Michelle Obama and Public Schools
The Hotline On Call Quote Of The Day:
“I want people to know when they look at me, to be clear that they see what an investment in public education can look like.” — Michelle Obama
Now, I’m in favor of investment in public education. I went to seven different public schools growing up, including three on American military bases, and have three degrees from public institutions. I’ve even taught at four public colleges and universities.
But Michelle Obama? She’s a different story:
Michelle graduated from Whitney Young High School in 1981 and went on to major in sociology and minor in African American studies at Princeton University, where she graduated cum laude with an Artium Baccalaureus in 1985. As part of her requirements for graduation, she wrote a thesis entitled, “Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community.” She obtained her Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School in 1988.
Whitney Young High School “is a highly selective-enrollment Chicago public school that opened its doors to students on September 3, 1975 as the city’s first public magnet high school.” It’s as close to a private school as it gets on the taxpayer’s dime. Princeton and Harvard, of course, are not only private institutions but part of the Ivy League.
So, looking at Michelle Obama might give one a very good idea what going to the most selective institutions in the country can look like. An investment in public education? Not so much.
UPDATE: A couple of commenters note that exclusive public magnet schools are still public schools. True that.
The problem, though, is that it undercuts her argument. You don’t have to “invest” in a public school if it can cherry pick the best students in the city and send the bad ones elsewhere. Any school would provide a good education under those conditions. Indeed, one of the chief arguments against vouchers for private schools is that it leaves behind the hardest-to-teach children for the public schools and isolates those kids, disproportionately from minority groups and the underclass, even further.
Additionally, it appears the Obama’s send their own kids to private school. For the convenience, of course.
UPDATE II: Another commenter observes that Obama went to public grade school. That’s true. The CST feature “The woman behind Obama” reports,
Both Michelle and Craig, now head basketball coach at Brown University, learned to read at home by the age of 4. Both skipped second grade (both their parents also skipped a grade).
By sixth grade, Michelle joined a gifted class at what is now Bouchet Elementary, at 73rd and Jeffery. The gifted program exposed Michelle to three years of French before she graduated as class salutatorian, and, for two years, to special biology classes at Kennedy King College. There, the gifted class studied photosynthesis, worked in a laboratory and identified the muscles of dissected rat specimens, recalled childhood friend Chiaka Davis Patterson. “This is not what normal seventh-graders were getting,” Patterson said.
No joke. So, if you’re really bright, your parents teach you to read at home before you start school, you go to special college classes in grade school, and then to school with the best students in all of Chicago, then there’s nothing like a public school education. Then again, for most kids, that’s nothing like a public school education.
Is this meant to be another condemnation of public education?
Nice job taking a quote out of context, J-Dog.
That snippet was immediately preceded by her mentioning her Ivy league post-secondary degrees.
It’s important to remember that the only way you can get into an Ivy–unless your father and grandfather went there like the case of Bush–is if you are both smart and well-prepared in high school.
The fact that Whitney Young is a magnet school is irrelevant. It is a public school that provided her the educational experience that contributed to her success.
But Whitney Young, in the end, is still a public school. There’s nothing wrong with having public magnet schools, as I’m a product of one, a fact which I’m pretty proud of. I hope to get both my boys into Thomas Jefferson HS, the local magnet school. The same thing goes for GT programs and other “high achiever” curriculum which keeps smart kids from getting bored in the general ed schools where they have to cater to the lowest common denominator. It’s bad enough that with the NCLB act, the schools spend half the year teaching for the test. If a student is smart enough to get into a public magnet school, that isn’t the same as sending them to Sidwell Friends.
Aside from being cheaper, how so?
I beg to differ. You do have to invest in public schools, whether they be the plain vanilla type neighborhood school, or magnet ones like TJ or Stuyvesant/Bronx Science (my alma mater) in NYC. You need to invest by attracting qualified faculty, having the needed improvements in school infrastructure and getting parental involvement. I’m sure you’ll understand this once you have your own children, James. It’s not a matter of sending your kids off to school and expect them to become geniuses. Enough parents think that’s all that’s needed. It takes a lot of work on the part of teachers and parents to ensure your kids are provided every advantage in the public school system. Like I said, I’m a believer in public magnet schools. I only wish all public schools can be like them.
