The man sitting next to President Obama is our new Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Wednesday night he spent an hour with Charlie Rose. I've inserted some excerpts below; you can watch the whole hour here. Chuck Todd has summarized the interview as well, here. If you have time though, I recommend that you watch one or the other; this is not a usual man.
Maybe this position is one that allows for more exceptionally unambiguous appointments by Democrats; Secretary Richard Riley, who served President Clinton, was also extraordinary. Named by TIME Magazine as one of the ten top cabinet members of all time, he presided, along with the unstoppable Linda Roberts, over the Internet wiring of all our schools. He also worked to build up early childhood education, community colleges, parent engagement,higher standards and much more. So I admit from the get-go that I have a soft spot for this kind of education leader. Even among such excellence though I suspect this man is going to raise the bar even higher. Watch this.
See what I mean? What impresses me is not only the exceptional story of growing up in the home of a mother who ran an inner-city tutoring program; of seeing for himself what a decent education, which he calls a matter of social justice, can enable. Not only listening to him describe the educated friends from the program who "made it" and those who didn't learn - and "died." Literally.
It's his vision of serious ways to meet the obligation we have to our kids - and our economy. His belief in the school as a potential center of the community, as a resource, run, perhaps, by the school during school hours and the Y or Boys and Girls Clubs afterward, remaining open late into the evening, six or seven days a week. Recession, depression or apocalypse, we aren't going to have a very attractive 21st Century if we don't return our schools to their role as engines in the production of innovative Americans who keep us economically and creatively at the vanguard. So even if we can look away from the substandard schools, the ridiculously high drop-out rates and the lousy physical plants as someone else's kid's problem, the loss of those kids hurts us all. It's a national security issue.