Duncan started as the tutor’s kid

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.

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  1. Margo/Mom says:

    Sometimes I wonder if the “you haven’t taught in a classroom” issue isn’t something of a red herring. I heard many variations of it from “you haven’t taught in a classroom,” to “you’ve never been in MY classroom,” to “you just don’t know OUR kids.”

    What this frequently comes down to is a way to dismiss the experience of anyone who disagrees (as if all classroom teachers agree with one another). I could throw out a few of my own, such as “you’ve never lived in this neighborhood,” or “you’ve never been here after dark,” or “you’ve never been inside the homes of most of your students,” or “you’ve never had to get your kids to daycare on the bus before you go to work in the morning.”

    The reality is that citing my hours of classroom time has never convinced anyone that they should agree with me–particularly about the things that I have concluded based on my experiences OUTSIDE the classroom. I still have a wait and see attitude about Arne Duncan. But it isn’t based on my perception that his experiences are not valid.

  2. I’m reading some fairly negative things about Duncan — none of them mention his status as a non-teacher. I’m not sure why media outlets aren’t looking at his actual record with the Chicago schools instead of focusing on trivial information.

  3. There are many times people believe that kids are exceptional. They are; if they are placed into the right environment. Well any environment you put a child in they will automatically act accordingly. They are children and at a tender age they grasps, and retain the most. If they have conscious guides to groom them ialong the way through to adulthood, they will become exceptional people. Duncan’s cases is very similar so it is nothing to really marvel about but to encourage in every child.