An Open Letter from Secretary Arne Duncan and Karen Duncan to Their Children

Cross-posted from

September 2011

Dear Claire and Ryan,

We always enjoy the joy and excitement you show when you go back to school. It’s comforting for us to know that you love learning and go to a great public school that challenges and supports you.

Now that you’ve been back in class for more than a week, we’re so happy that you’ve settled in and are enjoying school. Our hope for you this year is that you will be challenged academically. You have some terrific teachers to support you. We want your love of literature to grow, and we’ll do our part by reading to you every night. We hope you will develop critical thinking skills in math, and we promise to help you when you’re struggling and celebrate when you’re succeeding. We would like to see you engaged in learning science, civics, and history, and we will continue to explore the natural world at nature centers, museums, and many of the other great resources in the Washington area.

We also want you to enjoy so many other enriching experiences that are so important to a complete education. We know you have great music, art, and physical education teachers at your school, and we believe that these subjects are essential for a well-rounded curriculum. And so is recess. We want you to have fun!

Because we believe that learning happens outside of the classroom, we would encourage you to seek out opportunities for leadership and service. As a family, we’ve all enjoyed service events like building playgrounds and painting murals in local schools. We hope you’ll do service activities with your classmates and strive to be leaders in the student government and other activities at school.

We are proud of you and excited for you. We have dedicated our lives to learning and to helping others receive a great education. Our greatest hope is that you’ll go back to school every fall excited and ready to learn.


Mom & Dad


  1. Learning is something that should be enjoyed. I guess with Montessori methods, i am sure that not only children but adults and parents will surely appreciate what these methods could do for their children.

  2. We have forgotten that 70%+ of the increases in the cost of education over the years can be directly attributed to No Child Left Behind by requiring individual aides for each limited student in mainstream classrooms (in each school), special buses going from and to individual locations, “time out” rooms in each elementary school for children who suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome from which there is no “cure” and other “melt down” behaviors, etc. Not only did these problems disrupt instruction, but took up valuable real estate within already crowded schools. On top of this, standardized tests held teachers and schools accountable for which they had little to no control as it included students who cannot nor will never be able to perform at an average grade level. By “dumbing down” the curriculum, the capable and talented students often “drop out” both figuratively and literally, as schools have become uninteresting nor challenging. On top of that, there is a huge loss of teachers after just a few years who seek other employment. These functions were better left to special schools where the instructional and support talent could be focused at one or two locations; where special programs were developed to ensure that many of these kids could become productive adults capable of working and earning a living in mainstream society.
    NCLB was certainly a noble experiment and there have been some very positive outcomes from this program, but at what cost to the majority and at what cost to our Country in our competitive edge in a global economy?

  3. What a wonderful letter!

    This encapsulation of the hopes of two parents for a rich educational experience for their children should be the guiding path for all schools and the children they serve.

    Forget the mountains of paper and obtuse, over-lawyered legislation.

    This is the way to go!

    Thanks, Duncans!

  4. I am myself 49 and attended formal education in the 1980’s basically with online exposure more lately.

    I used to listen to “A Night with the Schools” on WBBM one Tuesday each month if I remember correctly.

    Three comments:

    (1) I wish high schools or secondary schools required more “Personal Finance” or “Economic” classes. I believe Health is number one, but number two is the ability to have a job and pay your bills. I recently told a young a adult about buying “CD’s” to have a series of money available to keep the commonly known requirement of “three to six months” of income available by rotating CD by their maturity length so they are constantly maturing to keep your immediate savings available for the necessary rule-of-thumb of three to six months. This young adult maybe 25 or 35 thought that a “CD” was for music only. The idea that I was buying a one thousand dollar CD meant I was frivolous with my money did not cause her to realize that I meant another type of CD as in a bank’s certificate of deposit. I really think that personal finance is important for both people not going on to college and people who go to college and are away from their parents for the first time. Also, I really wish somebody would really work on putting “global economics” into pictures, diagrams, and computer models. There are so many factors involved and I wish that somebody would put more time into better communicating these relationships to the everyday common person. I think maybe more people would save money if they felt like they understood better they would not get scammed more and maybe spend more time saving. I think other countries are much better at saving and see that as a good value to have.

    (2) I wish their was more emphasis placed on learning “GOOD MANNERS” instead of trying to get into everyone’s head as in “ology” courses as in Sociology, Anthropology, or Psychology. I think the idea was originally to avoid “stereotypes” or to see people as individuals. Not being a professional in any “ology” field, I just have my personal opinion. I think almost my generation went backwards trying to learn every culture or every country. I know someone who prides themselves on being able to say “Hello” in a large amount of languages. I recently learned that this can make someone feel “odd” or “different”. Instead of making them feel like they are the same–you are pointing out their differences immediately by how you greet them. I recently read “Business Etiquette For Dummies” which was great for me. I think every unemployed person should read this book. This is an upbeat or “feel good” book which gives you back your self-esteem and maybe can get through that interview. I really believe that GOOD MANNERS are more important than a background in “ology” courses. Seeing people as the same is more important than noticing everyone’s differences. (Just a comment to someone who has regrets.)

    (3) Also, I really believe that HEALTH is the number one goal. The number two goal is to have a job so you can pay your bills in order to eat and keep warm. However, health being number one. I wish there was more basic courses in “preventative health”. I love online courses through Ed2Go being an older person. Online courses are so convenient–you don’t stay up late which conflicts with work the next day and also you can e-mail or post your own questions. The diagrams and drawings are wonderful with online courses. I also took a course about phonetics which you clicked on and could heard the words or sounds. I guess I really believe the average typical person needs some type of knowledge of “anatamy & physiology” or the “brain”. I keep hearing about this push to the space stations where I wish people were healthier. Maybe in terms of the large US debt, maybe these entitlement programs could be cut back if more people were into preventative medicine opposed to more technical fields. If more people were healthier, maybe social security and medicare could be cut back. Just a note, I heard to beat Alzheimer’s you should study a foreign language which could create new paths through your brain. Learning is really a life-time thing in order to keep from being isolated or to keep your brain circulating and growing.

    God Bless the US Department of Education with Mr. Arne Duncan and your team!!!

    **I know these are my comments not being a parent or educator. I really have always enjoyed going to school and learning new things. I once had a big boss who told us that “WE ARE ALL PROBLEM SOLVERS”. This is what everyone does we just solve every problem differently through our training or experiences. Almost like if you have one major you solve it one way (electrical engineer) would put a listening device and maybe read your mind where someone with another major (counseling) would sit with you every week. However it might be the same problem they are both trying to solve.

  5. What nonsense! Doesn’t Mr. Duncan realize that his fixation with standardized test scores and making schools COMPETE for funds through Race for the Top are the best ways to prevent the well-rounded education he says he wants for his children?

    In case it comes up on a test, this letter perfectly fits the definition of “irony.”

  6. Please tell us about your children’s earliest experiences in school. Did they have the opportunity to attend any Montessori Early Learning classrooms?
    (Sometimes classrooms feature “Montessori like” methods and work without the populace knowing.)

    An effort needs to be made to educate people about this wonderful way to instill a joy of learning. Once aware of the Montessori methods parents would clamor for the choice of having them for their children in every school district.

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