Arne Duncan captains the anti-choice team

"Have you noticed how strikingly similar both the mindsets and actions between the suicide bombers at Kabul's airport, and the anti-mask and anti-vax people here?  They both blow themselves up, inflict harm on those around them, and are convinced they are fighting for freedom." 

This bizarre comparison did not emerge from an expert on Afghanistan, nor from an official at the Centers for Disease Control or National Institutes of Health.  The writer is former U.S. secretary of education Arne Duncan, who seems out of his element. 

Duncan's bio shows no degrees in public health, medicine, molecular biology, biochemistry, or anything else that would qualify him to pronounce on the pandemic with any authority.  In a similar style, Duncan's background shows no scholarship on Afghanistan, its various warring tribes, and the U.S. experience in that nation.  On the other hand, the reference to "fighting for freedom" invites a look at Duncan's actions while in office. 

At Harvard, Duncan wrote a thesis on "The values, aspirations and opportunities of the urban underclass," but he did not seek a career in sociology.  Duncan played professional basketball in Australia, and in 2001, Chicago mayor Richard Daley tapped the hoopster for Chicago schools boss.  In 2008, President Obama selected Duncan for his secretary of education. 

In Washington, D.C., the urban underclass, primarily African-American, must endure some of the most dysfunctional and dangerous schools in the nation.  The prestigious Sidwell Friends School, where President Obama sent his own children, is out of reach.  The best alternative is the D.C. Opportunity Scholarships Program, a school choice program run by Congress. 

Teacher unions and federal education bureaucrats oppose that choice program and all others.  The white Harvard alum Arne Duncan captained the anti-choice team.  As the Washington Post stated in a 2009 editorial, "Mr. Duncan decided — disappointingly to our mind — to rescind scholarships awarded to 216 families for this upcoming school year." 

Not content simply to oppose the school choice program, the privileged Duncan took away scholarships that had already been granted and, in effect, ejected black students from the schools they wanted to attend.  To adapt Duncan's own language, African-American parents may have noticed striking similarities between the education secretary and Southern segregation governors. 

In effect, Duncan stood in the schoolhouse doorway, blocking escape from dysfunctional schools and shutting down entrance to the schools they wanted.  As the Washington Post observed, "nine out of 10 students who were shut out of the scholarship program this year are assigned to attend failing public schools."

If any of the students and their parents thought that was racist, it would be hard to blame them, but Duncan remained on the job from 2009 to 2016.  For their part, parents across the country may have noticed other inequities inherent in the education system. 

Arne Duncan could have attended the University of Chicago, Illinois State, or DePaul University, but he chose Harvard.  In a similar style, veterans can take their G.I. Bill funding to UCLA, Brigham Young, or Texas A&M.  No such measure empowers K–12 students to choose the schools they wish to attend. 

Arne Duncan's comparison of suicide bombers with anti-vax protesters sounds like something one would hear in a bar.  Duncan's career, on the other hand, highlights a longstanding injustice. 

The government K–12 system is a vast collective farm of mediocrity and failure.  The education establishment now seeks to inflict noxious propaganda such as Critical Race Theory.  If students seek to escape, their education dollars remain with a failed and reactionary system. 

In 2021, no Democrat or Republican seems willing to side with parents as they fight for the freedom to choose the schools their children attend, as a matter of basic civil rights.  As they say in sports, somebody needs to step up.

Lloyd Billingsley is a policy fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif.

Image: Ralph Alswang.

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