Malia and Sasha’s Sidwell Friends

The countdown to Obamamania, folks, is twelve days. However, the Obama’s have already left Chicago and have settled in DC already, preparing for their official move into the presidential residence. And amidst the hoopla of the inauguration and the subsequent balls, Aretha Franklin, Capitol Steps, and parades, another bit of news caught my eye: On Monday, Malia and Sasha Obama began anew at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, DC, considered by many to be the “Harvard of Washington’s private schools.” It is where the Clintons and Nixons sent their children while residents on Pennsylvania Avenue, and it’s currently where Vice-President elect Joe Biden is sending his grandchildren.

It’s therefore no surprise that the Obamas—after much research and thought—have chosen Sidwell Friends as the choice institution for their two children, who America knows as polite, precocious, and almost painfully candid about their father. But amidst the discussion of the economic bailout, Obama’s new education secretary and educational reforms, and the increased power wielded by current DC Chancellor Michelle Rhee, a thought crossed my mind: Should Barack Obama break the presidential trend and send his children to DC public schools?

It’s an interesting thought, not so much because I have an easy time imagining Malia and Sasha Obama in a crowded DC classroom, but rather because of what such a move would entail. DC public schools are notorious for being the highest funded per capitawhile remaining among the poorest in the nation. This can mean one of two things: (1) money doesn’t guarantee academic success or (2) money does guarantee academic success, but it has been sucked away by the bureaucracy that is the DC public school system. Michelle Rhee has taken it upon herself to purge the ranks of administrators and teachers who have underperformed, a gesture that shows that some pedagogical aspect has confounded the variables in place. But amidst Rhee’s challenge of the teacher’s union and her seemingly erratic appointments and firings, it seems that perhaps too brazen of an approach has been taken in our nations’ capital. And through it all, it seems that DC provides the perfect litmus test for education reform, the perfect specimen to examine.

Consider the attention, the scrutinization that would occur if the Obama children attended a public school in Washington. The media would be in a frenzy. Secret Service would patrol streets once patrolled by school security. Decrepit classrooms would be exposed, bumbling deans would be embarrassed, and ultimately the problems we as teachers would see on a daily basis would be exposed to the everyday masses. And would it be possible that the public would be more supportive of an Obama education plan that he himself has embraced personally? It’s certainly hard to understand the concerns of public school parents if you’re not a  public school parent. And as a bonus, imagine Michelle Obama during a parent-teacher conference.

The reality is this scenario is excessive, for it considers everything except the well-being and happiness of the Obama girls. I’m sure they’ll be delighted by their experience at Sidwell Friends, and that their experience in the classrooms there will prepare them for college and beyond. To ask them to sacrifice that for the betterment of the public school system is asking for too much. Instead, consider why such an idea seems strangely appealing in the first place? Is it, perhaps, because we’ve run out of ideas on how to truly contextualize the problems our schools truly face today?

–Eugene Lee

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