AHA Member Spotlight: Frank Valadez
Frank Valadez is director of the Division for Public Education at the American Bar Association. He lives in Chicago, Illinois, and has been a member since 1989.
Alma maters: BA, Northwestern University, 1989; MA, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1995
Fields of interest: United States, legal, social
Describe your career path. What led you to where you are today? My career path has been shaped by a lot of (mostly) happy accidents. I always loved history, but I lacked some of the focus necessary to complete a dissertation. I was fortunate to get a job editing social studies textbooks, where I was able to apply what I learned from my history studies in practical ways to improve curriculum materials that would be used by millions of students. Meanwhile, I learned a lot about K–12 education—teachers’ needs, students’ needs, and how to reach broad public audiences.
Later, I had the chance to direct professional development programs for teachers at the Newberry Library, where I could combine my scholarly connections with my knowledge about K–12 educational environments to developed valuable programs for teachers. My experience at the Newberry also helped me learn a bit about fundraising and nonprofit management. I left the Newberry to briefly work at Chicago Public Schools and then became executive director of the Chicago Metro History Fair (the Chicago-area version of National History Day). Running an organization is an incredible professional experience. I highly recommend it as a learning experience. After History Fair merged into the Chicago History Museum, I was hired by the American Bar Association to lead its Division for Public Education.
What do you like the most about where you live and work? Chicago is a wonderful city. It has world-class cultural and educational institutions. There are incredible restaurants and bars. The lakefront is special. And I really enjoy the weather and change of seasons—even winter. The cold keeps the pikers indoors, so I feel as though I have the city to myself early on subzero mornings.
What projects are you currently working on? The Division for Public Education has a mission to foster understanding of law and role of law in society, and we are just about to update our strategic plan. The Division leads ABA educational initiatives, such as public programs to commemorate Law Day (which, on May 1, coincides with May Day). We are currently preparing for Law Day 2019, and the theme is “Free Speech, Free Press, Free Society.” We will develop programs and resources that will guide public conversations related to the theme. We also offer resources and programs to support K–12 teachers that teach law-related subjects, including civics and history; and we have numerous publications, including Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases, which provides analysis of all cases that are about to be argued before the Court, and Insights on Law & Society, a publication designed mostly for social studies teachers.
Is there an article, book, movie, blog etc. that you could recommend to fellow AHA members? The movie Cabeza de Vaca, about the marooned explorer, fascinates me, especially the way it portrays the opacity of an unfamiliar culture; and, in a completely different way, Freakonomics is a highly illuminating podcast.
What do you value most about the history discipline? History incorporates more than one discipline, and it provides countless ways to learn about the world and human societies. History can draw on natural sciences, philosophy, literature, social sciences, anthropology, archaeology, and many other disciplines to understand the past—and that’s endlessly fascinating. The study of history is also essential to advanced citizenship, especially in the United States, where an understanding of the history of American government and social institutions can underpin civil discourse. Beyond that, when one studies enough history, it becomes difficult to avoid the complexity of any moment—and the countless ways that even heroic and laudable people fail at many times in their lives. I think it fosters a healthy humility. I guess that’s three things I value the most.
Why is membership in the AHA important to you? It is important for people to support professional associations in order to support the highest values of those professions. The AHA does important work promoting the profession and the study of history. It also advocates for archives and records preservation as well as free and open inquiry—all of which are import to support democratic values. I am happy to do my part in supporting this work.
AHA members are involved in all fields of history, with wide-ranging specializations, interests, and areas of employment. To recognize our talented and eclectic membership, Perspectives Daily features a regular AHA Member Spotlight series.
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