Secretary Calls Black Men to the Blackboard

Panelists at the Jan. 31 event included Morehouse President Dr. Robert Franklin; distinguished educators from the Atlanta area, Christopher Watson and Derrick Dalton; filmmaker and Morehouse alumnus Spike Lee; and Georgia Congressman John Lewis.

ATLANTA—On Monday, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan renewed his call for more black men to pick up the chalk and teach.

Joined by filmmaker Spike Lee, Duncan issued the invitation during a town hall meeting and panel discussion hosted by Morehouse College and moderated by MSNBC contributor Jeff Johnson. The event was part of the Department of Education’s TEACH campaign, designed to raise awareness of the teaching profession and get a new generation of teachers to join the ones who are already making a difference in the classroom.

One Morehouse student spoke about the importance of African American students seeing caring, responsible and honest black men in positions of authority, because it helps them to recognize what is possible. The student argued that right now not enough of these positive images are visible to today’s youth.

During the town hall, Duncan stressed that the need for black male teachers is the greatest in elementary and middle schools. Panelists echoed this sentiment, many recalling that they did not encounter a black male teacher until late in high school or college.

Spike Lee represents the third generation in his family that attended Morehouse. Lee has been a strong advocate for black men entering the teaching profession.

An overarching theme of the town hall was the importance of education as a civil right. Georgia Congressman John Lewis remarked on the apt timing of the town hall, taking place on the cusp of Black History Month. He recalled that for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and others at the center of America’s struggle for civil rights, education was paramount.  He also recounted the many ways in which Dr. King served as a teacher for those around him.

Morehouse student Anthony Gayles affirmed the importance of education in the struggle for civil rights, saying, “Education is the greatest equalizer…if we are successful in extending quality education to every citizen, there will be no more excuses. No one will be able to say that I didn’t get a chance.”

Gayles and Morehouse student Carlton Collins started the Morehouse Education Association, an organization on campus dedicated to steering new graduates into careers in education.

On a personal note, this was my first visit to Morehouse College—the only all-male historically black college in the country—and I cannot overstate how impressed I was with the students there. Sitting on the campus that produced Dr. King, I couldn’t help but look at this group of smartly dressed, articulate black men and think, “Look how far we have come.” Still, faced with the startling fact that black males represent 6 percent of the U.S. population yet 35 percent of the prison population and less than 2 percent of teachers, I can’t help but think, “How far we have to go.”

If the young men who attended Monday’s town hall are any indication, all of America has reason to be hopeful.

More Photos

Jemal Graham ,Teaching Ambassador Fellow

Jemal Graham is a Classroom Teaching Ambassador Fellow who teaches math in Brooklyn, N.Y. View video of Jemal speaking about the importance of teaching.

View video of Secretary Duncan’s speech at historically black Xavier University, where he launched the TEACH campaign.

Read Arne Duncan’s “Call to Service” lecture at Harvard University.


  1. To Frank:
    Texas took the ’08 education stimulus money, gave all teachers a $800 raise, then passed a law prohibiting teacher’s pay cut, therefore now that the stimulus money is gone the ISDs are in a deep budget shortfall. For example Dallas, you can easily search for “DISD budget cuts” and find information like the following: “District planners said 3,100 of the job cuts…3,000 would be teachers.”
    There are teachers, of all colors, looking for work. Again, the call should be for “jobs, jobs, jobs”

  2. As many of us are conscious of the problems that are encompassed in education and are adamant about establishing solutions to fix them. I concede that the foundation of the problem is not at the institution but at home, the community and society. We live in a very different cultural where obtaining a level or degree of success is frowned upon and so our youth tend to circumvent education. Yes, it is imperative that more black men teach but it is equally imperative that teachers are paid their worth because it is unjust and irrational to pay an athlete millions of dollars but barely pay a teacher 35,000 dollars so as you can see,until we can get this element right, there will remain a shortage of bright teachers that can truly effect change in a very ardent way.

    As a black intellectual, I understand the need for education; more importantly, I realize that our young people are more underprepared now than ever for undertaking of undergraduate work and certainly a torch needs to be ignited and a movement desperately needs to transpire but as long as we don’t begin to attempt to constitute a national campaign urging parents, preachers, business leaders and others like such to vehemently seek to create real change, students will remain unsuccessful no matter how much money you pour into the system.

