By Howard Fuller
National School Choice Week this year is taking place at a time of enormous change in the national political landscape in this country. For many, the election of Donald Trump as president has created an environment that is toxic at best and calamitous at worst. As a Black man who voted for Hillary Clinton and supports parent choice, I am torn. I am concerned not only about parent choice in the realm of education but also worried about deportations, women’s rights, and access to health care, among other things.
But the purpose of this particular blog post is to reaffirm my strong support for parent choice for low income and working class Black families.
The goal for me in celebrating National School Choice Week is to continue the fight for substantive and real improvements in the life chances of all our children, particularly those who come from low-income and working class Black families in America. For them, the realization of the promise of the American dream remains largely elusive.
This is true regardless of who is in the White House.
The crushing impact of poverty with all its manifestations is the primary reason they face huge odds in their quest for a better life. For them, the only real chance they have to improve their individual lives is for their families to have the power to choose the best option possible for their education. National School Choice week affords those of us who fight for this right the opportunity to come together and hold the banner high for parent choice for these families.
The effort to ensure that parent choice is a critical part of any discussion about education reform is considered by some to be a recent development in America’s long education history. However, for Black people the quest for more parent choice has been our focus for many years. Coming out of slavery with a strong belief in the value of education, Black people were forced to seek out both public and private alternatives in their quest. It was then, and it remains now, all about options. The lessons of our history teach us that we cannot, and must not, depend on any one strategy to achieve the goal of educating our children.
I cannot nor do I ever plan to stop fighting for the interests of our children. They need us to wake up every morning ready to fight on their behalf so that they can have the high-quality education needed to ensure them a life trajectory that affords them the ability to engage in what Paulo Freire termed the practice of freedom- the capacity to engage in the transformation of their world.
Throughout history, Black people have waged a continuing struggle to educate themselves and their children. Time and again, Black people, particularly those who are low income and working class, have been in a position where others have had the power to make fundamental decisions about the education of their children. Far too many who debate parent choice and transformational education reform employ their own double standard: They can and do choose quality options for their own children while at the same time questioning the idea of empowering less affluent families to do the same.
My own vision for the future of the struggle for parent choice remains firmly anchored by the belief that we have an obligation to give poor parents the power to choose educational environments – public or private, non-sectarian or religious – where their children will succeed. As our history illustrates, this is not a new idea for Black families. Rather, it is a continuation of Black people’s struggle to ensure our children get the education they must have to stay on the pathway to freedom. National School Choice Week is a moment in time to recognize the work that has been done in the fight to promote parent choice while also steeling ourselves for the battles that lie ahead.
Dr. Howard L. Fuller is the Director of the Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University and former superintendent of the Milwaukee Public Schools.