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Lessons From the Classroom Apply to Congress

Courtesy Rep. Mike Honda
Rep. Mike Honda, seen here at the first elementary school where he served as principal, has taken what he learned as an educator and applied it to his political career.

“I decided I wanted to affect a lot of kids,” he said.  “You can make more decisions in one day than a CEO makes in a week.”

As a teacher, the schoolyard became a political training ground for problem solving.

“There was a fight brewing in the quad between the Black Student Union and the Chicano Student Union,” he said.  

Both groups were opposed to American involvement in the Vietnam War — the dispute was over one club’s lack of respect for returning troops. 

Honda focused on what brought them together rather than what separated them.

“Why do you want to fight over something you agree upon?” he asked them. “You [both] agree that we shouldn’t be there, so let’s agree on that and leave the rest alone.” 

Honda soon moved up the administrative ladder to vice principal, then principal, but he continued to stress personal involvement, walking the streets and talking with people.

“It [was] about knowing each family and, more importantly, them knowing who I am,” Honda said.

Those connections led him to politics. He was elected to the San Jose School Board in 1981 and subsequently to the county Board of Supervisors and the state Assembly.

“Politics was merging my skills as a teacher, principal and school board member into one,” he said. 

He applies the mathematics of teaching to politics as well. 

Typically re-elected with about
70 percent of the vote, Honda focuses on what he’s missing with the rest.

“If a student gets an 80 percent on something, we had to question what happened to the other 20 percent,” he said.

 Similarly, if he wins re-election with
72 percent of the vote, “I’m missing the other 28 percent of my constituents. It tells me I have some work to do to hit perfection.”

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