  3. I am a student at Morehouse College, the institution honored to have Secretary Duncan and the Department of Education come visit right after the call to action by President Barack Obama. I am deeply humbled by the situation with an understanding that this moment in history can change the shape of American education for generations to come. I am co-founder of Morehouse Education Association, a student-led organization that works on placing more African-American men in classrooms across the country. This forum was one that emboldened our passion and strengthened our mission to have more of my brothers choosing to enrich children’s lives by teaching. The largest dilemma with this process is the absence of an education program at Morehouse, as we take our coursework at nearby Spelman College. If we can use the momentum from this event, that could changed in a blink of an eye. Education at Morehouse College has taken a backseat to the lucrative route of business, diplomacy in law, and the ailing STEM areas throughout the country. We need the Department of Education, and all its willing partners, to assist Morehouse in fulfilling their pledge to create 80,000 new African-American male teachers by 2015.

    For all comments prior about the current state of African-American educators, I implore you to research the abysmal graduate rates of African-American boys from K-12 (currently at 47%). The paucity of African-American men that are graduating from institutions of higher education are of epidemic proportion. Many African-American men also carry burden of familial responsibility, an aspect not often discussed. We enter the collegiate ranks with family members, nuclear and extended, all depending on our success. With this added pressure the salary of an educator is not always viewed as the most satiable. I have questioned my own role as a future educator because I have the pleasure of being a young father myself. Withstanding, I have been given the blessed assurance that education is my reason for living, that change must occur for the futures of so many children not yet born. For this reason, I am an apostle spreading the gospel of an equitable, empowering education for every student in America.

    Ladies and gentlemen, we have a tall task on our midst and millions of lives gently positioned in our capable hands. We have to remove the veil of educational prejudice and begin creating effective citizens for the future of this country. I believe that we can make it through this tumultuous time if we find way to band together in the most important fight for generations; shaping the future. If we want to ensure that America is the best country in America, we have to build it. One good teacher at a time.

    If you are trying to contact about Morehouse Education Association send all inquiries to

  4. Once again, the law is very clear as to what you MUST be certified to teach.
    To David:

    If you have a BA in Bus. Adm with a Master’s in CJ, then it all depends on what subject you are QUALIFIED to teach. I am not following the logic that just because you have those degrees you should be inserted into a classroom with the most vulnerable populations who have every right to be taught by someone that’s certified in a subject matter. Would you want your own child to be taught by someone that was not qualified? Would you want an airline pilot to be flying a plane if he/she was not certified in all of the relevant areas? This is a topic that does not warrant further discussion because we have to stop believing that just because they secretatry is calling for Black men to be teachers, he’s calling for NONQUALIFIED Black men to be teachers. You are misconstruing his words if you believe that.

    If you want to be a mentor in the schools, you would have to approach the principal or other school administrator and discuss a course of action (what exactly are you offering?) Then he/she would then make a decision. However, if you would like to teach (which is the main point of Mr. Duncan), then you would need to be certified in a specific subject area. Each state has different rules but they are generally the same. For example:

    1. Have a college degree
    2. Be fingerprinted
    3. Take a course in child abuse and school violence
    4. Practicum (which is like an internship within a school)
    5. Have a teacher education institution SPONSOR you to be certified.

    The bottom line is there are rules to this, but unfortunately many of these comments are obfuscated by emotions, which leaves a marginal room for any intellectual discourse. While I believe that urban areas need teachers, as an educator for over ten years, I am reluctant to just have any Joe Schmo come in and teach. Why? Our urban children deserve well qualified individuals (as defined by their state laws of teacher qualifications) to guide them towards the 21st century. So, I really challenge you to look at your state law of teacher qualifications, and then take it from there. Based on what you have written above, I seriously doubt that you have done your homework as indicated by your knee jerk reaction to this calling. Again, if you want to be a mentor in schools, that’s a separate decision that rests with the school administrator. If you would like to be a certified teacher in a school (I propose an urban one), then I strongly suggest that you explore areas as Special Education. However, please keep in mind that unless you teach in a parochial school, you are MOST LIKELY going need certification. Don’t also forget that in some states, it is even against the law for a principal to interview you, if you are not certified.