No doubt on the work. But all public schools can’t be like Bronx Science: There aren’t enough super smart kids to populate them or enough high caliber teachers to go around.
I do think the best teachers will naturally gravitate to the schools with the best working conditions — i.e., smart kids and parents interested in getting the best education for their kids.
When I went to a magnet school in Miami, it was selective for students not zoned for the school, but there were also students for who it was their “home” school. The whole point of the magnet school was to draw (like a magnet) diversity (read: white kids) to a school in a less affluent neighborhood.
So my question is, was Michelle Obama a local student, or a selective one?
You write: “The problem, though, is that it undercuts her argument. You don’t have to “investâ€ in a public school if it can cherry pick the best students in the city and send the bad ones elsewhere. Any school would provide a good education under those conditions.”
Well, if that’s true, then it should not be fair to EVER compare the results of public vs. private education. Yet such comparisons are the bread-and-butter of many a site continually calling for the wholesale dismantling of the public school system, or the defunding of it, under the banner that “well, private schools get better results for less money, don’t they?”
Either way, magnet schools ARE public schools. They are one solution that districts have taken to a variety of problems. Saying “well, the standard public school model is bad, and any variation on that model is unfair for you to look at when discussing public schools” is silly.
A person’s education does not start in high school. Michelle Obama went to elementary school in Chicago, in a Chicago public school. Even if you want to discount her high school education she is still a product of the Chicago public school system by virtue of having attended a public elementary school as a child.
You are reaching dude. How about some commentary on Cindy McCain? Whats with the Obama obsession?
We lived in a well off community in NC that was a magnet school so the goal isn’t always to get white kids to attend to make it more diverse.
But you correct at least that the schools only cherry picked the out of district kids, if a not so strong student lived in the magnet school district/zone, they went to that school. And they are still essentially public schools.
I guess I’m confused–what exactly is her “argument”? All she said is that she has been successful and she went to public schools.
She never claimed that her experience was typical, so I don’t know where you’re getting this logic from.
James, you might want to see if Whitney Young offers some online courses in logic.
What Michelle Obama is saying is that it is not racist when black families to want to sent their children to either elite magnet schools or GT programs with admission tests so that the children of those black parents will not have to go to school with gang bangers but that white parents are racist when they want to send the children of white parents to private schools so that the white children will not be in school with gang bangers.
She said, “I want people to know when they look at me, to be clear that they see what an investment in public education can look like.” But she went to the opposite of public education — a highly selective, individual attention program for the best and brightest. That’s great but the only difference between that and a private school is the label. It’s not translatable to ordinary students.
Superdestroyer, I’ve think you’ve taken a few below the waterline. How did you get to reverse racism from the one quote that JJ presents?
The Obama children go to private elementary school. How much of an “investment in public school” is Michelle making? Smacks of complete hypocrisy for her to say that.
If you go to the best steakhouse in town, and order a burger, it doesn’t seem worth it. However, if I order the filet, it does. That doesn’t mean the restaurant you went to is nothing like the one I went to, it just means that I took better advantage of what was available to me there than you did.
Now, some would argue that the steakhouse should be closed, because their burgers are expensive. Others say it is a fine steakhouse, they just need to stop serving people who only want burgers.
I think that as a Presidential couple, right off the bat and from day one Michele and Barack’s story will discontinue the notion that you must be of the elite in order to reach success like they have.
There is no ? in my mind that these people know the value of quality education. They are both living proof that hard work, a strong and positive family unit and the resources (esp educational) are all it takes for any of us to succeed.
I think it is elitist and condescending to consider those not selected for a magnate school as bad students. They might just prefer to waddle in public school mediocrity. On the other hand, it is smart to consider the future of this country and provide opportunities for those who want to take advantage of them. The essence of being “Public” is for the greater good and is worthy of public spending. No one forces students (other than maybe parents) to attend a magnate school. It is an elective process for those that have expended the labor to learn at a high level and prove they can meet the demands of a rigorous academic schedule. It is not a gift in return for nothing.
