An Open Letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

Dear Mr. Duncan,

I heard that people have been bothering you about public education, so I thought I’d write to you about something different to take your mind off all that pesky school talk.

There’s a playground down the street from my house.

When I was a kid, it was the best place to play in the neighborhood. The township paid to keep it clean and safe, and all the kids and families in the neighborhood went there and played together.

There was a spiral slide, a sand box, a tire swing, some regular swings, a see-saw, a balance beam, a really cool connector bridge, and a couple little horses on springs we could bounce on. It had everything a kid needed to have fun.

After a lot of years, the playground started looking old. And when the economy got bad, the township stopped spending as much money on playground upkeep, so some of the equipment very gradually began falling into disrepair. Despite these problems, though, all of us kids kept playing on the playground. We still loved it; it was a central part of our childhoods.

Then one day, some outsiders came to the township and asked for money to build a new playground. They didn’t know anything about the kids or families in my town, but they claimed they knew all about playgrounds.

And the township gave them money.

And then another group of outsiders came to the township and asked for money to build an even newer playground, which they claimed would be better than both playgrounds.

And the township gave them money, too.

Then, when some parents and kids went to the township to ask for money for improvements for the original playground, the township said it didn’t have any money for those improvements because it had given money to the new playground people. It said it would only make repairs to the old playground that were absolutely necessary; the rope on the connector bridge and the rusty nail that was sticking out of the see-saw got fixed, but that was it.

In the meantime, only the kids who didn’t have anyone to drive them to the new playgrounds continued to play on the old one. It became known as the place where the less fortunate kids played. And because the township was spreading its money between a bunch of different playgrounds that were run by a bunch of different people, it didn’t have the means or the time to make sure that any of them were really in good working order.

And then my town, the citizens of which were unified by the original playground, became segregated and divided and lost its sense of community because of all these playgrounds.

And guess what? The brand new playgrounds the outsiders built eventually encountered all the same problems our original playground encountered. One encountered even worse problems, when its operators abandoned it to go build new playgrounds somewhere else.

And then the parents and kids in my town realized that the problem wasn’t with the original playground, it was with the township, whose officials ignored the playground’s problems instead of fixing them. If the township had spent the money it gave away to the new playground people on maintaining the old playground, the old playground would have continued to be the best place in our town and a great place for kids.

I wish we could go back to the time when all our kids played at the original playground—the time when everyone in the community worked together to make sure it was a great place for kids. But now we don’t have any great playgrounds, and it’s really sad.

Anyway, thank you for taking the time to read about my town’s playground. I don’t know much about education, but I hope what happened to my playground and its kids never happens to public schools. Because like my playground, they are the hearts of their communities.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “An Open Letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

  1. This is brilliant. I don’t think I’ve encountered a clearer analogy.

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