14 November 2008 10:12 AM

Obama and Education

by Dr. Rick

This is an education blog, not a political one, thank goodness, but it’s inescapable to wonder now that we have a new president-elect, what does Barack Obama’s election portend for the way our nation thinks about education and children?  Based entirely on personal observations, and perhaps also on hope, here are a few predictions.


  1. A recognition of the bedrock of the family.  Families come in lots of different forms, and there’s no one-size-fits-all.  (Even if there were a “typical” American family, Obama’s childhood family was certainly not it.) But there’s no question that kids do well when they’re nurtured by a loving and supporting group of folks at home.  Mr. Obama’s family puts young children in the White House for the first time in over thirty years.  Look for lots of attention to education, family issues, and schooling.
  2. An esteem for education.  For some reason, many politicians seem to take an inexplicable pleasure in recounting how they were lousy students.  Imagine Theodore Roosevelt, with his “bully pulpit,” making such comments.  This practice of adolescent bragging about mediocre grades in school is a sham and a shame.  Mr. Obama, who speaks in complete sentences and paragraphs and who has a stellar academic record, will use the Presidency’s bully pulpit to bring back an expectation and pride in doing well in school.  It’s okay again to be knowledgeable.  Presidents don’t have to leave this sort of thing to First Ladies any more.  (Thank you, Laura Bush, for your commendable involvement.)  Look for “smart” to make a comeback, for “brainwork” to be cool again.
  3. Leading by example.  We’ve already seen lots of examples of the President-elect in quality time with his daughters: reading with them, playing board games and cards with them, trick-or-treating with them, protecting them from the media.  It’s been a long time since we’ve had a president with young children.  Look for more unselfconscious role modeling.
  4. Being adult.  We’ve heard Mr. Obama talk about getting up early to do his homework and study for tests.  He said his mom got up early with him, even if the two disliked the early hours.  We’ve heard him telling kids today, “Turn off the TV and do your homework.”  It’s not un-American to do either, and it’s good advice.  Look for attention to detail and rewarding of competence.
  5. Aiming for good habits.  We’ve seen that Mr. Obama values industriousness and persistence.  We’ve seen that he values good habits – he quit smoking, he exercises, he watches what he eats, he talks about the books he’s reading.  (He even wrote his own books!)   Significantly, he’s shown he’s a good listener, a necessary skill in order to learn, to expand knowledge, to challenge and stretch oneself.  A skill not in great supply, especially among people in his line of work.  Look for more reflective silence, thought before action, and less grandstanding.

Each new presidency presents new opportunities, new directions, and new ways of thinking.  Now is no different.  Each American sees his or her values reflected in – or deflected by – a president.  As for myself, I’m encouraged by a leader with a calm civility, a demonstrable respect for learning, and a palpable love for and enjoyment of children.  As an educator, I’m encouraged and hopeful.  What are your hopes and thoughts about education and the new administration?


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