What do you say to the new U.S. education secretary — a bona fide basketball star — after you’ve just learned he’s decided to send his children to your school district, the Arlington (Va.) Public Schools?
Well, naturally, you invite him to the venerable and long-running Wednesday night “fathers, friends, and hangers-on” pickup basketball games at your daughter’s elementary school.
What do you say if you’re the new U.S. education secretary and a former co-captain of Harvard’s basketball team, who’s accustomed to playing ball with the president, and you’ve just been asked to play in a pint-sized elementary school gym with a host of (can’t really call them “weekend,” — let’s say “Wednesday night”) athletes in various sizes and shades of in- and out-of shape-ness?
“Well, I, ah, haven’t really thought that part out yet,” the Secretary graciously said.
Last week, I talked about my recent interview with Arne Duncan, which will appear in the April issue of ASBJ. Most of the interview concerned education policy and the stimulus package. This week I wanted to add something about why Duncan chose the Arlington Public Schools, which won’t make it into the magazine.
“My family’s obviously sacrificing a lot for me to do this work, and it’s so critical that we find great schools,” he said. “There are great schools here [in Duncan's Chicago neighborhood] and it’s also important for me that the schools be diverse. We come from a very diverse community — Hyde Park- – on the south side of Chicago. And that’s just extraordinarily important that my children continue to grow up in that type of environment. And what we found here [in Arlington] was that combination of both real academic rigor and diversity.”
I asked him what it was like playing basketball with the president.
“Barack is a lot of fun,” Duncan said. “We have a real good camaraderie. Everybody’s been working so hard, [but] we’re going to try to figure out a way to keep that going…..He’s a really good player. He’s smart. He’s fun to play with. Not surprisingly, he’s very cerebral; he understands the game. And we all want to have some fun, and have some stress relief, and keep that camaraderie going.”
We’re a lot of fun. We’ve got good camaraderie. And we’re cerebral. (I guess.) So come on over, Mr. Secretary. You can be on my team.
Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor