Joshua Calhoun was my great grandfather, a person larger than life in our family and one whose passion for education created a legacy for his descendants and a role model for people in and out of our family for the last 150 years.
Joshua was born in Crawford County Georgia in 1860, the year before the Civil War began. Four million men, women and children of African descent, including my great grandfather, were living under the institution of slavery when Abraham Lincoln signed executive orders in 1862 and 1863 effectively ending slavery in the United States.
Despite his inauspicious beginning, Joshua became a successful businessman, landowner and entrepreneur. He leveraged fifty acres of land from my great grandmother’s dowry (yup she had a dowry!) into hundreds more, establishing the foundation of his successful business ventures. Understanding what was necessary for his children to benefit fully from the freedom granted by Mr. Lincoln, Joshua did what most people of his time could only dream of. He sent many of his nine children to college, sowing the seeds for future generations to recognize and appreciate the value of an education.
Two of Josh’s daughters, including my grandmother, became teachers and there have been teachers in every generation of my family since then. Some of his sons pursued business and medicine. Others farmed and served in the military. They were mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, all people whose stories have been told, people we could look up to and admire. Hence it’s no wonder that most of his descendants channel the spirit of Joshua and continue to push for excellence in whatever work we have chosen to pursue.
Although I did not set out to pursue a career in education, I ended up spending most of my career in the field of education policy. I was sure I wanted to do something completely different from the hordes of educators in my family and I majored in political science with the intent of going to law school. But through my interest in public policy, I discovered that education is not simply a classroom practice, it is an American enterprise that has many facets. I found that education policy could advance the condition of children, or hold them back. The subtle and sometimes not so subtle education policy decisions made at the federal, state and local levels has directed and impacted the futures of the children in this country in profound ways and the study of those polices captured my heart and soul.
So in the end, it was not a difficult decision to devote my professional life to education policy. I am an unabashed advocate for equity, adequacy and justice through quality education for all children and for high quality public schools. Simply put, like many before me, I joined a branch of the family business. I have left my position as the Executive Director of the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE), but I have not left the field. In the coming months, I will explore education policy issues with the practical approach I think Josh would have used and I invite you to join me in discussion. We may not always agree, but surely the dialogue can give us greater insight into areas for which we all care deeply.
This blog and the ensuing commentaries are dedicated to the memory of Joshua and Missouri Calhoun and their awe-inspiring descendants who motivate me every day to continue the journey.Tweet