I agree with almost everything you said, which follows since we’ve had similar experiences. One point I’d make is that parental involvement is both hugely valuable and fairly scarce. The primary reason people move to my city is the top notch public school system. The parents put education first, can afford to and have lots of time to volunteer. A similar demographic exists for private schools.
Both my boys went to a magnet class within the school system. The selection process is one standardized test. They take the top one percent. I spent a lot of time in their class – and this is James point – it was frickin’ awesome. Smart kids with involved parents is the best draw for teachers. That and a low probability of getting shanked.
I went to a shockingly run down (built in 1865) Catholic school for grade school. It competed with public schools that were basically state of the art. The teachers and the students in my estimation were roughly the same quality in the two systems. The Catholic education was vastly superior due to the curriculum and parental involvement. Facilities didn’t seem to mean much.
Your inference that only bad students (“bad ones) are left to go to the “public schools” after the gifted ones get selected for the magnate schools is a very “elitist” point of view. I believe the “left-overs” or “bad ones” as you describe are the normal people your blog pretends to support and speak for. Just like many corporations or government agencies, gifted people are identified and provided an opportunity with a fast-track to success. It is nice to learn that even public institutions have the foresight to provide opportunity for the best and the brightest in our society. After all, you would think these are the future leaders of America who will eventually provide more opportunity for the rest of us slobs via paying more taxes, creating more jobs, advancing innovation and technology, and supporting the Arts. Sounds like to me we need more magnate schools to turn out more big contributors to society.
I’d argue that culling the best and treating them differently is the very definition of “elitist.” And I tend to think it’s on balance a good idea. I don’t mind that Michelle went to a great school, just her insistence that this shows what public school can do.
And I certainly don’t claim to speak for “normal people” here. I merely call out those who claim to do so while at the same time speaking of them as if they’re ignorant hicks.
This entire story is a real step-by-step on making a mountain out of a molehill. Because Barack’s wife’s parents cared enough about her education – and had the spare time & brainpower of their own – both she and Barack are elitists who won’t be able to “connect” with Joe Sixpack? While one other contestant sports a Yale law degree, and the other guy went to the freaking Naval Academy.
Seriously, James. Crap like this isn’t worth your brainpower, let alone your bandwidth.
I’m not making that argument. I’m merely quibbling with her assertion that her experience is somehow an example of what investing in public education can do. She had a very, very privileged existence. I don’t fault her for that and she’s made the most of it. But don’t pretend that experience is transferable.
Yes, all three went to great schools. The Naval Academy is more blue collar, in the sense that it requires five years service as an officer after graduation, not to mention a year of hell whilst a midshipman. But all three are elite experiences without a doubt.
Michele Obama’s public school experience is no where near typical. Students in magnet schools are their because they have parents who care about them, magnet schools have better teachers and students who are their to learn. The typical public education experience is overcrowded classrooms or portables, disruptive, undisciplined students, gang activity, a selection of excellent to absolutely horrible teachers depending on chance, a lot of parents who don’t give a rats behind about their children and very smart, bored children who if had anyone who cared about them they would be in magnet schools also. There is politics at play and racial quotas involved in who gets in those magnet schools; so you do have a lot of students who more than belong in the magnet school program, who are held down with the others.
We have invested and invested in the public school system until we are blue in the face, and until something is done about the teachers union and the way that very bad unqualified teachers that need to be fired are kept to keep getting higher and higher pay with little accountability, the system is not going to improve.
Of course the unions are very good about endorsing and contributing to liberal politicians so that problem will continue to be swept under the rug.
We need more magnet schools, yes and we need more school choice for parents so that parents who care have more control of where their children go
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The Obama’s are not what they appear to be. That will make it self evident with time. Mrs. Obama, with all the opportunity this nation has given her still calls it a mean country. All the women she knows are having financial trouble. What, not doing enough billing hours? All of their friends are either terrorists such as Ayers, whitey haters like Wright, criminals like Rezko or Lawyers. We all know about lawyers.
Anjin, what has this got to do with Mrs. McCain? Has she made some ignorant statement about how regular people the McCains are, or do you just want to the the spotlight off Obama because he cannot stand the scrutiny?
