Janet Tran serves as the Associate Director of Education at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute where she is charged with designing the Foundation’s nonpartisan portfolio of civic learning experiences for students. She embraces the civic mission of education and began her career as a social studies teacher in inner city high schools within the Los Angeles Unified School District. Janet earned her B.A. from the University of California Los Angeles and her Masters of Education in Curriculum and Instruction at California State University, Northridge. Janet is currently a doctoral student of Education Learning Technologies at Pepperdine University.
What is one important thing that we Americans can do together that we can’t do alone?
Together, we can create opportunities for those who don’t have the same opportunities we do. We can overcome obstacles on our own – like the fact that some students don’t have parents who have gone to college –but you have to share your experiences, the means and the ways you overcame obstacles with others.
What about your country, state, or community makes you proud? How do you think government interacts with that?
I’m proud that, even though this isn’t a perfect country, we’re allowed to say that and we have the opportunity to make it better. In some ways, it’s perfectly imperfect.
I think it comes from my background as a daughter of refugees from Vietnam. It’s amazing to them that you can go out and protest without repercussion or fear, but a lot of people take this right for granted.
What do you think it means to be a good citizen?
Cassius Clay, better known as Muhammad Ali, said that “Service to others is the rent you pay for room here on earth.” We take for granted the ridiculous fortune and luck to be born Americans, and we have to repay that debt.
What one word describes our government as it is?
What one word do you wish described our government?
US. Capital letters.
If you could run any government program or agency, real or imaginary, at any level of government, what would it be and what would you do there?
My background is in public education, so I’d throw my paws into the Department of Education. Government has a role there, but the size and scope is dependent on needs. I would look first at moving away from our addiction to standardized testing and get back to the things that matter, like design and creativity, things that fueled the start of this country, which can’t be measured on a test.
What thing that government does do you think would surprise most Americans?
It may not be surprising, but there’s a disconnect between what people do in their daily lives and the services provided by their local government. Opening your garage is electricity, the road outside is paved, the stop signs create safety, the plants watered at the local schools: we drive past 50 things connected to our local government while still on our blocks.
On the federal level, it’s not that we don’t know what the government does, but the average American thinks the government is doing much more than it is or can control things in their lives. Like making them eat healthy food – that’s not a mandate, it’s a public private partnership. When the First Lady uses her platform to encourage healthy eating, that’s not a mandate forcing people to do anything. It’s just encouraging.
What is your first memory of an interaction with government?
My first memory of government was a kindergarten civics field trip to the stoplight to learn about the walk sign. I’m not sure we went anywhere else, but we went there together and we all were beyond excited to press the dirty walk button.
What was your most recent government interaction?
For a cool one, I live in a very safe suburban neighborhood but on my way to work, I found that a stop sign had graffiti on it. I went to the Thousand Oaks city website to encourage them to fix the sign, and it was clean by the time I went home from work that very day. And the next day I had a lovely email telling me that it had been dealt with. If more people had interactions like that, they’d feel more connected and empowered with their local, state and federal government.
What is your favorite thing that government does?
My favorite things are libraries. The very concept of libraries is amazing. There’s a commitment from government to make us more educated, not just through schools or universities, but through public libraries to ensure that everyone has access to information and true opportunities. They’re critical to improving opportunity in this country.
Who is your government hero who is not an elected official?
The people who work as school counselors and social workers – the people on the front lines – are heroes. Herb Neibergall, who has taught math for almost 50 years at John C. Fremont High School in South Los Angeles. He is helping to show students experiences that they would never have. I am proud to have people like that working for the U.S. government.
ImagineGov: If government could be anything, if government was what we want and aspire for it to be, what would it be or do?
The government we aspire to would, one, protect people, not just through defense but also protecting the vulnerable minority from the majority, and, two, provide opportunity. Those are the mission and vision of government. We do right by America when we weigh every program and position against whether they protect our people and provide opportunity.
Why is the work of Indivisible so important?
The government we have is not the government we deserve. And when people say we have the government we deserve, it’s insulting. We deserve better. We shouldn’t pretend that everyone has the same access to our government. So when we think about our perfectly imperfect country, I hope that Indivisible will make it clear to all Americans what government means. It doesn’t mean a white Grecian building in D.C., but it’s the person who’s cleaning your stop sign or helping you to get legal counsel if you’re in trouble.
Name someone whose answers to these questions you would like to read.
I’d like to hear from people who are disenfranchised and disengaged and see no value in government what they think government should be.
An Interview with Indivisible.