Obama's Education Secretary: Not in Trump's 'Best Interest to Have a Well-Educated Citizenry'

Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaks

WASHINGTON – Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who served in the Obama administration, argued that the U.S. does not “value our kids the way other nations do” and that Americans “value our guns more than we value our children.”

Duncan named Australia, Canada, England and Japan as other countries that do not have the same level of gun violence when compared to the U.S.

“We don’t lack the intellect; we lack the political will and courage to keep our kids safe. In fact, we’ve now raised a generation of teens on mass shootings and gun violence,” Duncan, author of the new book How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success from One of the Nation's Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education, said on Thursday at the National Press Club.

“So, for me, the lie here is you’ll never find anyone who says we don’t value kids. Everyone says we value our kids, but I would argue we actually don’t and we allow them to die and we allow them to live with a level of trauma and fear and terror that doesn’t happen in other countries – that’s a choice that we, as Americans, tragically make,” added Duncan, whose wife is originally from Australia.

Duncan described his views on the federal government’s handling of gun control when he was the superintendent of Chicago Public Schools from 2001-2009.

“What I believed at that time – this is a tough thing to say – but it is what I believed, was that our country didn't care about black and brown kids and that nothing would change in terms of gun laws until white kids were killed,” Duncan said. “Then the Sandy Hook massacre happened and that was my worst day in D.C. by far. President Obama dealt with the hardest issues on the planet by definition – his worst day.”

Duncan talked about his outlook on gun policy when the Sandy Hook mass shooting occurred and how he felt when Congress did not pass federal gun legislation in the aftermath.

“The realization I came to then is it’s not that we just don’t value our black and brown kids – we don’t value any of our kids enough and, in fact, we value our guns more than we value our children,” he said.

Duncan argued that gun violence is a societal problem and not a school problem.

“Schools can and should take every protective measure, but schools aren’t the problem. Again, schools, for the vast majority of young people, it’s the safest place and the safest time they have during their day and this is on blocks, this is in homes, this is in neighborhoods across the country on a continual basis,” he said. “To act like somehow schools can solve this absent doing something about guns, we’re just being extraordinarily intellectually dishonest, I would argue, in an attempt just to sell more guns and manufacture more fear.”

He said more guns in the hands of teachers and administrators would not serve as a solution to gun violence.

“The answer is less guns and making sure the wrong people don’t have guns. The fact that we have more guns than human beings in our country is just – there’s an obsession there that we are paying a huge price for,” he said.

Duncan also criticized President Trump and his administration’s handling of education policy.

“We have a president who says, ‘Don't listen, don’t watch, don't pay attention to what you see out there. Listen to me, I'm your source of truth.' That's a very, very, very scary thing. It's one thing to disagree and disagree vehemently on policy,” he said. “It's a different thing to say that the press is the enemy of the people, and the only way that an authoritarian leader keeps his power is to have people who start to believe that, who are beholden to that leader. People who can think independently, people who are going to think critically are not going to embrace anybody, president or anyone, saying, 'I am the source of truth and there is no other one there.'”

Duncan argued that Trump does not value education and that there’s a lack of focus from the administration on raising high school graduation rates or leading the world in college completion.

“I would almost argue it's intentional. It's by design that they're not committed to having the best-educated citizenry in the world, and that's a scary thing," he said. "We need to have a civically engaged democracy and the only way I know how to do that is to have well-educated citizens. And I don't think it's in President Trump's best interest to have a well-educated citizenry.”

Duncan also said that many Americans often say they value education but almost no one votes based on education policy.

“It used to break my heart. You watch the presidential debates and I would be waiting and waiting and waiting and education never comes up. They just never talk about it, and it’s because we don’t vote on it. And for me that would be the game changer,” he said.

“If we actually voted for mayors and governors and congressmen and senators and a president who were serious about preschool education, who were serious about raising graduation rates, who were serious about lowering dropout rates, who were serious about making college more accessible and affordable, everything would change overnight,” he added. “We don’t do that.”