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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

The first thing I heard as I walked into school on this miraculous morning after Barack Obama's landslide victory was a group of African American parents talking about the results. One father said, "They didn't want to give us 40 acres and a mule, so we took fifty states and the White House."

In the halls during passing period, hundreds of students chanted, "Obama, Obama!" Usually, the halls are tense places where adults try to corral students into moving on to class, while kids act like kids who have to sit all day. (They push each other, run and jump, use foul language, and ignore the adults who tell them to get moving.) On this day, they danced through the halls, singing. It felt like the climax of a musical.

In an English class, the teacher asked her students to write down the words that came to mind when they thought about Obama's election. One student, DJ, shouted out, "History! That's all I can say. That's the only word that comes to mind: history." He shook his head, smiled, and looked down at his lap.

An engaging class discussion followed; eighth graders responded respectfully to each other's comments. Benjamin, one of the only white students in the class, shared that he and his family campaigned for Obama in Nevada. Students looked at him with respect. "Thanks, Benjamin," said another student, Crystal.

My throat constricted in that moment. As corny as it sounds, in that exchange I could imagine the possibility of so much pain beginning to heal. Our schools' population is 80 percent African American and 10 percent Caucasian; the two groups belong to the opposite ends of the economic-class spectrum. Our middle school students have no idea how to sort this out or address the tension and underlying pain of this inequality. It usually comes out in ugly forms.

Obama was elected, and a new light shone in Benjamin's eyes. "Is this really happening?" I asked myself for the eightieth time in the last twenty-four hours.

Students' Thoughts

The English teacher asked her students to write a response to the election results. Some wrote letters to Obama. Others wrote journal entries. Here are a few selections of what they wrote:

Dear President Barack Obama,

I am so happy you will be our next president. I really think you could make the world a better place. You rock, Obama. Rock on!

Love, your friend,

T.


I'm feeling very happy right now. This means the world to me and my family because this is the first time in the whole world that there is a black president of the United States. I hope that he can stop sending our family to Iraq. If he was here, I would tell him that he changed my life and the black community.


I am feeling good that a person of color was finally elected to be president. That means a lot to me. Maybe I could become an important person one day.


I feel that now that he is president, my nephew has someone to look up to. I hope that he will bring the troops home, because there are too many funerals in our family. I hope he will, because there are little kids crying for their fathers, uncles, and cousins. Kids like me wonder, "Is it OK to cry? Is it OK to hurt the way I'm hurting?" I would ask President Obama to bring our people home.


I am so excited that Barack Obama is the president of the United States of America. It is amazing. As I watched his acceptance speech last night, people around me were screaming and clapping while tears of joy flowed down their cheeks. At first, when I found out he won, it didn't register in my brain. I was so shocked. In the beginning, I was convinced he couldn't win. I thought America was too prejudiced. But I guess I was proved wrong, and I am so glad to have been proved wrong! I think it is amazing and utterly fabulous to be alive in the time of such a historic event.


Dear President-Elect Obama,

I wish to congratulate you and our fellow Americans on your victory. I've watched your speeches and heard you debate, and I'm convinced you will lead America to the highest it can be. I spent last night running and jumping for blocks in celebration. I chanted your name while I got cramps of victory. You deserve my cramps, and you deserve our country. Do us well.

Thank you,

Z.


I feel very happy that Barack Obama was elected to be our forty-fourth president. I was outside all night celebrating and talking with neighbors and friends. My grandma and great-grandma fought hard to be able to vote. I wish they could have seen this moment.


Dear President-Elect Obama,

We are very proud of you. Your family must be so proud of you, especially your little daughters. We are counting on you to make peace in this world and to make sure children can get a better education. When we saw how many votes you got, we were shocked. Our families were celebrating. We hope you keep your promises. Thank you, Mr. Obama.

A. and V.


Hope for the Future

In our school district, we see 70 percent of our African American and Latino students drop out of high school. I think that every day, even in middle school, we sense this specter that will befall our children. The inequities of our economic system, the centuries of disenfranchisement, and the resulting anger and oppression move without form or function through the bodies of our students, through our classrooms, and through our city.

Today felt different.

We have so much more to do, but we're closer than we've ever been. And I think that the kids know it.

What have the effects been of this historical election on your campus? And how might we use the election when lesson planning?

