In January, Josh Gottheimer assumed the office of the U.S. Representative for New Jersey’s 5th congressional district, which represents Ridgewood. Daniel Greenman, a junior at RHS, recently interviewed him for The High Times about his views on education and his background as a New Jersey native.
Daniel Greenman Did you grow up in New Jersey, and did you go to a public school in New Jersey?
Josh Gottheimer I did, I went to West Essex High School in North Caldwell, New Jersey. I also attended the public grammar schools there.
Daniel Greenman And do you think that there’s a difference between public schooling when you were in school and now?
Josh Gottheimer Well, I think the biggest difference that I can tell is technology. We used to lug around heavy backpacks, and you can tell me more about it. People are using digital textbooks now, and so much more is posted online. And in terms of education itself, there are interactive projects in class and group projects with classmates that we didn’t have. In fact, there was no broad internet access that we had, so to me it’s a huge difference. It wasn’t really until college that I tried to use email, and that’s obviously a huge difference between then and now.
Daniel Greenman Actually, I moved from Brooklyn to Ridgewood before my freshmen year and, we weren’t allowed to have any kinds of electronics out there, and when I moved to Ridgewood I see that every kid has their own computer that they’re supposed to use with teachers. That was, that was a big change.
Josh Gottheimer I actually worked on, when I worked at the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission, a whole digital textbook edition. And I saw that one of the issues was not just every student having a digital textbook, chromebook, or a PC, or a Mac. It’s the connectivity issues and making sure that schools have the broadband. They need to have a way to handle every student being online. I actually helped start a nonprofit for connectivity at home. A third of the people in the country still don’t have connectivity when they leave the schoolhouse. They leave the schoolhouse doors, and they’re walking home with a chromebook; if you can’t connect at home, it’s basically a paperweight. So it’s a huge issue, and you would imagine that it’s a big difference. It was one thing years ago, when students could always get home and still do work, but if you can’t afford to have connectivity where you live, you have a huge gap between those who are connected and those who aren’t.
Daniel Greenman Right, and you talk about that on your five point plan for Congress, you talk about the JerseyOn program and the internet essentials; giving students access to internet.
Josh Gottheimer Because I just think it’s so important.
Daniel Greenman And so, either with that program or outside of it, what have you worked on before or are currently working on, as far as education and educational priorities?
Josh Gottheimer I just gave a speech about how when millennials graduate in New Jersey, we need to make sure that there are extra opportunities for them here that match what they’re learning in school. One of my big concerns is the skill gap. If you teach students a certain thing, you have to make sure that that thing is needed in the private sector, so they can get a job once they graduate. That’s a really big issue. Before I became a politician I worked with Microsoft, and I saw that there was a shortage of engineers and computer programmers.
Daniel Greenman Did you see these things as concerns more when you were in school, or did you learn about then in your career as a politician?
Josh Gottheimer Well, I’ve only been in office since this January, but I did notice them recently, while working in the private sector.
Daniel Greenman I’m in a program at the high school, Teen LEADS, and we’re addressing local problems in Ridgewood and meeting important people in the school over the year. RHS has been focusing on student stress for a while, and we will be presenting about poverty at the end of the school year. Do you think that there are any problems that are more specific to a district like Ridgewood?
Josh Gottheimer There are issues like property taxes, and taxes overall, where we need to make sure that we do everything possible to keep our taxes affordable. If we have some of the best schools in the country, we have to make it possible for people to live here. And we have to make sure schools operate to give jobs to people when they graduate. That includes making smart investments in our infrastructure, but also keeping our schools the best in the country.
Graphics: Christine Gaenslen