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The Speech

Yesterday my homeschooled daughter threw an impromptu inauguration party at our house. It’s tough to get homeschoolers out of their houses before 9 a.m., but we had a group of six to watch the speech, then eat and play. At my son’s school, every class stopped what they were doing to watch the speech and then talk about it.
I can’t remember this happening before. Schools usually ignore inauguration day speeches, for the most part. There is definitely a sense that things are different this time around. Such a big fuss was made about Michelle Obama saying she was proud of her country for the first time, but I knew exactly what she meant. Before inauguration day lots of commentators were talking about how important this election was for African-Americans. I noticed that the inauguration day coverage I heard dropped the African part of that. As one woman (African-American) who was interviewed said, “Now we’re all Americans.” We can all be proud of our country now.
The kids gathered around our television probably don’t realize what they were watching. Perhaps sometime in the future they’ll remember that day the way that we often remember momentous days. The ones I remember are largely negative, though — October 17, 1989, September 11, 2001.
One of the moms had to say to the kids, “Be quiet, we’re watching TV!” Then we all giggled — this isn’t something you hear homeschoolers say very often.
When Obama got to the part of his speech where he listed various religions practiced in the US, one of the moms inserted “Pagans!” right before he got to the one that fit all present, more or less: “Non-believers.” When Rick Warren started his prayer, one of the kids said, “Why is he talking about god, Mommy?” So even though he chose a preacher who endorses exclusion in his sermons, Obama was more inclusive with one word than other presidents have been. It was nice to hear “non-believers” in a sentence that didn’t also have the word “un-American” in it! Everyone finds their own way to “god” — through religion or helping others or contemplating nature or creating beauty. It’s great to hear a president, OUR president, admit non-Christians into the society of good people who want to help their country. It’s been a while since Jefferson…
It would be nice to think that Obama could wave a wand and fix things, but even though his power to personally set things right is limited, I do think that starting his tenure as president with a sense of goodwill and inclusiveness, and being very clear that we all have a role in where our country goes, is going to provide the push that we all need — in the long run.
In the short run, California schools are running on empty because our state government hasn’t disbursed funds. Our teachers are still getting paid, but who knows how long that’s going to last? Next year our schools will probably have a shorter year, fewer days at school for kids who need more, not less. Our teachers will have more vacation time — perhaps it’ll be enough time that they’ll be able to find a part-time job to make up for what they’ve lost in their real career. Then they’ll find out (if they aren’t tempted already) that if they can get a job, almost any job is easier (and often better-paid) than being a teacher in our public schools. And come the next fall, what’s going to entice them back? Hopefully, they’ll be steadfast in their commitment to educate our children, because it doesn’t seem that they’re getting much else to keep them going.
But parents can make sure that learning goes on, even when the good teachers are starting to look around and wonder if they’re appreciated. First, they can support their teachers. A teacher I know says that at the elementary school where she just started this year, there are almost no parent volunteers. Even if your teacher is too busy to ask, take a look around and notice what might be needed, and offer to do it.
And parents can make sure that learning is happening outside of school, even if they aren’t homeschooling. Get your kids away from the TV and video games and back into talking and interacting with you. Sit everyone down for real meals, eat real food, and express real emotions and ideas. Read a book together. Go for a walk in the rain. Be happy there is rain to walk in!
We’re all in it together, and what we do in our own lives does emanate outward. President Obama’s got a lot of work to do. We can all look around and see what needs to be done.

Posted in Culture.

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