Harvard Educational Review
  1. Summer 2009 Issue »

    Youth Voices

    Fly Bird, Fly!

    Joanne Lee
    11th grade, Townsend Harris High School, Flushing, New York

    With just thirty minutes left before noon on January 20, 2009, the student body of Townsend Harris High School bustled and squirmed their way into the auditorium. Much excitement arose as students discussed what classes they were missing and how they felt about the special schedule. But there was also excitement over what this new presidency could mean for us adolescents. Despite the usual air of rigidity at political events, the inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama felt very hopeful. Millions of Americans were united in body and in heart to celebrate the day that could possibly mark a pivotal point in American history. I sat in awe to celebrate the day that could possibly mark the pivotal point in my story.

    As President-elect Barack Obama took his oath, he placed his hands on an emblem of promise and hope—the Bible on which Abraham Lincoln took his oath. There was an uncanny parallelism between the two—Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863, which had set the slaves
    free and had given them the seed of opportunity; just 146 years later, here stood our first African American president. The connection that had personal significance was that Lincoln also took a positive stance on education for all. He supported lending federal aid for public education in the Morrill Act of 1862. Despite many criticisms about this as well as the Emancipation Proclamation, what he initiated set the ground for further education of the African Americans: “…the African American was given the tools to advance and carry on that insatiable desire for knowledge. The Emancipation Proclamation led to progression in education and advancement for African-Americans” (Douzart, 2000). Lincoln served as a gate opener to black minorities, and so it is that Obama will be an unlocked gate for minorities of today—immigrants.

    The future of the young generation had been a significantly large concern this time around. Both Republican and Democratic candidates stressed the importance of education, but President Obama especially stood ground on an act granting equal opportunities for immigrants. The DREAM Act, or the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, created a chance for the undocumented immigrants who came to America as children and grew up here to go to college. Regardless of their status, the children have learned from American schools, interacted with American peers, and essentially have become American. During his inauguration speech, Obama (2009) honored immigrants who “packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans,” who took America on a journey “in reaffirming the greatness of our nation.” Immigrants built the foundation of America; I believe we can once again rebuild this nation together. I am also one of those immigrants. I came to the States in the third grade, not knowing a word of English. Then I ran the playgrounds with all the foreign kids, I baked turkey and learned about the Pilgrims, and I went through middle school drama like any other American teenager. I am very much American as I am Korean and I believe I should be entitled to a promising future. Compromising college education is like breaking a bird’s wings. The future of America lies in the hands of this generation; let us not neglect those who had their wings broken.

    On the other hand, it is not only the DREAM Act that puts meaning to me behind Barack Obama’s presidency. He also affects the entire young generation in a similar way. Similar to that of the Lincoln era, the attitude Americans have is confidence in the hope that the new president offers. In the youths’ minds, Obama represents a shaper for the future. He affirms that “we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age” (Obama, 2009). This supports his encouragement that we should lend a hand in the challenges to excel and rebuild America, which “will not be met easily or in a short span of time . . . but will be met” (Obama, 2009). What this means to us is that while it is not realistic to expect drastic change in our lives in the next few days, what we accomplish today will surely lead to greater results in the future. I believe his administration will aid us in doing our part. This is the vision for today’s youth. This is the vision that will help us carry out our duties as Americans who believe in the power of the people. This is why I have hope in our new government leaders to do their part in changing my education.

    Douzart, A. (2000). The changing image of Abraham Lincoln among African Americans [Electronic version]. The Quarterly Journal of Ideology, 23(3–4). Retrieved February 12, 2009, from http://www.lsus.edu/la/journals/ideology/contents/douzartarticle.htm

    Obama, B. (2009, January 20). Inaugural Speech. Speech presented in Washington, DC.
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    Summer 2009 Issue


    Editors’ Introduction
    Note to Educators
    Hope Required When Growing Roses in Concrete
    Jeffrey M. R. Duncan-Andrade
    A Dialogue
    Our Selves, Our Students, and Obama
    Jennifer McLaughlin and Kim Kelly
    President Obama and Education
    The Possibility for Dramatic Improvements in Teaching and Learning
    Linda Darling-Hammond
    Promise and Peril
    Charter Schools, Urban School Reform, and the Obama Administration
    Charles Payne and Tim Knowles
    Reclaiming Our Freedom to Teach
    Education Reform in the Obama Era
    Megan Behrent
    Obama’s Dilemma
    Postpartisan Politics and the Crisis of American Education
    Henry A. Giroux
    Second-Class Integration
    A Historical Perspective for a Contemporary Agenda
    Vanessa Siddle Walker
    Equity and Empathy
    Toward Racial and Educational Achievement in the Obama Era
    Prudence L. Carter
    It Wasn’t Easy to Get Here
    Kathleen Mayse
    Obama, Where Art Thou?
    Hoping for Change in U.S. Education Policy
    Wayne Au
    Praise Song for Teachers
    A Call to Action
    Ariane White
    Educating Latino Immigrant Students in the Twenty-First Century
    Principles for the Obama Administration
    Carola Suárez-Orozco and Marcelo Suárez-Orozco
    Education for Everyday People
    Obstacles and Opportunities Facing the Obama Administration
    Gloria Ladson-Billings
    An Insurrectionary Generation
    Young People, Poverty, Education, and Obama
    Jay Gillen
    An Earned Insurgency
    Quality Education as a Constitutional Right
    Robert P. Moses
    Barack Obama and the Fight for Public Education
    William Ayers
    Coda: The Slow Fuse of Change
    Obama, the Schools, Imagination, and Convergence
    Maxine Greene
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