Patty Dineen

The view from here

Archive for January 2009

Dreams and celebration today, reality and work tomorrow

Today, we will celebrate one of those galvanizing historic moments in our country’s history.  There’s lots to celebrate and everyone’s personal list is probably at least a little different.  But for today, as a country, we are possibly as nearly united in sharing happiness and optimism as such a diverse and free population can be.  Let’s hope it doesn’t last too long.

I say this for President Obama’s sake as well as for the country’s sake.  It’s been exhilarating but we have decidedly not done him any favors by placing him on such a frightentingly high and narrow pedestal.   Much of a move in any direction (perhaps even moving at all) poses the risk of a serious fall.  Great hope was sown and fermented during the last two years of his campaign for the presidency.  Like yeast in a warm, sugary environment, it has grown and spread.  It smells good, it looks good, it feels good.  But lately, if you’ve been listening, even Obama has been throwing some seeds of caution into that frothy mix.

Just in the area of the economy, he’s been pointing out that the new fiscal stimulus package won’t please everyone; that he will make mistakes; and that things will likely get worse before they start to get better.  This all sounds reasonable – who would fault him?  But eventually the campaign promise (that we all cheered) to “cut programs that don’t work,” will have to become a list of real programs — programs that employ people, that communities and individuals may have come to cherish, that have at least some meaning or they wouldn’t have been created in the first place. 

 Obama has warned us that there will be sacrifice and work.  We’ve cheered that too, but we haven’t heard much yet about what kind of sacrifices and who will do the work.  Recent public outreach campaigns and photo-ops have been satisfying but misleading.  Will we donate time and energy to help paint the walls in a deteriorating school?  No problem.  Will we get rid of teachers who can’t teach, and pay more taxes to support those who can?  Maybe. Maybe not.  Will we pack gift boxes for those serving in war zones overseas?  Happily.  Will we support the reinstitution of a draft if it is deemed necessary. Uhm…  Will we support an energy independence “revolution?”  Sign me up.  Will we welcome (or even tolerate) a significant new tax on gasoline?  How about the building of a nuclear reactor in our community?

The generalities are fun; the details of making choices…not so much.  Obama knows this and he’s been dropping hints.  He has lately referred to the difference between the reality of doing the hard work as compared to what has been said in “campaign rhetoric” — his phrase, not mine.  It is a worrisome testament to what sparse civics and history education we have required of the last couple of generations that so many youthful Obama supporters believe that the sentiments and ideas they are hearing in his speeches are being expressed by him for the first time ever.  Yesterday I watched Richard Nixon’s inaugural speech on C-span — if you just listened to the words you could easily imagine large parts of the same speech sounding right on the mark today.  But that’s okay.  What matters is what happens next.

Obama needs to move quickly to use his tremendous political and social capital to help us learn how to disagree with him without rejecting him; how to live with choices that are not the ones we would make; and how we can hold him and his administration accountable.  He needs to help us not panic that all is lost when we see that, after all, he is just human like the rest of us.  Today we need to celebrate; tomorrow we need to start to get real.

Written by dineenp

January 20, 2009 at 3:19 pm

The audacity of hoping Barack Obama would send his children to public schools

The public school system — even with all its problems– remains a shining example of something our country did spectacularly right in its formative years.  Innovative and daring, the idea of providing publicly-financed education for all children became a reality because there was the political will to make it happen.  It may be the single thing that bears the most responsibility for making this country great.

President-elect Barack Obama and his wife Michelle have chosen not to send their two young children to public schools, but rather have enrolled them in the expensive, elite, private Sidwell Friends School located in the Washington, DC area. 

Sending their children to a public Washington, DC school would have conveyed an incredibly powerful message to the country, not to mention to public school students, their families, teachers and administrators, about belief in the importance and effectiveness of public education– and belief in hope and change.  It would have demonstrated in unequivocal terms that public schools can be safe, secure, and effective — can be good places to be for anyone, even the children of the President of the United States — especially the children of the President of the United States.  Talking about the importance of public education but then choosing otherwise for your own children speaks loudly indeed.  This message will not be lost on the country.

Arguments citing concerns about security, quality of education, and safety to rationalize the choice of a private school for the President’s children are hollow and disingenuous.  It is true that many of the public schools in the Washington, DC area are not providing a good education, but there are some that are.  Chancellor of DC public schools, Michelle Rhee’s two children attend public school.  Rhee invited the Obamas to consider DC public schools in their school search but the Obamas reportedly visited only private schools.

Safety and security are certainly huge factors, and it might be easier to secure a private school adequately for the children of the President, but the Secret Service can secure many kinds of settings and the extra effort of securing a public school would be well worth the gains that would ensue.  In one fell swoop it would greatly enhance the safety and security of an entire school’s population of students and teachers; showcase the educational possibilities of public schools; and motivate and reinvigorate an entire school district’s worth of students, teachers, administrators and parents in a way that nothing else could do.  Now that would be change we could believe in.

Written by dineenp

January 5, 2009 at 6:52 pm