President Obama and I believe that education is the civil rights issue of our generation. It is the one factor that can prevent a person’s zip code from determining his or her destiny. During Black History Month, it’s important to reflect on where we must go as a nation to ensure that all children, regardless of race or ethnicity, are given the world-class education they deserve.
Yesterday at Morehouse College in Atlanta, I shared a stage with some great leaders who reminded me that the struggle for education has always been a matter of civil rights and that now more than ever it is imperative that we work to ensure all children have access to an excellent education. I joined Congressman John Lewis, director Spike Lee, Morehouse President Dr. Robert Franklin, and MSNBC’s Jeff Johnson as we spoke to a crowd of nearly 800 young men – both high school and college students – who are deciding their career trajectory. All of us onstage encouraged these high-achieving men to answer the call to serve their country in the classroom.
The statistics paint a clear picture of where we need to go. Nearly 35% of our students in this country are Black or Hispanic, but less than 2% of our nation’s teachers are Black or Hispanic men. We need to change this so the teachers in our schools reflect the diversity of the students that they teach. It is for this reason, and because we must ensure that we have a new generation of great teachers, that the U.S. Department of Education launched the TEACH campaign this past September. The mission of TEACH is to increase the number, quality, and diversity of teachers in the classroom as we see the baby boomers retiring over the next ten years.
Morehouse College was the most appropriate place for our discussion. A century-old institution dedicated to the education of Black men, the College has an amazing history of producing civil rights leaders who became change agents for our country. The passion in the air was palpable as students shared their dreams for their future careers. I was inspired by the stories of several young men who are choosing to become teachers so that they can fill what they feel is a void of male role models in schools. Dr. Franklin reminded us of the words of perhaps the most famous Morehouse alumnus, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, “We can all be great, because we can all serve.”
Dr. Franklin urged the students of Morehouse College, and to young African-American men everywhere, to answer the call to serve by being a teacher. After yesterday, I’m hopeful that many of them will answer that call.
For more information on teaching, and how you can start your pathway to the classroom, visit www.teach.gov.
Arne Duncan is the Secretary of Education