by Justin Kwasa
Dr. Howard Fuller is no stranger to fighting for justice. In his life he has: integrated Carrol College in Wisconsin as its first black student, worked as a community organizer in North Carolina, served as Superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools, and founded Black Alliance for Educational Options. All of these experiences are covered in detail in his recently released autobiography, No Struggle, No Progress. Recently, he came to New York to meet with a group of education reform parents and children to share his experiences and encourage them to continue their own fights for justice.
Earlier this December, parents from New York City, Buffalo and Rochester united in Harlem to discuss how they are reforming education in the state of New York. The group included the plaintiffs from two of New York state’s most ambitious education reform lawsuits, The Northeast Charter Schools Network charter funding lawsuit (Brown v New York) and Partnership for Educational Justice’s teacher tenure lawsuit (Wright v New York). Dr. Fuller was invited to address the groups, discuss his book, and answer some of the parents’ questions.
Dr. Fuller opened the event applauding the parents for their courage to take on a broken system. He warned them not be discouraged by their numerous opponents, reminding them that, “the most important thing to remember is that you're on the right side of history.”
Dr. Fuller recounted the times he was met with criticism for doing unpopular things, like meeting with then-Governor Texas George W. Bush. He explained that in order to achieve change, you may have to embrace people that seem contradictory to who you expect to embrace, but whose interests align with yours. He also advised the parents that their loyalty to race, culture and community might be changed, but implored them: “Don’t let stupidity hold you back.”
As the event went on, the conversation shifted to explaining the educational system the parents are currently fighting. Dr. Fuller explained how school districts are economic enterprises as well as educational enterprises. Because of this, many prioritize maintaining jobs over doing what’s best for students. Dr. Fuller remarked that, unfortunately, changes in policy don’t come without losses, which is why change is so hard. However, a good policy is defined by the benefits outweighing the losses.
Finally, Dr. Fuller addressed how education is a part of solving the bigger problem of poverty and how gaining knowledge will help open doors. All were in agreement when Dr. Fuller recited one of his favorite quotes, “Education in America guarantees you nothing but I can guarantee you will have nothing without an education.”
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