LaReeca Rucker has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and her work has appeared in newspapers across the nation. She spent a decade as a features writer and multimedia journalist with The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was also a USA TODAY contributor. She is a freelance journalist and support journalism instructor in the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media in Oxford, Mississippi.

Barack Obama's election affirms 'promise of American life'

LaReeca Rucker
The Oxford Eagle

In the past, Jackson's Spann Elementary School students often chose to portray sports figures during the school's black history living wax museum. Now they're aiming for a different goal. Principal Nikki Menotti said this year everyone wanted to be President Barack Obama.

Earlier in the year, Spann students discussed the inauguration, researched the candidates and participated in a mock election. Obama's groundbreaking presidential election is now being incorporated into school lessons, and not just at Spann.

Ron Howard, Mississippi College's vice president of academic affairs, is a longtime political science and government professor who teaches American constitutional development.

"I'm not all together sure what the impact of Obama's election will be on teaching, but it does seem to affirm the promise of the American Democratic tradition, which is that we have progressed through time to extend the rights in the Declaration of Independence to all people," he said. "This is an affirmation of the promise of American life, and I think that's why it will impact the way American history is taught."

Howard said Obama's election can be used as a case study of how a society has gradually transcended a lot of racism.

"Some people are talking about Obama's election heralding a post-racial America, and that may be true," he said. "If anything, I think his election should highlight, in American history courses, the progress that was made. It was gradual, slow and accompanied by a lot of pain and suffering. I think historians are going to have a wonderful opportunity to show how there was nothing easy about the progressive impact of the Democratic tradition."

Menotti said teachers at Spann are now using excerpts from Obama and Martin Luther King Jr. speeches to explain the importance of character. Character is who you are when no one is looking, Menotti tells her students.

"Barack Obama has gotten where he is today, not because of the color of his skin, but because of the content of his character. It doesn't matter whether you have dark skin or light skin; if you are focused, driven and work hard, you will accomplish what you set out to do," she said.

Students also are improving their reading skills by simultaneously learning about Obama's life. The latest book teachers downloaded from is an Obama biography.

"It comes in many different reading levels, so we can give a book to every student in the building," said Menotti, who hopes history books will soon begin to include Obama's life story. "He didn't come from a privileged background," she said, "and I hope his presidency shows students that you really can be anything you want to be now."

Deb Morali, a computer applications teacher at Madison Crossing Middle School, incorporated Obama into her class studies by introducing a graphic design and PowerPoint presentation project based on Black History Month.

Seventh- and eighth-grade students are researching notable African Americans and creating a presentation. Some include Morgan Freeman, Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Kanye West, Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks, but most students chose the new president.

Calvin Lockett, principal of Jackson's Bailey Magnet High School, said government students closely followed the presidential election, watching both the Oxford debate and both national conventions in class. A few students also traveled to the inauguration with Lockett and later shared their experience with classmates.

"To an African-American child, when you see that the highest position the United States is being held by an African-American man, you know you can succeed in any endeavor if you just apply yourself and stay focused on your goal," said Lockett, who also is proud that he helped 25-30 seniors register to vote.

"I hope to have every one of my 18-year-olds registered by the end of the year," he said.

Samuel Clark, a teacher at Northwest Jackson Middle School, said students learned about many aspects of the presidential election. They researched the oath of office and wrote their own inaugural addresses.

Clark said Obama's inclusion in class studies seems to be positively affecting students.

"You have a motivation among youth that they've never had before," he said. "Some couldn't see themselves achieving the highest office in the land. It took the ceiling off their thinking.

"I always tell my students that wearing shirts with Obama's picture on it is nice, but you represent him better when you live his principles, and one of his major principles is education. He was fatherless, like some of our youth, but he didn't use it as an excuse. He went to Harvard. Right now, students are energized, and I think it's important for adults to take that energy and positively direct it."


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