Everyone seems to agree that US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is a
nice guy who cares a lot about kids. The question up for debate is: Is he a Meddler? You know, a budinski—prone to sticking one’s nose in other people’s business, where it “doesn’t belong.” As someone who worked very closely with him for eight years in the Chicago Public Schools, I can say unequivocally—beyond a shadow of a doubt—that Arne Duncan is a Meddler. I was the main CPS spokesperson during the eight years Arne served as CEO. And during that time, I got a lot of media calls at all hours of the day and night about kids being shot. These weren’t school shootings. They were gang-related shootings that happened away from schools but involved school-aged kids. Reporters would call me and want to know a little bit about the victim—what school he attended, what kind of a kid he was. Most places would’ve left that alone. It’s a police matter. Let them handle it. That’s certainly what the Chicago Police Department wanted. They didn’t like the fact that we talked about the victims—many of who were in gangs—as students. They wanted (somewhat understandably) the headline to be: Gang Member Went Looking for Trouble, and Found It. Not only did we talk about them as students, we kept track of how many of our students were being shot. And we shared that with the media, too, when they asked. That’s certainly not what the Chicago Police Department wanted. Fair to say they considered us to be—ahem—meddling. And a contingent of Chicago’s Finest was soon on its way to 125 S. Clark St. to make sure we knew how they felt. I’m not sure what it looks like in Washington when you face the meddling music, but that day it looked like eight scowling members of the Chicago Police Department’s top brass—showing lots of brass…and other metals—marching into Arne’s conference room. On the other side of the table were Arne and I—all manila folders and paisley ties. Our only metal was the pennies in our loafers. They had lots to say about gangs…and truancy…and juveniles. They used that word, “juveniles,” a lot. They told us they would appreciate it if we started using it, if we were still going to continue to meddle and talk about trouble-makers getting shot. Arne never flinched. These are our kids. What’s happening to them is real. They’re troubled, and we need to help them. We need to take responsibility for this as a city. We’re going to keep talking about it. I never stood so tall in my loafers as I did walking out of that meeting behind Arne. He was meddling on behalf of kids who need more people on their side. Still is. The Right doesn’t like it because, well, they are adamantly opposed to government meddling…oh, except when it comes to
women’s rights….you know, the little stuff. The unions don’t like it because it threatens their stronghold over choice and school and teacher accountability, or lack thereof. I don’t agree with Arne on everything, but I’m extremely proud to have worked with him. I love and admire the fact that he’ll challenge the power structure to fight hard for kids who have been neglected by the power structure for far too long—that he has the strength of character to be a meddler. There oughta be a medal.
Michael Vaughn is Education Post's Director of Communications. This post originally appeared on his blog Great Equalizer.
Michael Vaughn was the founding Communications Director of Education Post. Prior to that, Mike worked for 18 years in the communications offices of two urban school districts. He served in a variety of communications roles for the Chicago Public Schools starting in 1996, shortly after Mayor Richard M. Daley took control of CPS, and eventually served as the district's Communications Director until ...