Arne Duncan on education — and inequity, and injustice

Arne Duncan
Arne Duncan

Arne Duncan sounds like a man who is ready to get out of Washington.

At a recent Commonwealth Club of California program moderated by EdSource editor-at-large John Fensterwald, Duncan spoke briefly about educational gains made during his seven year term as U.S. Secretary of Education – but repeatedly and at length about the inequities and injustices that remain across the country. His frustration is palpable.

All those debates about Common Core, testing, over-testing? Sideline arguments. “All we can do at the federal level,” Duncan says, “is fight for equity, excellence and innovation. Take politics out of it. Figure out how to get better faster. The school-to-prison pipeline is real; suspensions and expulsions lead to crime.” And don’t even get Arne Duncan started on gun violence.

“The arc of the moral universe is long,” the Secretary quoted Martin Luther King Jr. as saying, “but it bends toward justice.”

Duncan clearly believes justice is not happening. “It doesn’t bend by itself,” he says, “or fast enough. The fight is not just about education. It’s about increasing social mobility, about keeping good jobs in our economy. From the standpoint of social justice, it’s about economics, and about keeping kids alive.”

Where is the arc not bending? “With early childhood education. The average child living in poverty starts kindergarten one year behind.” With gun violence, which Duncan repeatedly spoke of as closely tied to schools. “There have been more gun deaths since 1970 than in all of our wars combined. And there are too many instances in which the quality of education depends on where you live.”

Listing three top priorities he believes must be addressed, Duncan cites early childhood education as number one. He sees no reason why it can’t be done. “In the Netherlands, every four-year-old is in kindergarten, and they are working toward extending early childhood education to three-year-olds.” Second: “Great teachers matter. In South Korea, teachers are ‘Nation Builders.’ A teacher in North Carolina is giving blood to help pay the bills.” (Speaking of injustice and inequity.) And third: “How do we build demand for great schools, great teachers particularly in poor communities? How do we make it a badge of honor for teachers and principals to go where the need is greatest?”

Duncan cites the fact that in Massachusetts, the nation’s top state for education, 30% of all high school graduates take remedial classes to get into college. The percentage goes far higher in other states. “Do we want to keep doing that or not? And it is unbelievable to me that we don’t take action to end gun violence.”

Asked what he’d like to have as his legacy, Duncan fired back, “It’s not about me. We have a long way to go, and we must accelerate the pace of change.”

With that, Duncan stepped down from the stage. One gets the very strong impression – hearing him also say that being Secretary of Education was never something he aspired to, but he took the job because of his great admiration for Barack Obama – that he is more than happy to have stepped down from the national stage and headed back home to Chicago.

Malala, and messages of compassion

Malala Yousafzai at the Global Education First...
Malala Yousafzai at the Global Education First Initiative anniversary event (Photo credit: United Nations Information Centres)

 

 

It’s probably enough to leave a lot of us — not just Jon Stewart — speechless: lovely little Malala Yousafzai reporting with a smile on her thoughts about the Talib pointing a gun at her:

 

I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, ‘If he comes, what would you do Malala?’ then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’  But then I said, ‘If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.’ Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well.’ And I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.'”

There are skeptics, of course, and people back home in the once-peaceful Swat Valley who worry that all the publicity will bring more terror to their area. But I say, Go for it, Malala.

 

Imagine what might happen through dialogue. Maybe the government could even come un-shut. That is, if you use the word’s definition as a verb: “take part in a conversation in order to understand different sides and reach a solution to a problem.” What seems to happen more often in Washington is not dialogue, but monologue v monologue.

 

To come down to the issue which currently consumes about 90% of my time these days (thanks to new book): What if there could be education so girls like Malala would know about how to prevent unwanted pregnancy? And about ALL of their options should such a thing happen? Education along the whole spectrum, for girls and boys alike?

 

And then, what if there were real dialogue, as in “understand different sides and reach a solution to a problem.” One side would need to back off of the abortion-on-demand-and-without-apology stance, and the other would need to back off the ban-abortion-and-then-everything-will-be-solved stance.

 

Now back to Malala. I’m glad she didn’t get the Nobel, she’s got plenty of time left — assuming the Taliban don’t get her.  In a world of obstinate monologue and increasing brutality, her gospel of dialogue and education are a breath of fresh air.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Abortion foes' 'Black Genocide' campaign draws one woman's thoughtful response

“Black children are an endangered species” the billboards proclaim — and they are having success. At the bottom of each huge sign is the sponsoring site: toomanyaborted.com, whose stated vision is “to eliminate abortion in America.” Eighty such billboards ran, as a campaign to attract more Black members to Georgia Right to Life; if the newly-concluded effort is deemed a success it is expected to be replicated in other states.

