Gerardo Gonzalez’s “A Cuban Refugee’s Journey to the American Dream” is an inspiring account of the transformative power of education and hard work. It tells the deeply personal story of how Gonzalez grew from a shy, bullied child to a successful scholar and university administrator.
Gonzalez, dean emeritus of the Indiana University School of Education, left Cuba with his family at age 11 and struggled as a Spanish-speaking immigrant in a strange land. An uninspired student, he enrolled in community college on a lark, fell in love with learning and went on to a stellar career.
In the book, he is generous with praise for the family, friends and mentors. Only two figures appear as adversaries: Fidel Castro and Tony Bennett.
Bennett, the Indiana superintendent of public instruction from 2009 to 2013, clashed with Gonzalez over a proposal called REPA, Rules for Educator Preparation and Accountability. The superintendent and his allies wanted to rewrite teacher certification requirements to require more college credits in subject areas like math and let some teachers become licensed without studying education.
It was widely seen as an attack on teacher preparation programs, and Gonzalez – despite pressure for administrators at public universities to stay out of politics – stood up for his faculty, students and alumni. He became the face of REPA opposition, arguing that for the state to dictate curriculum was an affront to academic freedom.
“I’d lived through the Castro regime, with its muffling of dissidents and its stifling of the press,” he writes in his memoir. “ … My parents had fled a country whose government took control of their children’s education, their schools and their freedom of expression. As a nation and a culture, we had been bullied. I had been bullied as a kid, just for being part of a family that didn’t support the new system. I would not be bullied again.”
Opposition to REPA grew across the state, and the initial version approved by the Indiana Professional Standards Board was less far-reaching than what Bennett had proposed (although a somewhat stronger version passed later). But the superintendent or someone on his staff didn’t let go.
“My standard second five-year dean’s review took place during the REPA debate,” Gonzalez writes. “The review committee received an unsigned statement from the Indiana Department of Education that read, in part, ‘Dean Gonzalez is the “best” example of what needs to change in Indiana higher education leadership in order for more progressive ideas to be fairly considered (and) openly discussed.’”