Comments (27)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Rosyn Gatson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is nice to know that your students looked past skin color and focused on the issues concerning the election. However, I just feel that one couldn't talk about the candidates without thinking about race. Our country was woven from the threads of racism. History tells us that. I do feel that we have come a long way as a country, but there is still a long way to go.

Nakeisha's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This year the entire election process was "History" in the making. Students were in- terested in the many "firsts" that were possible this year. And it is a new entry into Black History. I think that is the reason that so many kids and adults are saying "We have a Black President." And because we've never had a black president, it's new, it's the first time that we have. That is "History."

Nikki Fekete's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Nearly everyone on here has stated that this election was "historical", and I agree completely with that. It is all the way around, a wonderful thing that an African American was voted into office. Having said that, I proudly voted for John McCain. Not because he and I are both white. Race had nothing to do with my decision. I truly feel in my heart that John McCain is the right person to be in the Oval Office. So many people have implied that if someone didn't vote for Barak Obama, that it was because they are racist or prejudiced, and I would like to stand up for those of us who didn't vote for him and say, that while I'm sure there are some extremely ignorant and closed-minded people out there who allowed skin color to determine who did or did not get their vote (and please bear in mind that there were many people who voted for Obama based solely on his skin color as well as those who didn't because of it), there are many of us out here who didn't allow that to be a factor in our vote. In fact, I voted for Obama in the primary election, but felt that he started changing his story after the primary. I simply didn't like what I was hearing after that. It angers me to hear people imply that they know why I didn't vote for Obama, and I wish people would keep in mind that it is OKAY to disagree with someone of another ethnicity... even if you're white. Political correctness has been taken entirely too far. It really wasn't very "pc" to not vote for Obama, which is not fair to the folks out there who don't agree with what he would like to do.
I'm not upset (anymore) that John McCain didn't get elected, and I am beginning to get more excited to see where Obama takes us. While I appreciate his request for our opinions (re: health care), the fact that he is soliciting those opinions does make me a little nervous. We hired him to do the job... if we knew how to do it, we would have been running with or against him.

Margaret O's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have been reading Nikki Grimes' biography of Obama (Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope) to first through fifth graders, with good results. The author uses literary devices (personification, similes and metaphors) which the older students enjoy identifying, but more importantly she talks about the realities of Obama's childhood in ways young children can relate to. His parents' divorce, the support of his grandparents, seeing poverty and wanting to help, the importance of education to his family; all these are things my students connect with. I recommend it whole-heartedly. Some of the most poetic language in the book is directly taken from Obama's autobiographies. What a terrific role model he is, is so many ways!

Tamela's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Nikki I will agree with you that this past presidential election was historical. In fact in the beginning of the primaries I held mock elections in my class to see how my students felt about the candidates. Many of the students seem to mimick or repeat what their parents said about the candidates and many reserved opinions until they found facts to substantiate their opinions as I taught them.

I am glad that you are one of the few people who has voted for McCain explain your reason in a non derrogatory way. Many of the individuals I knew that voted for him were not pleasant or logical in their explanations. You made the comment that there were many people who voted for Barack because it was politically correct or because of the color of his skin. Too much emphasis was placed on color because throughout the election and primaries that is all you heard. Barack Obama the first African American president elect. When Mr. Obama is of mixed heritage, yet that was not stressed or emphasised. That is part of a long systematic problem of this country, some people can not see past color. As long as there are questionnaires and individuals constantly wanting to know what label or group a person should be given or placed in, there will always be some way to discriminate against one another, or treat others differently in this country. I voted for him because of all the candidates running he was the only one that had a vision to unite the U.S as we should, he was the only one who wanted to include everyone and their views whether opposing or not to try to come to terms and work together to rebuild our great nation. The fact of the matter is there were many who did vote for McCain simply because he was White and for whatever reason there has been a fear for a very long time of not only change but seeing a minority in a high place. I am not making this statement to be politically correct but as a matter of fact. It should not have taken years for women to recieve some type of equal treatment in this country, and even today women are still not totally equal to men. The same applies to many other minority groups in our country.

