Building Change at the Heart of the Education System
By: Lauren Kloser
Brian Hayes watched President Bush’s announcement of Operation Iraqi Freedom in March 2003, pondering and worrying about how he could discuss the news with students in his history class the next day. He had thousands of facts and details to draw on; perhaps he would talk about the events that precipitated this announcement, the cries for diplomacy that some thought were ignored, the evidence that led to the invasion, or the potential that this decision had to destabilize the region.
But another part of Brian—the part that drew him into service as a part of ACE 9, and the part that was called to the mission-driven nature of Catholic schools in particular—knew that his students needed more. They needed to talk about just war theory, about how the principles of social justice might be applied to this situation, and about the implications of terror and violence for the innate dignity of each human soul.
For Brian, now the North American Education Programs Director for the Porticus Foundation, that moment captures his beliefs about the mission of education. As the history teacher in Brian explains it, education was designed to advance our democracy and has a civic mission at its core. It is not simply preparation for a career or a way to make money to buy more things. This guiding principal of education became clear to Brian during his time at Resurrection Catholic School in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where he served as the entire history department for the high school during his two years in ACE. After teaching every history class at the school, Brian didn’t hesitate to return and serve in as an assistant principal when his school needed it. It was here, as a 24-year-old expected to make professional decisions for teachers whose experience far surpassed his own, that Brian found his vocational direction to look at the bigger picture.
As a school leader, Brian found he could tackle systemic problems that teachers were unable to solve in a 50-minute window. He felt called to serve in areas where he could remove barriers and unpack what he calls “bottlenecks” in education–places where problems pile up, grow and begin to affect the larger institution of education. Guided by the other teachers and administrators at his school, Brian began to grapple with larger issues that inhibited learning for students. How would he approach a student who had been expelled from a public school, given a second chance at Resurrection, and yet still disrupted other students in their learning? How could he follow the Catholic mission, to educate each and every student without question, and yet still meet students where they were in their own journey?
As Brian continued his career, teaching at Rutgers University before working for the Porticus Foundation, a global philanthropic foundation inspired by the principles of Catholic social teaching, he began to see how his Catholic faith equipped him with a road map to guide his work with some of the most complex issues in education. “As Catholics,” Brian says, “we are called to act in certain moral ways. We are in this education business because we want to produce individuals who can become informed agents in our communities and in our churches. We want to create empathy, curiosity—individuals who care for one another, who critically consume our culture, who care about the notions of human dignity.”
Brian’s position at the Porticus Foundation affords him an opportunity to connect these Catholic notions with the educational system. With Porticus, Brian builds programs that measure student success in ways other than testing. He can gauge progress by the effectiveness of using restorative justice principles for school discipline or by the lessening of the school-to-prison pipeline. Education then becomes more than just a test or a way to increase buying power; instead, education becomes a way to strengthen the hope and resilience of students and their community.
Consistent with his discoveries in his leadership role at Resurrection, Brian looks to the root of communities’ more systemic problems. This analysis inspires him to unite strong philanthropic partners to create networks of change where policy is not working or philanthropy has not yet reached. By looking at the root of communities’ more complex problems, Brian can imagine and use education as a force for inclusion—as a way to offer all children, even those in extreme adversity, quality education opportunities. Through this viewpoint, educators can promote the development of the whole child who will become well prepared to serve the common good.
Today, on his long bus commute to work, Brian worries about the big problems facing education. Each day, he prays that he has the skill and ability to move mountains and heed God’s call. And each day, as he works to connect people who respect the dignity of students and strive to build a more just society, he finds the strength to dig into the hearts of the students and communities and the issues they face.
- Tags: Advocates