Skip to Content

Remarks as prepared for delivery by Dr. Loretta Ragsdell, 2018 NEA Higher Educator of the Year, to the 97th NEA Representative Assembly

Minneapolis Convention Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota


WASHINGTON - July 04, 2018 -

Thank you, Lily,

Thank you, NEA Delegates!

I especially want to thank my brothers and sisters in the National Council for Higher Education, including President Sheaffer, for their tireless advocacy of our members, our institutions of higher learning, and our students.

To my late parents, Joseph and Orlissie Ragsdell, who taught me the importance of love, family, and learning and sharing everything you can…

It was my brother, Jasper Ragsdell, who taught me about the importance and power of unionism and the value that unions bring to their members. For that, I am forever grateful, because I am a diehard unionist!

And, to the members of the NEA and courageous educators who dare to stand up, speak out, and work passionately to ensure that every student has access to a quality education…

…..

I have a mantra on my LinkedIn homepage which reads:

“My objective is to educate the world, one student at a time. I strive to maintain diversity inclusion and technology infusion in all curriculum and course work. I am a life-long educator and perpetual student who believes education is the passport to all you want to achieve and have in life.”

I not only believe these words. I live and breathe them every day of my life.

I’m a Chicago native and they say Michael Jordan was born to be a basketball player. Well, just the same, Loretta A.Ragsdell was born to be an educator.

Whereas some people were born with a silver spoon in their mouth, I, think I was born with a textbook in one hand and a lesson plan in the other. My career as an educator began as a little girl. I would teach my dolls and action figures how to count, spell, and be on their best behavior.

As a young teen, I shaped and developed my organizing skills, taking children from my neighborhood on walking and bus tours to Chicago’s zoos, parks, museums, and historic landmarks. We concluded with the children writing grammatically correct reflections. No surprise -- how I ended up becoming an English teacher.

I’m not just any kind of English Teacher – I endeavor to meet my students where they are and take them where they want to go. – As an adjunct English professor at City Colleges of Chicago, many of my students were International students, and English was not their primary language.

One year, 80% of my English Composition students were international natives. My classroom looked like a role call at the United Nations. One day, a Chinese student came to me and said in she was thinking of dropping the class because writing in English was too hard.

I challenged her to start writing her assignments in her native language and translate it into English, print it out, and see they were different. She did, and successfully completed the class.

As an educator, I have learned as many of you know, that sometimes you have to set aside the curriculum and work with the student where they are. As educators, we know that one size fits all is grossly delusional because not all students learn the same. Sometimes a little curriculum modification is necessary.

My twenty plus years in education and my work within the NEA has prompted me to create a program to strengthen the natural bridge between higher education and PK-12. If we do it here at the NEA, we know it will translate into new beginnings in schools and colleges around the country.

This isn’t a new idea. Think of the National Defense Education Act of 1958. A lot of that investment was in creating ways for higher education to interact with K-12.

The science institutes are another example. These were six-week sessions held in the summer, in which higher education faculty in science and math helped PK-12 teachers keep up to date with developments in their disciplines

What if we could start with preschoolers and create one interrelated educational experience for a student, all the way through graduate school? Much of the research on learning suggests we should think of education as a lifelong process.

We must strengthen the linkages and the bridges between pK-12 and higher education so that there is a seamless process instead of the disconnected systems we now have. We should focus less on the system and more on the who it’s designed to serve. We are after all, one education family.

I’m still in the early phases of the program’s execution, but my goal is to start a “National Higher Education Month” with weekly activities to expose PK-12 students to higher education institutions through visits, activities, and mentorships.

This program will give them a glimpse of what the future looks like and allow them to begin their lives with the goal of higher education in mind. It’s time children learn that not all engineers drive a train, or that there are many NBA and NFL careers other that being a player, that require a higher education degree, such as the team doctor and the physical therapist.

There are many pathways to the American Dream. I believe higher education is the passport and foundation to reaching the American Dream.

I am so proud of the greater good that our public colleges and universities serve.

Our higher education institutions have shaped and trained the smartest, most talented and innovative workforce the world has ever known.

While we can applaud some success, it hasn’t come without great challenge and resistance along the way.

Higher education faculty have always -- and continue to -- face formidable challenges:

* Threats to tenure and academic freedom

* A for-profit consumerism that seeks to bend our institutions to its own purposes

* Dwindling numbers of full-time faculty, separated from increasing numbers of exploited part-time faculty

* Protection of our intellectual property rights as distance learning spreads.

We have also vigorously advocated and fought for our students.

Someone has always had to be there to say, “Wait a minute, the university is a very special place. It’s not Wal-Mart U . . . and students are not consumers—they are students.

Someone has had to be there to say: The pursuit of knowledge is a fundamentally different human activity than buying patio furniture.

The pursuit of knowledge is a higher order undertaking that engages the teacher and the learner in a relationship that is far deeper, far more complex, and far more enduring than that of seller-buyer.

And someone has had to be there to say: Racism, bigotry, targeted harassment or threats will not be tolerated on our campuses.

Someone has had to stand for what's right, even if they have had to stand alone. That’s what we do. This is who we are as higher education faculty and members of the NEA.

Thank you, NEA!



NEA's 2018 Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly