Educating the Obamas

The news came out Friday that the First Parents will be sending Malia and Sasha to Sidwell Friends School, the so-called Harvard of Washington D.C. private schools. It's not the least bit surprising that Michelle and President-elect Obama would choose to send their daughters to the best school money can buy, but it is a bit disappointing. Some small part of me hoped that Malia and Sasha would be attending one of D.C's public schools.

The power that such a vote of confidence would have is immeasurable. Politicians can talk all they want about the value of our public schools, but it would be refreshing to seem them back those statements up with meaningful action. Malia and Sasha's attendance at one of D.C.'s public schools would send a message that public schools are good enough for the country's best and brightest. It would also signal a show of support for Mayor Adrian Fenty, Chancellor Michelle Rhee and the thousands of educators and reformers in D.C. and across the country who are trying to shape a more perfect educational system for the next generation.

I've long admired Newark Mayor Cory Booker. From the outset when he took over the unenviable position of mayor of one of America's most crime-ridden, downtrodden cities he made a series of powerful gestures similar to the one President-elect Obama just avoided. Mayor Booker moved into one of the cities worst housing projects, and lived there without running water or heat until the building was finally condemned. When a police officer was complaining about no working computers at his precinct, Mayor Booker handed over his own personal computer.

These types of symbolic actions obviously did not erase the hardships of Newark's poor, or the lack of resources for the city's public servants. However, they nonetheless resonate powerfully with everyone who has a stake in making Newark a better city. The Obamas missed out on a profound opportunity to send a similar message to everyone with a stake in America's public schools.


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