A Global Approach
July 27, 2018 | By Kimberly Uslin
In recent years, success in public education has seemed to align directly with adaptability to technological innovation. Students across the country are 3-D printing, building apps, and learning all manner of things that may not even have existed five years ago (let alone when their parents were in school).
But as St. John’s alumnus Kevin Fitzgerald (AGI85) proves, the way of the future is far from the only path to success. Though he is certainly not opposed to technology, he is an advocate for returning to the roots of education—and if his recent naming as the National Association of School Superintendents (NASS) Superintendent of the Year is any indication, he just might be onto something.
“If you were to look all the way back at the state constitutions, the only real mandate for public education is to create good citizens,” he says. “What’s a good citizen? One who can contribute to society in a positive manner. I don’t think our vision has changed all that much.”
To create and nurture these citizens, he says, “we have to be able to create a positive and safe learning environment, to be able to provide our children with the opportunity to compete in a global market. It’s not good enough any longer just to teach a student what they need to know in order to survive in the town or state or country we’re in. We have to provide them with the means to compete and succeed anywhere we go in the world.”
And to do that, Fitzgerald believes, is to return to the tenets present in the Great Books he studied at the Graduate Institute, the examination of character explored by Socrates, Herodotus, St. Augustine, and others. There is a need, he says, to return to the holistic model.
“I want my students to have a full experience, not just limited to reading and writing and arithmetic—to get the whole picture,” he says. “In reading a line from the Great Books, there could be many different interpretations, and they could all be right, depending on the perspective of the person reading it.”
And while he’s not advocating that schools across the country eschew their curricula for the Program, Fitzgerald believes the classical approach to education can help lead students into the future. Part of that involves the study of language, which has been a major component of his work as an administrator. The students under his jurisdiction have their choice of seven world languages to study, from the romance languages to Chinese.
“It broadens their perspective while letting them see that people across the world are pretty much the same,” he says. “Our world has gotten larger. There’s a greater common language. We know how much our world is changing and how much technology has changed it. You can’t be isolated anymore; you can’t pull up the drawbridge.”
It’s his ability to encourage the next class of global citizens, in fact, that keeps him motivated as an administrator (though he says he’s not above returning to Machiavelli before a school board meeting).
“Most people enter into [administration] thinking they can impact or effect the greater good,” Fitzgerald says. “That has been the driving force for me. You have to do the things that no one wants to do: discipline, making sure the buses run on time, making sure the cafeteria provides food that no one wants to eat. But you have to think of the bigger picture: How can I provide my students with the best possible education?”
“You need your foundation. I’m appreciative to St. John’s for the foundation, but to rest on that isn’t enough. You have to push and build on it and move forward.”