  5. Dear Mr. Secretary,

    Why can’t Black Men that have a degree in their field of study be certified as a teacher without going through the hoops all over again.Sir. Isn’t the key to this course is to place them in the education system, even if its just being seen in the hallways and throughout the schools to help provide guidance and leadership” The key word’ Making A Difference. Each One Reach One’

  6. I am open to becoming a class room leader as well as teacher, all my life I have walk the walk and talk the talk, but every time I get close to seeking a position in the education system I am look over-by some of the following comments such as thank you for applying for the following position, I am located in a city where I have applied for over 20-30 jobs in different area in the education field which I know I am strongly qualified, I have a Bachelors Degree in Business Administration and I am finishing up my degree in Criminal Justice, hoping to start-up my own Youth Homeland Security School; after I graduate this June. It is truly amazing that an individual with my education background, is always look over. There’s much more, but I wish to inform all Black Men out there’ Each One Can Teach One In Order To Reach One Another! Standing is not the problem’ its not wanting to fall for anything- but reaching for that which drives you inside without losing one focus to help lead our young black males. Black Men wake-up, it is not just guns that’s killing us’ its words from our mouths against one another that’s what’s killing us, and stopping us from joining together.

  7. I believe that I do not have to postulate alarming statistics and historical references to alert all of you about the sad state of racial relations in America. While we could debate tirelessly about institutionalized racism, there’s at least an attempt by Mr. Duncan to bring our attention to an issue that we all very well know but have not been provided the forum to THOUGHTFULLY and TACTFULLY discuss these concerns. Black people wake up! our young Black men are killing each other because they have NO ROLE MODELS!! Yet, when there’s a calling for us to step up to the plate, we get into these philisophical diatribes that often leaves us righte where we started. As an educator in urban areas for 14 years, I have seen what happens when a man is not in a household, corection, A BLACK HOUSEHOLD. Again, I do not have to state the many facts that we see when there are no Black role models in some of these schools. Let’s face it, MOST Black men do not venture into teaching because to deal with our own children is a CALLING, an dthe other side is to deal with the parents of the students. that requires patience, fortitude and the temerity to sometimes stand up and go against conventional wisdom in urban areas (i.e. intellectuallism is equated as acting white).

    To Dr. DaSilva:

    Sorry that you had gone through this experience but please realize that there are certain areas that you had failed to mention in your attack at the certification process. As you should know, public education and those who operate within it is a state issue (9th and 10th Amendment). Thus the certification process exists for legal reasons, and to ensure that professionals are HIGHLY QUALIFIED to teach a specific subject. This mandated by NCLB, but the LEA (Local Education Agency) could have placed you under HOUSSE (Highly Objective State Staandards of Evaluation) to determine if you could have beenplaced on track to become certified. In addition Title II allows schools to utilze said funds to place teachers to become certified; while I do not know the specifics of your case, there were many options that the school/district could have chosen, but I guess the applicant pool must have been large? Remember that having a doctorate means that you have fulfilled the academic requirements to have such a degree; it does not necessarily mean that you have done the necessary academic training to teach at the K-12 level. We are truly talking appleas and oranges here. In addition, please keep in mind that at the K-12 level, delivering lessons via lectures are deemed as counterproductive, but at the graduate level, what I have also noticed is that instruction is mostly done via an instructor centered format (or what I call the sage on stage effect). At the K-12 level, it is more student centered where the teacher facilitates learning and utilizes different strategies (Accountable Talk, Differentiated Instruction, Backward Design, etc.) to illicit information from the students. You probably know all of this but I get a chuckle when those in higher ed automatically assume that a PhD is
    a waiver to teach in K-12 system. That would be like me stating that because I have a driver’s license to drive a passenger car, that should automatically make me qualified to drive a tractor trailer. Of course you cold see the flaw in the aforementioned logic. I adivse you to look at the criteria at your state to be certified and see if anyone could evaluate your tracnscripts to see exactly what you need to do to become ccertified to teach (remember that you might have to do an internship where a principal will have to observe you teach a class-keep an open mind because you would be surprised how much of a different world teaching at the K-12 level could be). In addition, a college would have to sponsor your certification process; so I would once again suggest that you do your homework before you dive in otherwise you will be snared by the 12 legged monster we call bureaucracy in my world.

    To Howard:

    I am surprised that you can’t find a job because most schools are BEGGING for science/math teachers because they are hard to come by and these are subject areas that are deemed as crucial for any school to make AYP (Adequate yearly progress-this is an accountability tool used by the government to track how a school is making its student population proficient in certain subject areas). Science and Math are very crucial. My advice is to see if you could broaden your scope of search and look ALL OVER Texas, not just the north? Will you be willing to relocate (Dallas, Austin, etc.) These big cities usually have a large urban population and your services might be needed; then again, you will have to determine if the cost of living might make senes if juxtaposed with your take home pay. At the end you know best!