A thoughtful story ran in Sunday’s Women’s eNews, and was forwarded to this space by thoughtful reader Melissa. Set aside the valid physical, emotional, economic and other reasons for terminating a pregnancy, author/scholar Margaret Morganroth Gullette‘s personal story illustrates how a combination of factors can also lead to a considered choice.

Gullette tells of learning from her mother, who was then in her eighties, that she had had an illegal abortion when Gullette and her brother were very young. Unlike this writer, and thousands of others who risked (and often lost) their lives in barbaric procedures because a doctor willing to perform a sterile abortion could not be found, Gullette’s mother was able to have a safe abortion in Manhattan. Her parents were poor and her father’s employment uncertain in those 1940s days, Gullette writes, and felt it would be unfair to add a third child to the already struggling family.

I want to add something–temporality–often forgotten or undervalued in the abortion rights debate, even by pro-choice people.

It is hard to define “life” but one thing we know is that it involves time passing. Life time. If a woman who mothers lives after delivery, she is dedicating some hefty chunk of her life time to being responsible for her child. Usually, two decades. The right to decide whether to proceed with a pregnancy takes into account, and must take into account, that irrevocable pledge of responsibility.

It trivializes this life-course decision-making to suggest my mother’s choice was made on the basis of “convenience.” She decided to make my father’s life easier, to devote her maternal attention to her existing children and to study to further her own and our family’s joint life chances.

Everything proved her decision a correct one. She earned a teaching degree, then went to Bank Street College of Education and earned a master’s degree, got tenure, became a wonderful and happy first-grade teacher and earned a good and secure salary that rose every year.

She and my father together moved us up some inches into the lower middle class so that I could get a good education.

In her 80s, when my mother told me about this episode in her life, it was clear that she had never had any regrets.

The Right-to-Lifers would have us believe that no woman should have the right to terminate a pregnancy, at any moment after conception occurs. That unwanted, possibly unloved and uncared for children must be brought into the world no matter what.

Suppose — just suppose — they were to quit shrieking about eliminating a woman’s right to control her own body, and focus instead on that irrevocable pledge of responsibility. What a gift to the children of the world — black, white, brown, whatever color — that would be.

My Mother’s Abortion Improved All of Our Lives | Womens eNews.

Greeting the new GRE revisions

It should be said up front that I never took the Graduate Record Exam. MFA programs are not, I think, noted for their insistence on past academic rigor; and in any event I was grateful for the University of San Francisco graduate school’s willingness to consider 45 years’ writing experience in lieu of my less than stellar undergraduate record. In the interest of higher education in general, though, I try to keep up with such things as this, just reported in the San Francisco Chronicle:

After two false starts, the Graduate Record Exam, the graduate school entrance test, will be revamped and slightly lengthened in 2011 and graded on a new scale of 130 to 170.

On the quantitative section, the biggest change will be the addition of an online calculator. The writing section will still have two parts, one asking for a logical analysis and the other seeking an expression of the student’s own views.

One has to worry about that online calculator. I did indeed study math about the time of the abacus, but what’s the matter with adding and subtracting in the head? Maybe they just mean that some mysterious online genie will immediately calculate results.  Still, I am heartened that expressions of students’ own views will be sought.

The Educational Testing Service, which administers the GRE, described its plans Friday at the annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools in San Francisco, calling the changes ‘the largest revisions’ in the history of the test.

Although the exam will still include sections on verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing, each section is being revised. The new verbal section, for example, will eliminate questions on antonyms and analogies. The section will focus more on reasoning than on individual words, all of which will be used in context.

Personally, I think I could shine on antonyms and analogies, not to mention individual words, and hate to see them go. But reasoning is good.

‘The biggest difference is that the prompts the students will receive will be more focused, meaning that our human raters will know unambiguously that the answer was written in response to the question, not memorized,’ said David Payne, who heads the GRE program for the testing service.

If one worries about online calculators, one can only rejoice over the presence of human raters. Best, however, that one who is possessed of a perfectly respectable BA in Art and a fairly impressive MFA in short fiction, stay away from the GRE altogether.

GRE undergoes major revisions, gets new scale.