Geez, how can anyone take seriously this coming from someone who, as his nom de comment, adopted the name of a 13th century Albanian warlord who married his favorite goat.
No wonder Michelle is so full of herself, she was in the gifted class in school.
Gifted classes teach “values clarification”, “situation ethics” and help puff up a child’s ego like a hot air balloon on steroids. I pulled my son OUT of gifted classes for those very reasons. The school system was undermining everything his family was trying to teach him about truth, humility, work ethic, etc., etc. Shortly thereafter we enrolled our children in private school and sacrificed whatever was necessary to keep them there.
Public schools are so dumbed down now that they seem unredeemable. I shutter to think what the future holds for upcoming generations.
Shucks, all that public education and nobody taught her that the Federal government has no legitimate role in public education.
So far all they have done is run interference.
When it comes to federal input, they can kiss my “child’s left behind”!
Portraying Michelle Obama as a child of privilege who grew up with a silver spoon in her mouth is unfair and inaccurate. Her upbringing was solidly middle class, as was the neighborhood she grew up in. In fact, the areas surrounding her neighborhood, which was close to mine, became increasingly poor and run-down between the 1960s and the 1980s, and walking around the area of her grammar school as a white person at that time could be distinctly uncomfortable.
Similarly, while it’s true that Whitney Young has become something of an elite institution in recent years — from what I’ve read, it’s one of the top schools in Illinois now — that was not the case back when it opened. Back when Michelle and I entered Whitney Young in 1977 — we were classmates — the magnet concept for the school was that it would draw in a racially mixed student body and would have strong arts programs, not that it would be an academic powerhouse. The admissions process wasn’t totally clear, but it was largely based on race and geography (trying to get kids from all areas of the city). Incidentally, Michelle was not a “local” student; she lived about 12 miles from the school.
During our first year or two in high school, Whitney Young didn’t even have honors classes; those came about only because the mother of one of our other classmates kept pestering the school board and administration until they finally gave in. (Note that this is exactly the type of parental involvement in schools that several posters have discussed above as essential to educational excellence.) Were teachers drawn to WY because it was a safer and newer school than many others in the Chicago system? Certainly. Were there good teachers at WY? Yes. Were there also awful teachers there? Absolutely yes. Were there a lot of bright kids in the student body? Yes. Were there a lot of kids who were average or even substandard? Absolutely. WY had a higher percentage of talented and motivated students than other schools, and a lower percentage of burnouts, but both its students and its teachers ran the gamut from excellent to lousy.
One area where Whitney Young defintitely did well was security and safety, because they had the option of sending undisciplined students back to their home districts. That’s not to say that there were no problems, though. Whitney Young was also the site of a hearing impaired program (HIP), which was selective only in the sense that you had to be deaf to be admitted. The HIP kids would routinely be seen smoking reefer, jumping turnstiles at the rapid transit station, and smashing things with steel bars. The facilities were also good, mainly because they were brand new. Other public schools in the city had many of the same facilities, however — just in older buildings.
What I’m trying to get across here is that Whitney Young — at least at the time Michelle and I attended — was hardly the Groton or Deerfield that some people seem to think it was. It was a better than average public school, and it provided a good enough education — if a student and his/her parents insisted on getting quality classes — that many graduates were able to get into universities like Princeton, Harvard, Penn, and Northwestern. But it was most decidedly a public school. And the fact that it was not an “average” public school is irrelevant; public school systems are supposed to be providing programs suitable for all students, whether they have learning disabilities or are gifted. Michelle is correct that the care and investment Chicago put into its schools helped make her who she is today.
Whitney Young is not like any public school you have ever seen, magnet or otherwise. Each student is handpicked. Literally. Entrance is stringent; test scores are paramount; and involvement is mandatory. Until Northside Prep opened several years ago, it was the top high school in the State of Illinois. It, if you will, reeks of elitism. The rivalry between Young and Northside is legendary. They are in constant competition.
How do I know? I worked for the Chicago Public Schools for many years and wo of my cousins sons went to Young. They got a wonderful education, but felt left out most of the time because they felt that they didn’t fit in.
