Arne Duncan: Good for Geography?

In January, President Obama appointed the young superintendent of Chicago Public Schools, Arne Duncan, to be the next United States Secretary of Education. (Well, I’d call him young; we are very nearly the same age and I’d feel pretty youthful to be heading the US educational system.) Although never a teacher, Duncan is an experienced administrator and he embodies Barack Obama’s educational goals. What does his appointment mean for Geography education?

First off, Duncan would not likely have gotten much geography in college at Harvard. While he made it to be co-captain of the varsity basketball team, his Ivy League alma mater doesn’t even field a geography department. In fact, of all the Ivys, today only Dartmouth retains a geography program. This is a terrible situation for the country, since many of the emerging leaders who graduate from these august institutions are underexposed to the spatial perspective and tools.

However, Secretary Duncan does have a lot of hard-won experience about the importance of “space and place,” as geographers say. His senior thesis was based on research conducted in the Chicago inner-city Kenwood neighborhood. After college, he lived abroad and played ball in Australia. And, as past CEO of Chicago’s Public Schools, Duncan has an acute understanding of the import of where schools are placed,  which communities they serve, and how geographic issues such as demographics, tax base, and racial distribution affect a school system.

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