Harvard Educational Review
  1. Summer 2009 Issue »

    Youth Voices

    T-Shirts, Key Chains, and Civic Duty

    Charlie Smith
    11th grade, Andover High School, Andover, Massachusetts

    Barack Obama’s candidacy was one of hope, inspiration, and, of course, change. The incredible rhetoric and messianic quality of his campaign produced visions of activism sweeping the nation.

    Early on, even before the Iowa caucuses, I was hard at work spreading Barack Obama’s message of change. My education was already moving from the classroom to the campaign trail. I avidly researched the issues and was armed with information to persuade potential voters. I phone-banked, I held picket signs in the cold, and I canvassed door-to-door.

    It appeared as though the apathy that had consumed this nation for so long was about to be swept away by throngs of inspired youthful activists. Across the nation, enormous rallies were reported and youthful activism was thrusting Barack Obama onto the national stage. I waited for this change to flood across suburban Massachusetts, to change the way the students at my school felt about their nation. But it never came. The primaries passed and still there was little evidence of our nation’s redemption. However, as the general election approached, Barack Obama’s message finally reached the students of
    Andover High School.

    “Activism” didn’t reach my school in the form of sweat and hard work—it came for the most part in the form of overpriced merchandise, key chains, t-shirts, hats, and pins. The emotion and passion of the election culminated in cheap, plastic novelties and fashion accessories.

    But perhaps authentic, youthful enthusiasm could be found out on the political frontlines that I knew so well, in the phone banks, picket lines and heavily canvassed neighborhoods. I searched there as well, to find the same group of dedicated elderly dialing away, the same group of enthusiastic political science majors holding picket signs out in the cold, and the same eager canvassers prowling New Hampshire’s quiet streets.

    I had hoped that this election would transform my school into a place of political involvement and discussion. Did I expect too much? I did learn a lesson: despite the largely commercial effect the election had on the majority of students, it educated those of us who were truly interested. The names and dates in my history textbooks were given new life and the fierce discussions at debate team felt relevant. My interest in politics was given an avenue in the form of volunteering and my experiences on the campaign will have influenced the major I will seek in college.

    Now that the election is over, I am left with contradictory feelings of idealism and cynicism, but ultimately with optimistic realism. It is this attitude that will affect my education, how I view the knowledge I am given, and my ongoing reassessment of civic duty. Barack Obama’s presidency will enrich the education of the enthusiastic few and will leave the majority with improved education policy and funding, a collection of novelty hats, and perhaps the inklings of civic responsibility.
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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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