WASHINGTON — The key to ending police brutality and quell racial tensions in the country is through civic education, Secretary of Education John King said Wednesday.


Speaking at the National Press Club, King said promoting “democracy was one of the original goals of public education,” and schools and colleges must educate students about their role in democracy and help America’s youth become problem-solvers.


He said students need to be able to tackle problems of homelessness, water pollution and police tensions, among other issues facing the nation. And solving those issues starts in schools.


“The reality is that many of the biggest issues, including tensions between police and communities of color, are not going to be settled solely by a decision by the president or Congress or even a bill passed by a state legislature,” King said. “What’s also needed are citizens who will work with others and vote strategically to demand changes in police training to include bias, cultural competency and ways to defuse tense situations in police training.”


For this to happen, people need the knowledge, skills and inclination to get involved, things that are best learned in school, King said.


The first step in remedying the civic education problem is familiarizing students with the Constitution and the legislative process, he said. King said students need to be taught about “the primary sources that have shaped our nation’s history.”


The Secretary of Education added that students need to be able to understand American history and put it in the context of today’s issues when seeking solutions to the problems facing the country.


“We should teach students that slavery is not just a scar on our national character erased by the Civil War,” he said. “We should teach them to acknowledge and wrestle with the ways that ugly legacy continues to shape our country and helps explain the treatment of people of color in America to this day.”


 King referenced protests by athletes including San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has called attention to police brutality and racial inequality by kneeling during the national anthem.

“Students should understand that the Constitution protects the right of Colin Kaepernick to protest during the national anthem and why players across the country—including high school students—are doing the same,” King said. “And they should also understand and be able to explain with evidence why some people are offended by that decision or would choose a different way to express their views.”