Jennifer "Edushyster" Berkshire and Aaron "Need a New Twitter Handle" French have released the second of their Have You Heard podcasts, and it further cements Berkshire's standing as the number one interviewer in the education blogosphere.
This time Berkshire has headed to talk to Howard Fuller for a conversation that underlines the degree to which Fuller is-- well, I don't want to say complicated. He has the quality I most admire in anyone working in a troublesome and contentious arena-- he manages to follow the issues and his values without getting sidetracked by labels, tribes and affiliations. Which means, of course, that he manages to piss off a wide variety of people (you can get a quick picture by looking at Lyndsey Layton's profile.from 2014 entitled "A civil rights warrior, or a billionaire's tool?")
Fuller has spent a lot of time on the reformster side of the street, so that is why it's extra interesting to find him explaining to Berkshire the many failures of ed reform in New Orleans.
It began, he says, with conversations over sixteen months with African-Americans in the community, asking two questions: 1) What do you think about education reform in New Orleans and 2) What do you think about black peoples' role in it?
The overriding theme that he heard? "This has been done to us, not with us."
Fuller asserts that some students are now far better off than before, and many are not. But even if there are good outcomes from the complete charterization of NOLA, if African-Americans have not had a significant role, and if this is all more disempowerment of blacks in the community, the reform is a fail. It is unsustainable, because there is no broad support in the black community.
Berkshire observes that New Orleans seems richer and whiter, and Fuller acknowledges that schools alone cannot over-ride issues of class. Ultimately economic policy will have broader impact than education policy in reversing systemic poverty, but the ed reform is still important. Does that seem a bit contradictory? When Berkshire (in her signature gentle nudgery way) calls Fuller on his connection to the Waltons, he replies, "When you are in struggles, you deal with contradictions."
In some cases, that means you need resources and you take them where you can find them. That also means, if you're Fuller, that your relationship with the teachers unions is-- well-- he states clearly that unions have an important role in making peoples' lives better but he also says, "I have real scars from dealing with unions." He also says, "Some people want me to be anti-union, which I'm not. Other people want me to support the teachers' union, which I don't."
He also has some complicated thoughts about pedagogy, particularly when it comes to No Excuses schooling which are worth listening about.
Through all of it, Fuller maintains a focus on making things better for students, getting better education for students, improving the lives of students. Hearing him lay his thoughts out, even in this brief interview, made me respect him even as I disagree with some of the positions he has taken in the past. Beyond the specific points to be made about reform in New Orleans, the interview is also another excellent reminder that the ongoing debate (and the people in it) is more complex than we sometimes admit.
But seriously-- best interviewer in the biz. Listen to this. You'll be glad you did.