To the Editor:
What President Barack Obama conveyed to schoolchildren in his Sept. 8 speech was the importance of a positive learning culture (“How Obama’s Pep Talk Became a Publicity Headache,” Sept. 16, 2009). This is far more important than anything his education initiatives are engineered to address.
I taught in urban schools for 41 years, and saw children who were a lot smarter than me but could not pass a test—or didn’t care if they passed it. On the other side, a friend of mine who was in the Peace Corps in Africa taught children who looked at him as though he were crazy when he tried to make his lessons entertaining. They were interested only in the task. Since education was seen as such a privilege in their communities, they had the culture and mind-set to succeed. My students who failed lacked that culture.
This is what education is about, not merit pay, seniority, teachers’ unions, charter schools, money, and so on. By asking students to help him in their schooling, the president showed an example of leadership in the direction of good culture. All our leaders, whether in politics, sports, entertainment, or the community, need to spread good culture if we are to catch up to other countries.
A version of this article appeared in the September 30, 2009 edition of Education Week as We All Should Follow Mr. Obama’s Example