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Education Secretary Urges Schools to Tackle Racism, Teach Empathy

Ryan Caron King
/
WNPR
U.S. Secretary of Education John King speaks at a panel in Hartford on school diversity.

The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement has placed attention on longstanding institutional racism and the racial bias that exists throughout society. But it's also led to resistance, as well as rising tensions between police and people of color.

Speaking with WNPR by phone on his way to a panel in Hartford on school diversity, Education Secretary John King said a big part of this problem could be tackled if schools teach empathy. 

"As an educator, part of our role is to help students to see the world through others' eyes," King said.

One way to do that, he said, is to create diverse school communities, and to create curricula that give students a chance to understand the history about race and class in the United States. 

The interactions between police and people of color is also something that needs to be addressed, he said, and schools can also be a place for that conversation.

"This is a multi-pronged problem," King said, adding that "we've got lots of challenges as we try to work through these longstanding issues of race and class, but there is, I think, tremendous goodwill in the country and a readiness to take on these issues in thoughtful ways."  

Part of the answer also involves additional supports for students of color. Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation are participating in President Obama's initiative called My Brothers Keeper Community Challenge, which calls on schools to create plans to address the many problems students of color face, such as low achievement, high absenteeism, and high rates of suspension. 

King said progress has been made, but more needs to be done. 

"You know, I just think it's so important for the country to acknowledge the ways in which our history and our current reality fall short of our values and aspirations," he said. 

King and the secretaries of housing and transportation signed a open letter to state agencies recently, citing the intersection of school, housing and transportation as a path to help build diversity and stifle racism. 

David finds and tells stories about education and learning for WNPR radio and its website. He also teaches journalism and media literacy to high school students, and he starts the year with the lesson: “Conflicts of interest: Real or perceived? Both matter.” He thinks he has a sense of humor, and he also finds writing in the third person awkward, but he does it anyway.

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