A Study in Contrasts: Cavazos’ Low-Key Style Differs From Bennett’s

By Julie A. Miller — April 05, 1989 3 min read

“Peggy and I once spent most of an afternoon walking in Santa Fe looking for a storyteller with 10. They all had 8 or 12 or what have you,” Mr. Cavazos said. “We will treasure this always.”

When he made a three-state tour of Indian schools last week with Secretary of the Interior Manuel Lujan Jr., Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos was tearing a page from his predecessor’s book. But the differences in style between the low-key academic and the contentious William J. Bennett were obvious.

“I came to listen,” Mr. Cavazos said at one of the schools.

During similar visits, Mr. Bennett usually came to talk.

The former Secretary typically would stride into a classroom and expound on the intent of the nation’s Founding Fathers. He would always ask students why their school was a good one, hoping they would say “discipline.” If they failed to, he brought up the subject himself.

A visit by Mr. Bennett almost always culminated in an address to a large assembly of cheering students that included some political rhetoric, some literary allusions, and at least one crowd-pleasing anecdote.

Mr. Cavazos, in contrast, gave no speeches last week. Instead, he watched teachers teach, introduced himself and his wife, Peg4gy, to individual students, sat down with them at computers, and asked educators about their work.

When asked to address classes of students, Mr. Cavazos urged them to continue their education and consider becoming teachers.

“I ask one thing of each of you,” he told a group of 6th graders at the Jemez Day School. “As you go through life, educate yourselves to your fullest potential, to the furthest outreach you can go.”

Education Department staff members say Mr. Cavazos also travels with a smaller entourage than Mr. Bennett did.

“Dr. Cavazos is an educator, not a politician,” commented Chino Chapa, an aide to the Secretary.

As he prepared to leave Jemez Day School, Mr. Cavazos had a final request. Would it be possible for him to ring the large bell mounted in front of the building? His wish, of course, was granted.

The request came as no surprise to the Secretary’s aides, who say he has a soft spot for school bells.

In fact, Mr. Cavazos said last week, he is looking for an old-fashioned bell suitable for installation outside the Education Department’s main office building.

“Don’t you think that would be great?” he asked, eyes bright with enthusiasm. “It would be so appropriate.”

For Mr. Cavazos, a tolling bell symbolizes the importance of education, and he often uses the image in speeches.

“It used to be that the ringing of a school bell symbolized something important was about to happen for each child in earshot,” he said at a 1985 symposium on Hispanic education. “If we could again install a loud-ringing bell atop each school, and if that bell should ring every weekday morning, perhaps all who hear would be reminded of the profound importance of public education inel10lAmerica.”

In speeches, Mr. Cavazos often quotes the homily by John Donne that ends with the lines: “And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

The sermon, which also includes the phrase “No man is an island,” is a commentary on the interdependence of human beings. Mr. Cavazos uses it to make a point about education being the responsibility of everyone: “We have no need to ask for whom the school bell tolls,” he says. “It tolls for each of us.”

Schools often present visiting dignitaries with fairly commonplace mementos such as plaques or T-shirts.

Some of the Indian schools on the Secretary’s itinerary did better than that, bestowing on Mr. Cavazos and Mr. Lujan an array of exquisite, hand-crafted items that even included a ceremonial arrow.

It was clear that Mr. Cavazos’ favorite gift was a “storyteller” figurine given to him by the artist Jennifer Lewis of Cochiti Pueblo. Ms. Lewis, a former stu4dent at the Santa Fe Indian School, is now a member of the school’s staff.

The “storytellers,” a traditional Indian design, depict grandparents telling tales to young children. Each of the visting Cabinet members was given a figurine showing the number of children in his family. Mr. and Mrs. Cavazos have 10.

“Peggy and I once spent most of an afternoon walking in Santa Fe looking for a storyteller with 10. They all had 8 or 12 or what have you,” Mr. Cavazos said. “We will treasure this always.”

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