Lauren Lareau is an avid music lover. What you may not know about Ms. Lareau is that she is also dedicated to education and has made a name for herself in the political world as well in Pennsylvania . I had the pleasure of chatting with Lauren, about education, politics and more.
You have quite the story to tell. You are in politics as well as an avid music lover (like myself). You graduated with a Master’s from UPenn. Education is your passion. Can you take us on the journey of how you got involved with education and politics as well?
Thanks for caring about my story! What a long strange trip it’s been, haha.
It’s funny you start with this question, because my Facebook page includes a quote from Sonia Nieto that says, “Teaching is inherently political work.” I’ve had a few experiences that bring this quote to life for me, and one in particular stands out as having the most profound impact on my educational and political views.
In one of my early teaching experiences, I spent a month as a long-term substitute at a middle school in North Miami, where the population of students was something like 70% Haitian and 30% Latino. I walked into that 7th grade math classroom with a bucket full of thoughts, one of which included the privileged belief that success is the direct result of hard work. Boy, did I have to unlearn all the facts that I’ve learned! For instance, it’s a lot easier to work hard when you are well-fed, when you know what success looks like, and when you have connections to help pave the way. But when the only meals you have access to are the free breakfast and lunch in the school cafeteria (which is virtually nutritionless, processed food and sugar water because the government wants to spend as little as possible), and the only adults at home are social workers, or absent parents (who are struggling and/or immigrants working 3 jobs to put food on the table and a roof over their heads), and the only role model you see worth living up to is the neighborhood drug dealer (because they have the latest Lebrons), there is so much to overcome before the “hard” work of learning can even begin. Realizing how many students have to clear the hurdles of hunger, poverty, immigration fears, lack of role models or motivation, made it clear to me that education was directly influenced by government funding of social welfare and education itself, along with immigration laws and the criminal justice system, just to name a few areas. The challenges teachers face in the classroom begin far outside their control, and politics actually has more influence than teachers do in many ways.
Ultimately, I see the connection between education and politics in two ways. If we’re bobbing on the surface of it all, political priorities influence the levels of education funding/spending, social welfare programs, immigration laws, and criminal justice reform, all of which impact students in the classroom. Politics also influences how we educate people about society’s culture, history, and values. These concepts we’ll ponder in classrooms across the country are directly tied to the political power in control of those narratives. The clearest example of this is in Texas, where the School Board has been revising history to reflect conservatism since 2010. I saw these two impacts in my experience both as a teacher and a parent.
But the most direct connection I have made between education and politics, and what ultimately prompted my run for state representative, was the closing of my son’s elementary school in 2015, largely due to state budget cuts. I didn’t even consider running for office until the debacle that was the 2016 presidential election; I got involved with my local democratic party in early 2017, in order to learn more about how I could make a difference in my community.
You were born and spent most of my childhood summers (at your grandparents house) in Pennsylvania. If you could sum up what the Keystone State means to you how would you describe it?
Freedom and adventure time! Some of my fondest childhood memories are from the summers I spent in western PA at my grandparent’s house, where they had a garden that we could pick our own vegetables from, and a nearby creek where we caught crayfish. My dad took us camping at different lakes, and outdoor adventures quickly became my favorite pastime, which is reflected in both my advocacy for environmental protection and my love for getting in my car and cruising the land of the brave and free on the adventure that is Phish tour. My other grandparents lived in Philly; I would visit them for Christmas, and I still love the way Philly lights up during the holidays. Some of my favorite memories are driving along I-76 at night, to see BoatHouse Row all lit up, and I remember begging my mom to drive by the magic houses when I was little.
You are an avid concert goer and music lover. What was your first show? Are there any bands on your radar that people should know about?
I live for live music! My mom took me to my first concert at 16 years old to see the Steve Miller Band. I loved the energy of the crowd from the minute I walked in the door! My first Phish show was the legendary Worcester Wipe Out show on 11/27/98. Everything about that show felt magical, from sneaking in with a fake floor ticket, to figuring out how to stub the rest of my crew down to the floor with me, to Henrietta in a viking helmet, to the Mirror in the Bathroom… and the Golgi encore! I saw you! With a (fake) ticket stub in your hand! It was love at first sight. Phish immediately became my favorite band.
In spite of the challenges live music has faced this year, I am grateful that the current situation is giving smaller, local bands an opportunity to color in the void. I’ve had the chance to see Dogs in a Pile Band play at various socially distanced and outdoor venues, and they are a lot of fun!! These talented musicians mostly play original music, and are heavily influenced by the Grateful Dead and Phish. Check them out when you can!
One of your favorite groups is the Vermont based Phish. The past 8 weeks, lead singer Trey Anastasio has performed at The Beacon Theatre. Did you have any songs or nights that stuck out in your memory?
Every night was amazing in its own way, and every song with the Rescue Squad Strings was so beautiful. These shows really brought to life Trey’s dream of becoming a composer, and I am so grateful we could be a part of that, and for a good cause taboot, taboot! The last night of the run was particularly special; not only did Pebbles and Marbles bring me to tears, but Trey also read the note of a friend of mine who’s fiance lost their battle with addiction. Too many friends, and too many people in general, have lost their battle, and are struggling in lonely corners of the country. I joined the Lower Bucks Addiction Task Force to help advocate for people in recovery and addiction treatment. We meet monthly with leaders in the recovery community, who can attest that the pandemic has worsened what was already an opioid crisis. We need to increase state funding for recovery services at a time when state budgets are slammed by lost revenue from Covid-19 business closures. I’m so grateful to Trey for shining a light on this subject, and I’m so proud of our community for raising over $1 million to start an addiction treatment center. We’re all in this together!
Let’s change gears. You also have a small business, helping kids with their goals and dreams in college and beyond. How did you launch this business?
I surprisingly launched my tutoring business back in the last recession in 2009. I had recently lost my job as a research associate in an immunology lab, along with so many others as NIH grants weren’t renewed that year. I had been tutoring a student here and there to make extra money, but I ordered some business cards, learned how to create a basic website online, and let people in my networks know I was available full time. Within 6 months I was working 7 days a week and making more money than I had ever made working for someone else. I enjoy provoking dreams that don’t exist, and helping teenagers develop their self-confidence to pursue those dreams.
2020 has been a weird year for everyone. Are there any positives that you have felt have come out of this year?
Hindsight is 2020 became more than a cliche phrase this year. During quarantine, I finally found time to toss away stuff I don’t need in the end, but keep what’s important and know who’s my friend. This pandemic grounded us all, and forced us to examine our existence as everything from toilet paper to Phish tour was put on hold. Not only did what matters most come to light, but we are all living differently, in a more intentional way than we ever have. From awareness of racial injustice, to environmental protection, even to politics, more and more people are paying attention and inspired to be the change they wish to see. And voting!! From the sheer number of people who got involved in this election despite a pandemic, to the mass protests for racial justice that continue today, to the way musicians adapted to our new normal with streaming and drive-in shows, we went through a revolution this year. I’m hopeful that next year will see brighter days with a new administration dedicated to the American public and its health again, and maybe even a Phish show or two.