AASA is sharing a conversation with James Harvey, outgoing president of the Horace Mann League who served as executive director of the National Superintendents Roundtable before retiring at the end of 2021. HML held its 100th annual meeting and luncheon on Feb. 18 in Nashville, Tenn.
AASA: What does it mean for the Horace Mann League to hold its annual meeting in-person during AASA’s National Conference on Education.
Harvey: It’s huge. The board felt strongly that it was important for us to get together and renew our commitment to education in-person as opposed to remotely. Not to hold our 100th Annual Meeting in-person would have sent a very bad signal to the field.
AASA: The need to “reset education” was said several times during today’s luncheon. What steps do you think are on the immediate horizon to go about that?
Harvey: Public education is at a crossroads. We’re either going to move forward with continued support for education or we’re going to have severe challenges. The question, I think, before the nation is whether White Americans will continue to support a public school system that is serving predominantly people of color. A great deal of attention—around issues such as critical race theory, academic performance, etc.—a great deal of that tension is driven by people who want to take their children out of traditional public schools and have access to public money. Public education in this country is under great threat. I don’t think we should minimize that.
AASA: What does it mean to you to receive the 2022 Friend of the League Award?
Harvey: Our awards over the years have gone to major, major figures. To be mentioned in the same list of awards as previous honorees is a significant honor. To think that my colleagues thought enough of me to aware me the “Friend of the Horace Mann League” is very meaningful. I treasure this award.
(Other honorees this year included: Valerie Strauss, education editor, The Washington Post, who was the recipient of the 2022 Outstanding Friend of Education Award, and, Gloria Ladson Billings, professor, University of Wisconsin, who received the 2022 Outstanding Public Educator Award.)
AASA: Before we say good-bye, is there anything you’d like to add?
Harvey: Working closely with school superintendents over 25 years with the National School Superintendents Roundtable, it is impossible to be around these people without being impressed with their dedication. As an immigrant, I came to this country with no concept at all that I would ever attend a university. My parents were working class people in England and Ireland. My parents had both left school in Ireland by the age of 12.
When we came here, it opened up new possibilities for our family and all 13 grand children of my mother and father are graduates of four-year colleges and universities. It’s almost inconceivable that that would have happened in England or Ireland at the time.
The American public school system has been a standard-bearer for equity and opening up opportunities for millions of American newcomers. The challenge we now face is making sure that these opportunities that America was willing to open up for white immigrants and low-income white students continue to open up for people of color.
(Jimmy Minichello is director of communications with AASA.)