CHICAGO — Amid a national conversation about shootings in schools and in the streets, former education secretary Arne Duncan is backing an unconventional way for parents to keep their kids safe: keep them home from school.
“This is not looking for a cure for cancer, this is not intellectually difficult, this is simply a lack of political will and courage,” Duncan said.
As a managing partner at Emerson Collective, president Obama’s former education secretary is now setting his sights on curtailing gun violence in Chicago. While his entire career has been based on books, he nevertheless is calling on students to boycott class from coast to coast around Labor Day.
“For me, it is candidly counterintuitive to say, ‘maybe kids shouldn’t go to school,’ but what we’re really trying to do is establish a creative tension that hasn’t existed in our nation yet,” Duncan said. “We could make up for a couple of lost days of learning, but you can’t make up for lost lives.”
Duncan said living through the attack on Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, where a total of 26 children and teachers were shot and killed, changed both himself and President Barack Obama forever.
“My worst day in D.C., President Obama’s worst day in D.C., was the day of the Sandy Hook massacre,” Duncan recalls. “The fact that we got nothing done, zero done in terms of common sense gun legislation, I would argue, is our biggest failure.”
Happening in movie theaters, at baseball games, and in concerts, mass shootings are a societal issue unique to the U.S., Duncan said.
“Gun violence is a ‘Made in America’ problem,” Duncan said. “We have a staggering amount of gun violence that just doesn’t happen anywhere else.”
Over the last nine years, Duncan claims there have been 288 school shootings in the U.S. The next highest country on the map is Mexico with eight.
“I think we value our guns more than we (the U.S.) value our children,” Duncan said.
The school boycott is meant to get the attention of lawmakers and candidates running for office this fall. Duncan, with the help of vocal teens like those who spoke out in Parkland, FL, will work on getting the more than four million Americans turning 18 this year registered to vote. They will do it this summer, and while they cut class this fall.
“These young teens are giving me more hope than I’ve had in a long long time,” Duncan said.
Historically, teens have been the voice of challenge during the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war. Why not during the great gun debate?
Duncan says simple background checks and making ‘weapons of war’ unavailable for purchase on the street is critical. The 2016 book “Rampage Nation” says when President Bill Clinton banned assault weapons from 1994-2004, homicides dropped by 37 percent. While critics dispute the accuracy of that statistic, Duncan does not.
In the 10 years leading up to the ban, the book’s author says you could count 155 homicides, then 89 homicides during the ban (1994-2004) and 10 years after the ban expired, it’s up to over 300.
“It’s trying to wake up the nation to say, ‘This is enough. This is enough. We have to do something different,” Duncan said. “The young people are going to win. You mark my word. The young people are going to win.”
This week, student activists with March for our Lives announced a two-month, 20-state anti-violence bus tour, which will launch at St. Sabina on June 15. Over 5,000 people are expected, including Parkland High School shooting survivors.