Prospective Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s education career started in infancy: His mother Sue took him along as she tutored poor black children in churches on the South Side of Chicago. Sue Duncan began teaching a summer Bible study class in 1961.
“We had one Bible, and I thought we could each read a few sentences and pass the Bible around the circle. And I discovered not one of the children could read,” Sue Duncan said.
The tutoring program was born, held in neighborhood churches and attended by kids who heard about it through word-of-mouth.
When her children were born, she brought the babies along. As they grew older, they became tutors.
“When you learned how to read, it was, take these 2- and 3-year-olds, and read them this book. At 7, you’re teaching kids phonics; at 8, math. At 12, you’re running the gym for 5- and 6-year-olds,” said Sarah Duncan, Arne’s younger sister.
A student at the private University of Chicago Lab School, Duncan learned to play basketball in the church gym, going on to co-captain the Harvard team. He worked for a year in his mother’s tutoring center and wrote his senior thesis, “The Values, Aspirations and Opportunities of the Urban Underclass,” on it.
After a brief career as a professional basketball player in Australia, Duncan ran an old friend’s educational foundation in Chicago, helping to open a school. He was hired to run magnet schools for the Chicago school district; in 2001, he became superintendent.
Teachers don’t like superintendents (or Education secretaries) who’ve never worked as teachers. But you can’t say Duncan has been isolated from the challenges of helping kids learn.
Here’s the C-Span video on Duncan’s testimony before Congress.