The fact that Obama solicits the publics' opinions on various topics or concerns of the country proves he is still holding his word to unite us. Personally I prefer a leader who demonstrates his or her ability to be a team player, take critism, suggestions in mind, and execute appropriate actions when necessary. How will he know what needs changing and why if he does not ask the people he is serving? He doesn't live with many of us, so unless he opens his mouth and asks certain things he is assuming whatever decision he makes is fair for all. Past leaders did not acknowledge the needs or wants of the people for they allowed the title and the positions get to their heads. The president has a duty to serve the people, how can he/she do that without understanding or acknowledging the needs of those said people? Leaders who do as they want without listening to the groups they lead are simply dictators. If the presidents were truly the most supreme, all knowing leaders that you in a way imply in your statement there would be no need for them to have advisors.

Obama has a long road ahead of him to correct many things that were wrong, and things that just need to be changed. No president in their first term have experience as president, and each has and will make mistakes as Obama stated on several occasions. They are not robots, they are human. The only thing we can do is support them and let them know how we feel and hopefully it makes a difference if they are indeed true leaders. I too am excited to see what changes Obama makes and the measures it will take to make those changes.

Aimee's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have to say this right off the bat. I voted for John McCain. Not because he was white, but because I thought he was the right man for the job. Race was never an issue for me in this election. I initially thought I would vote for Obama but didn't like some of his changes in policy. However, that said...I support Barack Obama as my president. Not only support him, but hope and pray that he succeeds and is able to get this country back on track. I believe he has the drive to do this.

Inauguration Day was pretty special at my school. I teach at an urban school and many of my students are African American. I had an interesting teaching moment that day. I have an African-American student who consistently turns assignment in late. I asked him if there was any chance of my receiving his assignment that day and he said, "Miss, anything is possible. There is a black man in the White House right now!" It was very funny (and yes, he DID have his assignment) and led to a great discussion in my class. The sense of hope was prevailing. These students have such HOPE about what they can achieve. What a great role model they have. I was truly touched at the sense of pride they all felt in their president. It made me proud to be an American and their teacher.

Tiffany's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I teach a class of 18 third grade boys. The whole election and inauguration process was phenomenal to say the least. I had students reading newspapers and watching the evening news to stay informed on the happenings of the election. Parents were becoming excited and involved with their students because of it. I hope the parents and the students keep up the intensity.

Christen Shaffer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed reading about how your students responded to the Obama victory. Inauguration day was a day I'll never forget in my classroom. I teach first graders, but even at that young age, they knew how truly special and unique the day was. As they watched the inauguration, the students would clap after the president paused in his speech. I could not get over how enthralled a group of six and seven year olds were about an event like this. I know it was a day that my students, myself and the world will never forget.

Nikki Fekete's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Tamela,
I don't know if you'll see this since my reply is delayed, but I did want to comment on some things.
I didn't intend to imply that I feel that we should be under a dictatorship. I'm simply saying that we hire the President to do a job, not to stand up and ask us what he should do. If you go to a doctor, and that doctor asks you what he should do to make you better, you are going to run screaming out the door. That is not to say that I don't have a say in my health care or in my country, the fact is that I do have (and want) a say in both, but the doctor or President, in this case, are the people who are supposed to have the expertise. I appreciate the fact that President Obama wants to hear what we think, but the ultimate decision rests with him... not me.

You also stated that many people voted for John McCain because he is white. That is absolutely true, and I did not intend to say that was not the case... but it is also true that many people did take their civil duties seriously and voted on the issues, not skin color. There were many people in this country who voted for Barak Obama strictly on the issues, and I fully support that, but there are also many people who voted for Mr. Obama strictly on the basis of his skin color. I am having a difficult time understanding why anyone who voted for McCain seems to be lumped together with bigots (by society in general), but those who voted for Obama aren't being associated with extremist groups on the other end. That is all I was trying to say.

So far, I haven't seen anything in Mr. Obama's presidency that has made me jump for joy, I am still cautiously optimistic, but I haven't seen anything that has made me cringe, either. I am staying open-minded and hoping for the best.
Thank you for being willing to have a civil conversation about this topic. I feel like I have given you the same courtesy, and I honestly hope you agree. There seems to be a double standard regarding race in our country, regardless of the issue at hand, and it will never get resolved unless more people have civil, honest conversations. I think things have improved over the decades, but there is certainly room for improvement.

Emily S's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Rock on Obama

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