Throughout his career as a teacher and researcher, Jon Wargo said he has always followed his heart and passion for justice.
“I was a kindergarten teacher and after school I walked across the playground and was the gender and sexuality alliance leader at the high school,” Wargo said. “These two hats, both GSA leader and kindergarten teacher, are really representative of the work that I do as a researcher.”
Wargo is a core faculty member of the Teaching, Curriculum, and Society department in the Lynch School of Education and Human Development. His research focuses on how schools can create more inclusive learning environments for queer students and educators. In 2020, Wargo was selected for the National Academy of Education’s fellowship. As a fellow, Wargo received professional development support and funding for his research.
“Receiving the National Academy of Education fellowship is probably sort of the highlight of the last six years,” Wargo said.
Through the program, which connected him to many other educators, Wargo said he built meaningful connections with mentors.
“This allowed me to expand my professional network while doing research on what is of critical importance given the current policy backdrop,” he said.
The project he received funding to work on was rooted in some of his earlier work with Garden State Equality, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization in New Jersey.
“I was doing pro-bono lesson planning with teachers in New Jersey when Illinois passed HB0246, which is known as the inclusive curriculum law,” Wargo said. “They reached out to Garden State Equality seeking out resources to help with implementation”
While he was working with Garden State Equality, Wargo said he realized he wanted to study how inclusive curriculums are first implemented in schools.
“This was one of the first seedlings, if you will, of ‘Huh, I wonder what it would look like to study how this first year of implementation goes in a state that newly signed legislation advancing LGBTQ inclusion,’” he said.
Wargo and his team had to adapt their original plan because they were conducting research in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I like being on the ground in general which is ironic for this project because I do not feel like I was on the ground because of COVID,” Wargo said. “The research project, in terms of the work that I was going to do, was going to do more on the ground work so I had to pivot.”
Though Wargo’s team was still able to complete the research by adjusting their methods, he said it was tough to advance his study during such a tumultuous time.
“So I think one of the most difficult parts of the process was how do I forward a project that is really sort of grounded in equity and inclusion while knowing my participants were already carrying a lot on their plate,” Wargo said. “The redesign part was really difficult.”
To conduct their research, Wargo and his team spoke with queer teachers to develop an understanding of their experiences in the workplace. Wargo said the study looked at descriptive statistics that respondents filled out based on their perceived beliefs, biases, and thoughts to gain insight into their perspective on teaching and queer inclusion.
“The question was both on a personal level, their individual beliefs, and the broader sense, like the community they serve,” Wargo said.
While conducting this research, Wargo worked alongside a graduate research team. He said one of the best parts of his fellowship was gaining the funding to support this team. His research assistant, Alexander Corbitt, said he sees Wargo as a mentor and has learned a lot while working alongside him.
“Working with Jon Wargo has expanded how I think about literacy and language learning both as a teacher and a researcher,” Corbitt said.
Corbitt said it is clear that Wargo is deeply committed to his research and bettering the future of education.
“Jon’s work ethic is an inspiration to me,” Corbitt said. “He models a passion for research-based inquiry that inspires me to be a better scholar.”
Marilyn Cochran-Smith, a colleague of Wargo’s and BC’s Cawthorne Professor of Teacher Education for Urban Schools, said he brings great value to the Lynch school through his new perspectives.
“The department is clearly all the richer for having Dr. Wargo as a faculty member,” Cochran-Smith said.
According to Cochran-Smith, Wargo is a breath of fresh air for the department. She said she was impressed by Wargo since the beginning of his journey at BC.
“Dr. Wargo’s scholarly work, his activism, and his cutting-edge perspectives on many issues related to language and literacy as well as to equity and anti-racist education are among his best qualities,” she said.
Wargo said he chose to research LGBTQIA+ programs because he believes in the importance of inclusive educational policy.
“When you are talking about educational policy that is rooted in human rights, practice becomes a question of personhood,” Wargo said.
By researching how education can move forward and welcome educators from diverse backgrounds, Wargo said he hopes to create a more just future within the world of education. He sees this goal as clearly aligned with the Lynch School’s mission.
“I am a gay cis educator, and one of the things that I hope to forward with my work is a deep commitment to issues of equity and justice,” Wargo said. “Our mission is to make the world more of a just place. It is a critical part of the the Lynch school’s mission of expanding the imagination and driving equity and justice to make the world more of a just place.”