Monday, August 17, 2009

Joe’s Take: From the Government and Here to Help

In a joke repeated time and again, the line “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help” is described as one of life’s three great lies. But as applied to Jack Klenk (pictured right, at his retirement party earlier this month), the recently retired director of the Office of Non-Public Education at the U.S. Department of Education, the line carries a whole lot of truth. Jack has been a public servant ready to help throughout his 28 glorious years of federal service.

Scripture tells us, “Those who teach justice to many will shine like the stars for all eternity” (Daniel 12:3). Jack has taught me and many others in the private school community about justice and virtue through his actions, words, and life. He has been consistently decent and good. Whether through heroic acts like missionary trips to Africa or through everyday acts like answering the phone with a burst of energy and welcome, he has taught us how to conduct ourselves with joy, dignity and grace, and we are grateful.

Jack’s commitment to justice has extended as well to securing equity under the law for all children, regardless of the type of school they attend. Millions of students across the country have been the beneficiaries of his tireless, persistent, determined pursuit of fairness. So many rulings, guidance documents, interpretations of statutes, and decisions on policy have had his stamp on them, and his influence has consistently worked toward the greater good. Speaking truth to power was not an occasional event for Jack, but an ordinary occurrence.

And Jack has brought so much knowledge and skill to the task. He has understood the systems of government inside out, and has maneuvered all the inner pathways with great dexterity. Building partnerships and coalitions, and not worrying about who gets the credit, has been his signature style. He has always sought to expand the circle to help achieve the objective, knowing that the job is too massive, the consequences too great, to write anyone off as a partner. He has understood the formidable force for good that comes about when we combine our efforts and put the needs of children first.

In a commencement address at a religious school in Washington, D.C., several years ago, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice advised the graduates to find their passion in life and follow it. “Not something you have to do each day, but the thing that you can’t do without each day,” she said. “Something that you love enough and care about enough that it makes you glad to be alive.” Someone must have given Jack that advice a long time ago, because he found that which he had to do each day. His commitment to educational reform, to equity for all students, to parental choice, and to the preservation of authentic pluralism in American education comes deep from the heart; it is a force from within. And he has carried out his vocation with great grace, style, and integrity.

And so we say thanks to Jack for being not only a model public servant, but a model human being. Thanks for teaching us how to relate to others with compassion and respect, and how to pursue a noble goal with patience and purity of purpose. And thanks for teaching us about justice and virtue. His example will shine like the stars for all eternity.

(Posted by Joe McTighe, CAPE's Executive Director)


  1. Hats off to Joe McTighe for his eloquent tribute to and summary of the eloquent life's work of our friend and champion, Jack Klenk.

    In Jack's after-image we have a great deal to do to continue his stellar efforts in the Office of Non-Public Education. Our nation and our culture are in need of a continuing imagination of genuine school choice, education that is not only government education, and variety in approaches to educating our young.

    All independent and faith-based schools are facing mighty challenges as the economic downturn makes independent schooling diffiuclt or impossible for so many parents who were stretching from the start to obtain a quality education with the values important to their own families.

    In the words of Winston Churchill, and the practice of Jack Klenk, we must, "Never, never, never, never give up." That is the best tribute to Jack Klenk we can offer.

    Patrice Maynard
    Association of Waldorf Schools of North America

  2. Joe has captured so much of what I have experienced in the few years I have known Jack. I only regret not having been able to thank him and wish him well personally.