U.S. Secretary of Education: Education Is 'The Civil Rights Issue Of Our Generation'

January 17, 2011 - 3:03 PM

(CNSNews.com) - In a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day address, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said education is “the civil rights issue of our generation” and the “only way” for young people to pursue the American dream.

“I’m just convinced education is the civil rights issue of our generation and we have a lot of hard work ahead of us. If we want our young people to have a chance to enter the mainstream of society and pursue the American dream, they can only do that through education,” he said at National Action Network’s Martin Luther King, Jr. day prayer breakfast, hosted by the group’s founder, Rev. Al Sharpton.

Duncan continued, “We all know the stats, we all know the numbers; I don’t have to go through those. But I just want to take a moment to talk about why I’m hopeful because for all the challenges we faced, we have the solutions here and the President has drawn a line in the sand. He said by 2020 we have to again lead the world in college graduates. We are not going to get there unless many more young people of color are part of the solution unless, until we’re giving them those kinds of opportunities there’s no way to hit the President’s goal.”

Duncan, the keynote speaker at the prayer breakfast, called the drop out rate in the United States “morally unacceptable.”

“We're not anywhere near where we need to be. We have a 25 percent drop out rate in this county,” he told the audience.

“That’s one million young people leaving our schools for our streets every single year. That is economically unsustainable and it’s morally unacceptable.”

Duncan argues that adults are a large part of public education’s problems.

Arne Duncan

Education Secretary Arne Duncan (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

“We’ve had what I call adult dysfunction – labor, management, boards, fighting, transcendence, not doing the right thing by children. Constant turnover, constant bickering, no one happy,” he said.

“We have set of districts now around the country that are breaking through; folks working together in very different ways – Baltimore, New Haven, Tampa, Florida – around the country break through contracts where folks are doing some things very differently where the focus isn’t on the adults but the focus is on student achievement.”