WASHINGTON (UPI) - For the first time in memory, Lauro Cavazos did not share a 20-pound Thanksgiving Day turkey with all 10 of his children and host of grandchildren. Instead he spent the day preparing for a four-year job he thought would last only four months.
But then 1988 has been unusual in a lot of ways for the 61-year-old Texan who has been asked by President-elect George Bush to be the secretary of the Department of Education - two months after President Reagan tapped him as the nation's top educator and the first Hispanic member of the Cabinet."What I bring to this job, first of all is a real commitment to that educational process. I'm an educator. I've spent my whole life in the field," said Cavazos in a wide-ranging interview with United Press International only days after Bush's appointment.
Cavazos has served as president of Texas Tech University, dean of Tufts University School of Medicine and a professor at the Medical College of Virginia.
"Secondly, I really see myself as someone who will bring people together to address an issue and to call attention to that issue. Third I see myself as being the person who can ask the hard, testy questions - `Why are we doing it that way, why aren't we doing it another way?'
"Fourth, I'm somebody who will assist in the process, who will be helpful and try to give advice. I spend a lot of time thinking about education, where we should be going, what are the issues and ideas."
Cavazos, virtually unknown in Washington before his appointment, already has met privately with a host of leaders of education associations, universities and professional societies.
Shaking his head and waving his hand, Cavazos refused to discuss his outspoken predecessor, William Bennett, who often was at odds with educators.
"Everybody has their own style. But early on I said I want to listen to everybody," he said, relaxing in a lounge chair in his office. "It's not my style to beat on the desk or to carry on in that manner.
"I don't see what's wrong with having the style that perhaps . . . pulls people together to get them to see opportunity, to see problems, tries to give them vision and direction, tries to be persuasive. Beyond that, one can always fall back on doing a final push. I don't think that's the way, personally, I want to accomplish things."
Cavazos reveals a strong cultural pride with his free use of Spanish and frequent referral to "Anglo."
"I've always felt a lot of pressure just on myself, as a person, to do a good job in whatever I undertake," he said. "And, I am so proud of my heritage. No I don't feel specific pressure from the minority community, or the Hispanic community."
Cavazos brings a unique perspective to the job, a viewpoint fashioned early in life. His father was a cattle foreman on the 800,000-acre King ranch in Texas, where all five Cavazos children were born and attended a two-room Hispanic elementary school.
When the family moved to nearby Kingsville, Cavazos entered the third grade as the first Hispanic child to attend the town's all-white school. Cavazos said that experience has made him a strong supporter of bilingual education and has pledged to work to improve educational programs for the disadvantaged and to push for increased funding for student financial aid.
At the same time, Cavazos shares the strong views of both Reagan and Bush that the specifics of education should be handled at the local level.
"What I'm trying to get (everyone to do) now is for them - parents, principals, teachers - to come back and say `ok now that didn't work. Is there another model? Is there another way we can do it?' I really believe that if you listen to people and do a lot of goodwill in trying to work and bring a lot of your own energies to bear that you will solve problems. I'm proposing a broader spectrum involvement."
Cavazos was confirmed by the Senate 94-0 and said, "When I first came in during the confirmation hearings, I had made the commitment that I was going to try to raise the level of funding for disadvantaged, Chapter One, student loans, Pell Grants and all in that area. I have been working on that."
Cavazos recalled that he was approached about the job as early as 1981 but turned it down because he was in his first year as president of Texas Tech University, from which he received a bachelor's in zoology and a master's in cytology, the study of cells.
It also was at Texas Tech that he met his wife, Peggy, a registered nurse. Nine of his 10 children have graduated from college, seven of them earning degrees from, where else, Texas Tech.
Cavazos, who earned his doctorate in physiology at Iowa State University, is clearly grateful for "just the opportunity at a national level to say the things that I've been saying as a university president."