By Jonathan Wall, J.D. ’16
In 1848, Horace Mann, the “father” of American education, wrote, “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of the conditions of men.” These words were rooted in the belief that a great education could overcome the effects of unequal backgrounds and allow any child to thrive in American society. My life experiences have taught me much about the power of education to combat socioeconomic disparities and to transform lives. As a result of these experiences, I have developed a strong interest in the legal and policy issues relating to education equity and adequacy. More than anything, I chose to attend HLS because of the opportunities to pursue these interests through HLS’ diverse and innovative clinical offerings. During the spring semester of my 2L year, I participated in the Semester in Washington Clinic, where I worked in the Educational Opportunities Section of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Now, as a 3L, I am participating in my second external clinic in as many semesters – Public Education Policy and Consulting Clinic (PEPCC).
PEPCC brings together graduate students in business, policy, education, and law from universities across the nation to engage in consulting projects serving public and social-sector organizations undertaking and supporting transformational change in the education sector. Through the clinic, I’m on a team with three other students, working with a large urban school district. The district is operating under state-law constraints, and is in the process of developing a strategy toward independence from the state. In December, our consulting team will provide the district with a proposal that will allow the district to transition to an economically and politically feasible “end state” that is aligned with its vision, includes key stakeholders, and sustains academic progress.
Among other things, my work has included conducting legal research and drafting memos, interviewing key stakeholders within the district, and attending meetings to brief the district’s superintendent and other leaders on different aspects of our team’s proposal. In addition to the consulting work, the class includes weekly seminars on topics in education policy, governance, management, and politics. We also engage in “skills sessions,” in which we’ve learned tangible skills, like how to translate a scope of work into a clear project plan, how to prepare for and conduct interviews, and how to calculate and analyze descriptive statistics. In the end, I’ll leave the class with a new skill set and knowledge base that far exceeds my original expectations of what I could learn in a semester.
As an aspiring lawyer, I find hope in my belief that through thoughtful collaboration and legal advocacy, our education system will one day become the “great equalizer” that Horace Mann envisioned. I’m thankful that HLS and the Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs have allowed me to spend some time away from Cambridge and the traditional law school classroom, to gain practical experiences within organizations tackling the important education issues that I hope to dedicate my career towards addressing.