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:
HALL WAYS REVIEW: Though A Kineño’s Journey: On Family, Learning, and Public Service stands alone, it is a bit of a follow-up to Dr. Lauro Cavazos’s 2006 A Kineño Remembers: From the King Ranch to the White House. In this second book, there were definitely some places that needed more explanation (likely included in the first book), so I think readers would get a more complete and satisfying understanding of Cavazos’s life and accomplishments by reading both books, in sequence.
Where book one concentrated on the early years of Cavazos’s life and the influence of his parents and life on King Ranch, A Kineño’s Journey is more a reflection of Cavazos’s adult years. Readers get a detailed description of Cavazos’s time as secretary of education and all of the studies he commissioned and initiatives he started. Cavazos desperately wishes that people would read/remember/care about those results and act on them, as even today the same issues in education persist. The author is blunt in his assessment of how politics impede educational reform. In assessing why he, a Hispanic cabinet member, was often invited to events, he said, “It wasn’t long before I learned that the first priority of many legislators after they were elected was how to get reelected.” He recognized quickly that those legislators thought Cavazos could help win Hispanic votes. There are interesting political tidbits sprinkled throughout (spouses were separated at political dinners), and equally interesting is that Cavazos and his wife, Peggy, largely bucked the system.
Cavazos worked hard for what he accomplished, and by his side through every step is his wife, Peggy, and their ever-increasing family. These personal snippets of normal life with ten children are the most interesting part of the book to this reader. I frequently was left wondering about the actual logistics of that kind of life and found myself wanting to know more about the family’s trips to Mexico City, Paris, and San Salvador. Of his children and travels, Cavazos said, “We wanted them to understand that the world is a classroom, and that there is so much one can learn through travel.” Peggy tutored the kids when they were pulled out of school for months at a time, and none ever suffered being behind upon return to school. (As a sidenote, Cavazos’s wife Peggy should write her own book. Her organizational and teaching skills must be phenomenal.) Perhaps it’s my bias as a Texan, but I really enjoyed the sections where Cavazos talked about his years as president of Texas Tech, where he started off saying, "I am pleased that students, not politicians, become my constituents." Readers will enjoy the West Texas history, descriptions, and asides included.
The writing is very informal, making the readers feel as if they are sitting with Cavazo as he reminisces. Surprisingly, the book does need another pass by a proofreader to clean-up very basic typos and writing errors. Additionally, A Kineño’s Journey doesn’t progress chronologically, which makes it difficult for readers without prior knowledge to sketch out a timeline of the events in Cavazos’s life.
Included in appendices at the end of the book are two of Cavazos’s speeches and also A Kineño’s Journey: A Historical Assessment by Dr. Gene P. Preuss. Preuss’s assessment is very well-written and gives additional background and details about the political climate around Cavazos’s time as secretary of education and beyond. Preuss provides a bigger picture of the startling statistics of minority education and trends and puts them into perspective with what Cavazos was trying to accomplish during his service. Preuss’s addition to the book is excellent. What is unclear is how or if Preuss was involved in the writing of the rest of the book, though it’s implied in the “Author’s Note” that Preuss assisted with Cavazos’s research. He is listed as a co-author.
Throughout the book, Cavazos always gives credit to his parents for raising him and his siblings to get their education, work hard, and never quit. He stresses over and over the importance of education and English proficiency, and he is a model of what can be achieved through education and persistence. Sequencing and editing issues aside, I recommend reading both books to learn the complete inspirational and fascinating story of Dr. Lauro Cavazos.
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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