Who is Qualified to Run for President of the United States?

gbush_dukakis-p1When I was in five-year old kindergarten, our teacher had us participate in a mock poll for the upcoming ’88 election. She set up a private voting area to simulate what the actual polls were like. All we had to do was cast our vote on the ballot provided to us by our Scholastic News Weekly Reader and place it into a desk.

Having no prior knowledge of the issues or who George H.W. Bush and Michael Dukakis were, I took a long hard look at the ballot, which had photos of both candidates, and tried to determine who looked more presidential. Ultimately, I decided that George H.W. Bush looked more presidential than Michael Dukakis, so I wrote an X next to his photo and placed my ballot into the desk. I remember feeling a sense of satisfaction after hearing Bush had won; I must’ve had an innate knack for determining outcomes of presidential elections.

Back then, as a five-year old, I had no idea what made someone qualified to be the president of the United States, so I based it on looks. If you look at the two men side-by-side, you’ll notice that Dukakis has darker features than Bush. By this time, I was already socialized to instinctively believe that a well-coiffed, Anglo-Saxon man made the best leader and would naturally fill the role of president. Unfortunately, too many of us still hold this same archaic belief–whether consciously or unconsciously–that to truly be qualified to be president, one must still be a white male.

93339875_obamalaughingDon’t believe me? Remember President Obama? How many times was he criticized for being under-qualified to be president despite the fact he held a law degree from Harvard? I don’t know about you, but I certainly want someone with a deep understanding of the law to be involved in the law-making process. Another criticism was that he wasn’t in the Senate long enough to run for president. Or how about the incessant requests for him to prove that he was born in the United States? Did anyone ask to see George Bush’s birth certificate? Or Bill Clinton?

So, people weren’t satisfied with a Harvard Law degree or a short stint in the US Senate. Then, what actually makes someone qualified to be the president?

Take Oprah. Oprah delivers an impassioned, intelligent speech at the Golden Globes and suddenly everyone is declaring that she is not qualified to run for the presidency of the United States despite the fact she has not even announced her candidacy.

A successful, intelligent, well-connected, empathetic, charismatic black businesswoman is not qualified to run for president? I’m not concerned about whether or not she’d make a good president; I’m deeply concerned at how quick people were to discredit her qualifications. The only true qualifications required to be a candidate for the presidency are you have to be 35 years of age, a natural born citizen, and a resident of the US for 14 years. Yet, we’re holding on to this false idea that to be president of the United States you have to somehow meet a magical set of rigorous requirements that never actually existed in the first place.

Just look at Hillary Clinton. Given her experience in foreign policy and tenure in the Senate, Hillary Clinton was extremely qualified to run for the presidency. However, people questioned her qualifications, too. Some couldn’t even see beyond her gender and believed that people were only voting for her simply because she was a woman and not her wealth of experience. Others didn’t want just another career politician in the White House especially not another Clinton. Some of these same naysayers are now urging the public to embrace Rep. Joe Kennedy III as a viable candidate for president. A Kennedy Democrat in politics? That is something I have never heard of before!

So, I suppose to be truly qualified to run for president, you should have experience in politics, but not too much, and you shouldn’t be related or married to someone who’s already held the office unless he was a charismatic, attractive white male, and you are too. I think I’m starting to get the idea of what truly qualifies someone to run for president.

As we set our sights on Decision 2020, I urge us all to take a deep look at the unconscious biases that cloud our judgments of what makes someone qualified enough to run for the presidency of the United States. It’s time to rewrite the narrative so that someday, in the classrooms of tomorrow, when kindergartners are holding another mock election and some five year-old girl is looking at the pictures of the candidates on her ballot—what she deems to  “look presidential” does not resemble a well-coiffed, Anglo-Saxon male.


Parental Accountability, Anyone?

“I ripped the Obama sticker off of my truck.  We worked hard for this man, we talked to our neighbors and our fellow teachers about why we should support him, and we’re having to dig the knife out of our back.” — Zeph Capo, Houston Federation of Teachers

Hearing about President Obama’s support of a Rhode Island schools district’s decision to fire all of its teachers and the Boston Public Schools’ plan to follow suit  infuriates me to no end. I’m not one to get angry, but the more I read about this debacle, the more I want to throw things across the room and kick over my neighbor’s trash cans.  As a teacher who has taught in two different urban middle schools in metro Boston, I am no stranger to the ins and outs of the increased pressure to meet standards and to perform well on standardized tests.  I once had to administer a standardized test to a boy who had literally just arrived from El Salvador the day before.  Since he was on the school’s roster, he had to take the test.  Otherwise, the school would have been penalized.  Not only did he not speak any English, he had no idea why I was watching him fill in bubbles with a number 2 pencil.  From my experiences and from what I’ve been hearing about in the news, the fact is everyone loves to hold the teachers accountable for the failings of public education .  While I do not deny there are poor quality teachers who should step away from the profession, I am wondering: WHAT ABOUT THE PARENTS?!  Why does the success of the student fall solely on the teacher? Why should teachers be held responsible for the shortcomings of students’ parents?

A teacher can promote high standards until she is blue in the face, but it means nothing if it is not reinforced at home. In my experiences, the highest achieving students were the ones whose parents were the most supportive and most involved in their lives.  These were the parents who showed up to parent/teacher conferences, who made phone calls, or sent e-mails when in doubt, and who volunteered to chaperone on field trips.

On the other hand,  many parents are unable to show up to conferences, meetings, make phone calls, and it’s not their fault. The playing field is not equal. Some parents work during conference times, are unable to volunteer at the school because of work, or are single parents who do not have the luxury of balancing their kid’s schedules with another adult. Other parents work three jobs to make ends meet so that their children can have better opportunities than they did, leaving little free time to spend with their children.  There are also parents who don’t always feel comfortable approaching the school or participating at school for cultural reasons.  The language barrier alone can be intimidating.

Still, I believe that the quality of parenting is directly correlated to a school’s achievement rate.  When kids are coming to school angry from something they witnessed at home, with poor hygiene, exhausted from lack of sleep, and hungry, learning is the last thing on their mind.  Stop blaming the teachers. Focus on where parents and families are struggling and figure out what can be done to help them grow stronger.  The school and outlying community need to come together as a whole and support struggling parents and families.  Low performing schools cannot be improved by simply firing all its teachers, they can be fixed if communities start to address the real issues behind low achievement.