Bouchet, Mrs. Obama’s elementary school, is not a magnet school and does not have recognized gifted classes following the specifics of CPS program guides. I know what Bouchet did is pull the top scoring students in the school and put them all together in what would have been known as an accelerated class – average kids by most standards, who were treated as gifted and given a curriculum that was faster and more. [not a good gifted curriculum format]
no she wasn’t handed a silver spoon, but she did get more than what 97% of the rest of the kids in Chicago did, and I think she knew it, especially given her senior thesis at Princeton.
All cultures have privilege and elite in their own ways. It’s dangerous to compare them cross-culturally, especially when the number one comparison is white-anlgo-saxon-protestant. I was privileged because I was the first person in our family not only to get a college education but also an advanced degree. Michelle Obama reflects the exact same idea of privilege in the African-American culture that she is speaking out against by virtue of where she lived and the opportunities afforded her at the time. Did she struggle? Yeah. So did I and so did you…
I think this illustrates James’s point perfectly. It’s not that Michelle had the presence of mind to order the filet while others didn’t. It’s that the restaurant wasn’t available to “just anyone.” She’s saying that she benefitted from the filet, but that she ordered it from McDonalds’s.
You know, reading the endless comments about Obama & his wife on OTB, I have come to the conclusion that a lot of people are simply freaked out that black folks can be this smart, this attractive, and this together, and that they just might be running things pretty soon…
The ones who are freaked out that a half-black, half-white (why biracial people’s white half is never recognized, I don’t understand) man might be running the country likely think their educational credentials were handed to them, not that they’re smart or together.
Many Conservative who argue that social programs are some how an evil plague upon the nation. They call people who criticize Iraq policy anti American, unpatriotic subversives. This is very interesting considering Iraq has turned into the largest humanitarian social aid programs since the rebuilding of Europe after World War 2. The conservatives who complain about government handouts to the poor here in America fail to use the same unjust logic on Iraq. We are creating an entire nation based upon US taxpayer nation building welfare. This dwarfs the 2 or 3 percent of the budget we spend on domestic social programs for the poor. Iraq seems to be our little pet project in a sand box of sectarian violence and eternal insurgency. This experiment in democracy has resulted in an Islamic state where one did not exist before. You can give people a vote but they can always vote themselves back into tyranny. The vote slammed them backward into a theocracy. What a victory we have on our hands. We are building, securing, and funding Iraqi infrastructure, schools, hospitals, military bases, police, and on and on. We are spending tax dollars on many of the things that may conservative republicans despise here in the USA, Social Programs, and Social Infrastructure. This is the signature sign of a lack of logic and reasoning. When people act in a, do as I say not as I do dogma, or blatant ignorant blindness we all must step back and end the idiocracy, the hypocrisy, and the lack of rational political dogma that festers among us. I am for social programs that benefit both conservative and liberal. Programs that raise up domestic life and the positive relations with the rest of the world. We can help Iraq, but do not complain about helping the poor and disadvantaged at your own front door while giving welfare to a foreign entanglement you support.
Just her arrogant I’m Mrs Messiah Photo in this article speaks volumes. Her Princeton and Harvard education sure taught her how to pose for silent message effect thats for sure.
It wasn’t a segregated school, by race or gender. It wasn’t a private school you had to pay for. There were no physical or social requirements to get in. Presumably transportation was provided, so there were not even geographic requirements (other than being in the school’s district). It was for all intents and purposes, available for “just anyone”.
Saying that your parents didn’t take you to the restaurant doesn’t make the restaurant exclusive.
But having limited seating capacity and the bouncer letting in only the cool kids does.
Limited seating yes, but “cool kids”? I don’t think so.
Damn white folks sho’ do get upset when black folks get a good education. kinda keeps them from knowing their place, I ‘spect
Michelle Robinson was born in Chicago, Illinois to Frasier Robinson (who died in 1990), a city water plant employee and Democratic precinct captain, and Marian Robinson, a secretary at Spiegel’s catalog store;
Does not sound “very very privileged” to me. She sounds like she was a smart kid from a solid family that had some political connections, and that she took maximum advantage of every opportunity that came her way. Sounds like a great American story to me. I can see why Bushies, who’s hero is an idiot who actually did come from a very very privileged background, would not like the Obamas at all.