In a surprise victory this past November, Reform Party nominee Jesse Ventura, 47, beat out two seasoned, major-party candidates to become the governor of Minnesota. The radio talk show host, one-time mayor of Brooklyn Park, Minn., and former professional wrestler--known as “The Body"--chose teacher and former administrator Mae Schunk as his running mate. Staff Writer Jessica L. Sandham recently sat down with Gov. Ventura to discuss his selection of Ms. Schunk for lieutenant governor and his priorities for education.
Q. Why did you select a teacher as a running mate?
A. Because to me, the entire campaign is a tactical thing. It’s like waging a war. It’s a chess game. What you want to do is solidify your weaknesses. In my case, early on we found out that I was running 4-to-1, men over women. So that told me that I needed to get a woman on board. ...
Second of all, as mayor I dealt with taxes, I dealt with crime. I dealt with all of the mayoral things. I didn’t deal with education. So that told me I needed someone who knew education, and I needed a woman to fill that gender gap. And I also felt, in all honesty, that I carry a very strong testosterone level, and people get that from me when they meet me and talk to me. Mae comes off of me as the opposite. She carries herself extremely well. She is 64 years of age. It all fit together. I believe a lot in fate. And fate makes a lot of things happen.
Q. And you share a common desire to reduce class sizes statewide?
A. And to increase parental involvement. And that goes hand in hand with reducing class sizes because naturally you’re going to have kids who, no matter what we do, their parents aren’t going to get involved. They’re going to drop the ball. And it’s sad they do because all studies show that if children have parental support, they tend to succeed, and if they don’t, they tend not to.
I think by lowering class sizes, the teacher can assume that parental role a little bit for those one or two students who aren’t getting support at home.
Q. How do you think that reducing class size will impact educational quality?
A. Well, it’s like anything, how many [students] can you control? How much personal attention can you have? The bigger the class, the less. And [class-size reduction] can be done. We have to be careful, though; you have to do it without building on the capital. You don’t want to have to build all new classrooms. You can achieve 17-to-1 just by putting two teachers in one class. You can still have a class of 30, but if you put two teachers in there, that can maybe get the job done. We want to be innovative; we’re not setting any rule in stone here. We want to allow the local jurisdictions to be creative. The bottom line that Mae and I both agree on is the kids. If we achieve that success, how we achieve it really is irrelevant.
Q. How would you keep a class-size-reduction plan from creating a demand for underqualified teachers?
A. Maybe it works with a less qualified teacher sometimes, too--if there’s two in a room. Maybe it’s just that role model. You don’t necessarily have to be qualified with a degree to be a role model and to show kids interest and to show them love. It doesn’t take a degree to do that. Not only that, but I think that when I’m done with this [the governorship] I should be qualified to teach. Why would I need a degree? What about life experiences? That’s a degree in itself. Just because you’ve got a piece of paper from college doesn’t mean that you can teach or can’t teach. There’s book-smart and there’s street-smart. ... I’m street-smart. Mae’s book-smart. That’s why we’re a great combination. You’ve got book-smart and street-smart; that’s a deadly combination when you put it together. “The Body” and “The Teacher.” But I’m “The Mind” now, you know.
Q. How have you gotten involved in the schooling of your own children?
A. I coach football. You do what you can do. I brought that expertise to the school, and my son didn’t even play football. But when he started at Champlin Park [High School in Champlin, Minn.], I thought, you know, you hear so much about how schools are so shortchanged on money. I thought that maybe if people can step forward and just give of their time, what price do you put on that?
Q. There’s been some controversy over state graduation standards set to be implemented this year. Are you considering any proposals to change them?
A. My thoughts on that are this: My focus is getting parents back involved and challenging them to do their jobs. I think if we do that, it doesn’t matter what standards we have out there. No matter what else, you must get the parents in. To me, that means going back to neighborhood schools. You’ve got to end this busing and put kids back into neighborhood schools so that the parents then have strong PTAs. ... My challenge is not making excuses for the schools, making excuses for the teachers and the government. That’s the coward’s way out. My challenge is to look at those parents and say, “Are you taking part?”
And, again, let’s not blame the kids. If the kids fail, it’s our fault. They’re kids. We’re adults. If they fail, we need to look in the mirror and say, “What are we doing wrong?”
A version of this article appeared in the February 03, 1999 edition of Education Week as Ventura on His Education Plans, Campaign Tactics in 1998 Race