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Howard Fuller speaks at Manual

Howard Fuller has long advocated for better education for African-American children and he’s getting a little – or a lot – tired of waiting for that change to happen.

“On Feb. 1, 1960, four students from North Carolina A & T sat down at a lunch counter and demanded to be served,” Fuller told an audience of educators, parents and others Thursday at Manual High School.

“Here in 2009 … we can have four students go sit down at a lunch counter where they are welcome but they can’t read the menu. My question is, how in the world did we get here? How could this be?”

Referring to results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, he added:

“How can it be that in a country as great as ours that we can understand that 17-year-old black and Latino young people are doing math and reading at the same level as 13-year-old white children in this country? How can this be?”

Fuller is the director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University and the co-founder of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. He is a former superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools who preaches the gospel of school choice, including vouchers, for poor families in low-performing urban school districts.

“This question about educating our children isn’t just a moral issue, which it is. It isn’t just a social justice issue, which it is,” Fuller said. “It is really an issue that deals with, how do you sustain a democracy?”

There’s been lots of talk about change education for minority and poor children but little action, he said.

“One thing I’ve learned over all of these years is that many people support change as long as nothing changes,” Fuller said. “We go to these conferences and we discuss change and we make the mistake of thinking that the discussion constituted the change.”

Still, he said his travel across the country has shown that some schools, at least, are fulfilling the promise of educating all kids.

“I have seen so many great schools that are educating the very kids that people say cannot be educated,” Fuller said, then paraphrased Mortimer Adler’s Paideia Proposal. “So what I’ve concluded is … there are no unteachable children. What there are, are adults who have not yet figured out how to teach them.”

Fuller spoke in Denver as part of a speaker series billed as “help(ing) parents and communities demand more from our schools.” Click here to learn more about the series.

In his 30-minute talk, he spoke about his experiences with parents at the high-poverty Christian high school he founded in Milwaukee – and why he believes education reform can’t wait until parents somehow assume more responsibility for their children.

“All parents don’t care for their kids,” Fuller said flatly. “I know I’m not supposed to say it – I’m saying it.”

He was equally blunt in his assessment of President Obama’s opposition to the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which offers vouchers to 1,700 students from low-income families in Washington, D.C.

“As much as I love Barack Obama, and I do, Barack is wrong,” Fuller said.

Click here to download a podcast of Fuller’s talk.

Nancy Mitchell can be reached at or 303-478-4573.

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