a man who had all the right values: maintaining a close relationship with one’s spouse, providing love, care, and education for one’s children, listening to the people you aim to serve through your work.
Cavazos paints the very sad and real portrait of politics in Washington. Too much importance is placed on party affiliations, and not enough on working together for the common good of all. Nothing disgusts me more than when a person argues against a great idea just because it isn’t their idea. If I were in Cavazos’ place, I would have taken so many things personally and probably burned some bridges on my way out, but he was ever the gentleman. I love how his wife Peggy points out that he is the same gentleman leaving Washington. Politics didn’t change him a bit.
Speaking of Peggy and Cavazos’ relationship, I respect a man that can recognize that his wife is his intellectual equal and sometimes hero. It was great hearing how Peggy saved him from delivering a plagiarized speech and how she supported every step of his career. It was inspiring to hear that a woman who accomplished her dream to have 10 children managed to never put them in daycare and return back to work once they started school. That her and Cavazos’ joint efforts to educate their children at home translated into children who worked hard in school. And can I say that Peggy’s figure is fabulous after having TEN children?!
If all children in America had the loving care and support of two parents (like the Cavazos family), I think that education would improve. Cavazos points out the divide between black and hispanic students in comparison to white and Asian, but he doesn’t explain why it exists. At the risk of overgeneralizing, many black children do not have both parents around and do not have enough to eat. Without food to fuel the brain and parents to encourage you to finish school, it is difficult to break outside of your community’s norm. I can’t say for certain, but I’m thinking many Hispanic children face the same difficulties as black children.
It was really timely for me to read this book since I feel like I’m having trouble balancing my work and family life. It reminds me to have faith that God or the universe will provide for my needs if I keep an open heart and mind.
I think my only critique of this book is that I wished the timeline was more linear. It jumps around a bit but I didn’t get confused.
Former Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos was born on the vast King Ranch in South Texas, where his father was the foreman. He received an M.A. in zoology from Texas Tech University and holds a doctoral degree in physiology from Iowa State University. He taught at the Medical College of Virginia and at the Tufts University School of Medicine, where he was Dean for five years. Cavazos returned to Texas Tech University in 1980 to become its tenth president—the first Hispanic and first graduate of the university to hold that office. He is a professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine. He and his wife divide their time between Concord, Massachusetts and Port Aransas, Texas.
Gene B. Preuss is an associate professor of history and Special Assistant to the President at the University of Houston-Downtown. He is the author of To Get a Better School System: One Hundred Years of School Reform in Texas.
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