Marcus Foster arrived in Oakland in 1970, already a celebrated and proven educator. He was an optimist whose faith in the ability of children, community, and schools to coalesce never wavered.He had worked as a cabdriver, shipyard worker, waiter, dishwasher, and mail carrier in his quest to achieve the education that vaulted him to the top of his profession. He was a man whose head and heart were directed at promoting the betterment of others.Marcus A. Foster believed that to achieve success with our schools, we must open up the educational system and commit ourselves to an approach that is both honest and humane. He observed that “this is the least an institution should do; in a broader sense it may be the most.”
Dr. Foster believed that all students could learn. He was committed to the vision of students being enriched by teaching and then passing on that treasure to future generations.But his efforts to improve and strengthen education through community support were grounded in the complex realities of his time. “It was no castle of dreams he built in this city,” the Oakland Tribune wrote at his death in 1973. “It was a solid edifice fashioned, brick by brick, of academic improvement, of trust among people, of inspiration and enthusiasms and confidence.”More than 35 years later, Dr. Foster’s precept that students, schools, and communities must work together on common ground is an accepted goal throughout the nation. He was not afraid to take risks and experiment, not reluctant to discard an unproductive method, and humble enough to build on principles from the past when they have been tried and found worthy.
He was also able to talk honestly and openly with all races about the issues of racism.Dr. Foster did not engage in lofty rhetoric. Instead, he offered forthright views learned from problems he had faced throughout his life. He devised practical, corrective steps to make schools work for all students. He found solutions by looking at problems with clarity and open mindedness. Alex Haley observed, “Marcus Foster holds up a candid mirror to educators, students, parents, school boards, and communities, so that all who are involved may look at themselves.”Dr. Foster viewed the three R’s and critical thinking as the building blocks of education. But in addition he emphasized the need for art programs, team sports, and school activities that reflected the life circumstances of the students.In the short time he was in Oakland, Dr. Foster created a climate that gave life to a number of firsts: the Arts Magnet School, Far West School, Street Academy, Montera Film Festival (now the National Educational Film Festival), and the Oakland Education Institute (now the Marcus Foster Education Institute).The scope of these accomplishments is rooted in Dr. Foster’s conviction that group action can unite individual efforts to accomplish great things, and that such collaboration is as essential as it is effective.In a message to Oakland school employees, Dr. Foster observed that “when the pieces are in place, when we are done with the temporary preoccupation and the catchphrases, when we feel the power and exhilaration of real movement toward our objectives, then will come an important realization. Our success will come not because of Board directives, or the Superintendent’s notions, or the staff’s creativity, or the community’s yearning. We will make it because we have the common need to draw on each other, and the audacity to believe that in concert, we are equal to the great tasks.”