A Bicentennial Invitation: Teachers Will Witness Inaugural

By Mark Walsh — January 18, 1989 5 min read
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George O. Jones Jr., a teacher from the state of Maine, will be attending the Presidential inauguration of George Bush this week, even though he is not exactly sure why.

“I honestly don’t know why I was invited,” said the 33-year-old social-studies instructor at Oxford Hills High School in South Paris. “I’m not a Republican, but I don’t dare say that to anyone. I’m definitely a moderate. I’m independent of either party.”

Mr. Jones is one of the more than 250 teachers from across the country who have been invited by the American Bicentennial Inaugural Committee to be part of the activities surrounding Mr. Bush’s installation as the 41st President.

The presence of so many teachers will underscore Mr. Bush’s promise to be the “education President,” inaugural organizers are saying.

“It’s all part of what he said when he was on the campaign trail--creating excellence in education,” said Kathy O’Reilly, who helped organize “A Teacher’s Inaugural Experience.”

Five teachers from each state and U.S. territory were invited. Nominees were selected by each state’s governor, Teacher of the Year program, leading teachers’ union, inaugural chairman, and Republican teacher-advisory committee.

In addition to having all Washington expenses paid for themselves and a guest, the teachers will get VIP treatment at inaugural activities, including the opening celebration, swearing-in ceremony, parade, and inaugural balls.

The most significant event for educators will be a Jan. 18 forum held by the Education Department. Mr. Bush is scheduled to address the teachers, as is Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos and several governors active in education reform.

“I expect Secretary Cavazos to address the Administration’s education agenda and to get into some specifics with these teachers,” said Melinda Kitchell, a spokesman for the department.

A Hopeful Sign?

Education groups see this week’s events as a hopeful sign that Mr. Bush will follow through on his campaign commitment to education.

“I think it is rather significant,” said Michael Edwards, director of Congressional relations for the National Education Association. “They are clearly trying to demonstrate that they have a concern for education and educators. This is a very apparent reaching out.”

“I am excited by the fact that Mr. Bush wants to be the education President,” said Mr. Jones. “I hope he will put a lot of energy into it.”

As for the motive behind his invitation, Mr. Jones suspects that it lies in his efforts last fall to get students involved in the Presidential campaign. Several of his students participated by stuffing envelopes for Mr. Bush.

Mr. Jones is right, said Garry Bowne, the Maine inaugural chairman who nominated him.

“When I was asked to nominate someone, I wanted to get a teacher who had gotten his students involved,” Mr. Bowne said. “That was a very valuable experience for the students, and I thought it was commendable of Mr. Jones to do it.”

Student Role

Students also will play a role in this week’s festivities. In addition to the traditional participation of high-school bands in the inaugural parade, there will be a youth forum the day before the inauguration and a children’s festival the day after.

Approximately 500 high-school students will attend several events sponsored by the Congressional Youth Leadership Council. Later, they will join several thousand other students at a gathering featuring remarks by the Olympic gold-medal gymnast Peter Vidmar, the actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and business and government officials. Vice President-elect Dan Quayle is scheduled to attend.

The event will be carried live on C-SPAN, the cable-satellite public-affairs network. “We’re encouraging teachers across the country to tune in and make it a live classroom experience,” said Greg Hopkins, a spokesman for the inaugural committee.

On Saturday, First Lady Barbara Bush and Big Bird from public television’s “Sesame Street” will lead a children’s festival highlighting the history of past inaugurals, before an audience of some 3,000 youngsters.

Lobbying for a Place

On Inauguration Day, many classroom television sets will be tuned to the noontime swearing-in ceremony. At numerous high schools around the country, viewing will be especially avid, as students strain to catch glimpses of their school band marching in the inaugural parade.

Being selected for the parade is a source of pride for band participants, and communities often rally to raise the needed funds. But the selection process is not immune to politics--as the band from Mount Blue High School in Farmington, Me., discovered last month.

Picked as the state’s best last fall, band members were confident they would be invited to be in the parade. Instead, they were jolted to learn they had been passed over in favor of a group from Kennebunk High School, which is located near the President-elect’s summer home.

The choice still rankles Thomas Ward, Mount Blue’s principal.

The Kennebunk band is a concert group that does not even march, he pointed out.

“When they picked a school that does not compete as a marching band, that was not only upsetting to us, but upsetting to all the marching bands in the state,” he said.

Unwilling to concede defeat, Mount Blue supporters put on a political full-court press. They contacted their governor and Congressional delegation, who lobbied on their behalf, and “leaked” their story to the national news media.

Late last month, the Mount Blue band’s invitation arrived.

The affair taught students that “you don’t just have to accept these things by saying that’s the reality of politics,” said Mr. Ward. “You can be heard if you are right.”

Inaugural Bicentennial

For those whose interest in inaugurations is not sated by this week’s events, there is also the approaching 200th anniversary of George Washington’s swearing-in as the nation’s first President on April 30, 1789.

The Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution is encouraging teachers to plan a history lesson about the bicentennial of the nation’s highest office.

The commission will sponsor a re-enactment of Washington’s journey from his home at Mount Vernon to New York City, where he took the oath of office. It has prepared kits for teachers about that inaugural, which are being distributed this month.

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A version of this article appeared in the January 18, 1989 edition of Education Week as A Bicentennial Invitation: Teachers Will Witness Inaugural


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