In a virtual town hall-style meeting on Nov. 16, Graduate School of Education (GSE) dean José Luis Alvarado, Ph.D. shared just how profound his connection is to the work of education.
From stories about his father, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico when Alvarado was 10, to paintings that Alvarado has created to pay homage to farmworkers he knew growing up, Alvarado made clear that for him, raising people out of poverty through education is deeply personal for him.
“Teachers are the ones who are foundational to all disciplines. It is the teacher who taught the Pulitzer Prize-winning author how to write. It is that math teacher that taught that banker basic math facts,” he said in an hour-long conversation with William F. Baker, Ph.D., the Claudio Acquaviva Chair and director of the Bernard L. Schwartz Center for Media, Public Policy and Education at the Graduate School of Education.
“Teachers unlock hope. Hope that students have for themselves, and hope that families have for their children. It drew me because it’s a profession that’s grounded in hope.”
Alvarado joined Fordham in July, after serving as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Cal State Los Angeles, the founding dean of the College of Education at California State University Monterey Bay, and associate dean of the College of Education at San Diego State University.
The conversation, which was organized by Fordham’s office of alumni relations, was a mix of questions from Baker as well as those submitted by attendees. In addition to sharing the reasons he got into education, Alvarado and Baker discussed current topics such as the recent politicization of the field of education.
Alvarado agreed it had become a problem, noting that just last month, the governor of Florida barred professors at the University of Florida from testifying about voting rights in a court case. Membership in the Flat Earth Society, he noted, is also on the rise.
“It’s a world that’s topsy turvy, and teachers I think, have to be the steady hand in all of that. Science, facts—teachers have to uphold those,” he said.
Alvarado was asked what it was like to embrace a private university after a career in public education. He noted that in addition to being impressed with Fordham’s dedication to cura personalis—care for the whole person, he also found it encouraging that GSE students, on average, find gainful employment sooner after graduation.
Asked how GSE is supporting Catholic education in New York City, Alvarado said that just a day earlier, they had held a recruitment event at a Catholic high school in the Bronx for teachers who have not yet earned their state teaching certification Catholic school teachers, he noted, receive a tuition discount at GSE.
When it comes to his priorities, Alvarado said he wants to make it easier for students of modest means to follow his own path, from high school to teaching certification. One of those plans involves establishing agreements that provide a way for students in community college (which Alvarado attended) to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree and a teaching certificate in five years. He also encouraged alumni to reach out to help mentor first-generation students.
During the discussion of Alvarado’s art, attendees saw that some of his pieces reflect the beauty of the world, while others are meant to highlight the powerful and quiet dignity of the working person.
In Strawberry Pickers, a 36- by 42-inch canvas painting, he explained that he split the painting into six panels to show how field laborers sometimes live fractured lives.
“They may be seen as part of an expendable workforce in the fields, but they may be esteemed members of their community, where they’re respected in their church and they’re respected in their families,” he said.
Alvarado became emotional while recounting the experience of working as a landscaper’s assistant in high school. When he told his grandmother how he was embarrassed to pick up dog poop on the lawns of his rich classmates “who were frolicking in their pools,” she told him, “To steal brings shame. There is no shame in hard work.”
“Much of the work I do tries to show the dignity of the work, and the potential. I think of my father. He only went to the school until the third grade in Mexico. He was a brilliant man. He never had opportunities. So, for me, every kid that I see in an inner-city school, I see a future doctor, a future teacher, a future banker,” he said.
“It’s about creating opportunities and acknowledging that even if someone doesn’t have two or three letters after their name, it doesn’t mean they’re any less of a human being. They have tremendous potential and worth, like anyone else.”
To watch a recording of the town hall, visit here.