    To all of my colleagues who have decided to take up on Mr. Duncan’s challenge, I applaud you for your efforts because we all must start to take responsibility for the future of our young Black men. If you can’t do it in education, do it through a mentoring program, organize a little league, read to a group of Head Start students, etc. The options are endless; do not let the naysayers get to you because all they see are obstacles and as far as you are concerned; you only see obstacles once you take your eyess off the goal. I rest….


  8. Yes, a moving, valid and timely “call for teachers” especially black and especially male. I agree, yet from my “white male” perspective, as a science/math teacher trying to find employment, the current problem, at least in this rural north Texas area, is an extremely tight job market. You can issue calls for “an army of teachers” but if there are no jobs available, then only false hopes are created. Let me restate, the current problem in this area is a lack of teaching jobs, not a lack of teachers. I would like to hear the Secretary call for teaching jobs…to be answered by both black and white male teachers looking for work.

  9. I recently read the an article detailing Spike Lee and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urging black men to become teachers. If only it were that simple. I’d like to relay my story to you let you decide how much our society as a whole really wants black male teachers.
    I graduated from an Morgan State University with a bachelors in psychology, from Vanderbilt University with a Ph.D. in neuroscience, I have no criminal record, and no points on my driver’s license. As I got closer to graduation I thought I’d try to put my master plan into action; I’d teach at a “majority” institution, while also teaching at the high school level, because schools need black males setting positive examples. Unfortunately while I was in graduate school, no child left behind was passed and every school I approached told me I needed to be “certified” to determine if I was/am qualified to teach high school science. I have a Ph.D. in Neuroscience and have conducted quality research encompassing biology, psychology, biochemistry, pharmacology and bunch of other ologys in between, but I’m not qualified to teach high school science…at a public school. Private schools in various states have asked me to name a price to teach at their schools, but unfortunately the minority population at most of these schools is paltry, mostly because it costs two arms and a toe to attend them. So the public school system tells me no, but I’m more than welcome at private schools, so the academically rich get richer…great if you’ve got the money to spend twenty thousand a year on high school for one child.
    I applied to “Teach for America” and received an electronic form letter in stating that they had better qualified applicants. Since then I’ve had job interviews at majority post-secondary institutions that claim that they want to diversify their faculty but they always find a better candidate. More than once during interviews, usually when I first meet an interviewer I hear “did you play football”; my CV clearly states that I ran track at Morgan State. 6 foot 200lb black men are good for more than scoring touchdowns. The pharmaceutical industry, consulting firms, and even the military has paid me more attention than the Education system that so adamantly claims to need my help.
    The other half of the equation is that many black men have been the male head of household since they were in their mid-teens. They carry the responsibility of provider into adulthood, they have to provide for the immediate families, for their aging mothers and grandmothers, for everyone who helped raise them. Unfortunately in a society that currently values touchdowns above degrees, their best prospects for providing for their families are not in the current education system. We simply do not pay our good teachers what they are worth at any level, and as long as that continues those of us with financial obligations to family and student loans will likely continue to choose the selfish road.
    Now maybe this is all my failing, and I’m not as good as I think I am; but that would make liars of some very honest and well respected scholars at Morgan State University, Ohio State University, University of Maryland Baltimore County and Vanderbilt University among others. So I have to believe that the problem lies elsewhere; there are plenty of intelligent, successful, and thoughtful black men who would love to teach, and try everyday to do just that, only to meet with a closed door. Eventually they will tire of knocking.

  10. To all concerned,the article impressed me a great deal and I agree with all the gentlemen that was as black men need to step it up and stand in the class rooms to inform and teach our children about the world and about their heritage, also to show your our children what a proud people we are and to exercise their right to a great education. I am a 50 year old black male that is attempting to get back in school to achieve my degree in education. I am seeking finances to achieve this dream and to pay it back by educating young black children. I have been blessed to have two children that graduated from college and another one getting ready enter college, and I’m very pround of them, but even more so all 6 of my children have high school diplomas. I’m a very blessed man, but I’ve dreamed of teaching for more than 20 years, so if there is information out there or someone can asist me on my quest it will be greatly appreciated. James of Delaware

  11. This is a good call, and I agree. However, to whom is the responsibility left to “pick” the black men who teach? Who stands to determine the “honest” African-American men? Oftentimes, the black men who can really reach the youth are those to whom the status-quo disagrees with, or who has had trouble with this system and a criminal record. There are way too many African-American men still locked up in prison who are very educated, but their perspectives on life threatens those who benefits from their absence.

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