BERLIN – The inauguration of President-elect Barack Obama will be a day of celebration for some people across the United States, but one local student will sit it out.
Kimberly McAllister will keep her 7-year-old daughter home that day from Buckingham Elementary School (BES), which is holding an assembly to watch Obama’s inauguration, in protest over what she calls political indoctrination.
“I believe it’s being used as a political tool,” McAllister said.
BES Principal Roger Pacella disgreed, saying, “At Buckingham Elementary School, we are a learning community. We believe that both our students and staff will benefit from viewing the inauguration – an opportunity to understand and celebrate our great democratic tradition. This will be learning in ‘real time’ in the moment. What an important component to education.”
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes said Pacella’s comments reflect the school board’s opinion.
“The transition of the presidency is a hallmark of our democracy and provides our students with a powerful teachable moment,” said Andes. “During the course of a student’s 12 years in the public school system, they will most likely only have the opportunity to experience three inaugurations.”
The school board sent an e-mail this week to county schools encouraging educators to use the inauguration as a teaching tool. The e-mail included several online resources on using the ceremony in the classroom.
BES will watch Obama’s inauguration during a special assembly in the cafeteria. Students are encouraged to dress in their Sunday best or wear red, white, and blue, according to letter Pacella sent home to parents.
“Never have I heard of pulling the entire school out of class to watch an inauguration, accompanied by such an overwhelming endorsement and celebratory fanfare. I guess I am to assume that previous inaugurations were of less importance? Or is this an unbridled attempt to indoctrinate the students at BES?” McAllister wrote in a letter to Pacella, which was copied to the school board and media.
According to McAllister, the school has been hyping Obama’s election in morning announcements, which are shown over closed-circuit television in classrooms, for weeks.
“I don’t think my tax dollars should be going to pay to indoctrinate my child to think a certain way,” McAllister said. “It’s not only ideological, it’s ideological overdrive.”
Teaching children about government and how power changes hands in the United States is fine with McAllister, who voted for Sen. John McCain last year. Instead of watching the inauguration in the classroom, the school is making a party of it.
“It’s the way they’re going about it. To be honest, they’re likening it to the second coming of Christ,” she said.
McAllister would be happier if BES had made the same fuss over the re-inauguration of President George W. Bush in 2004. She also wondered if McCain’s inauguration would be treated the same way. “I doubt it very, very much,” she said.
McAllister dismisses the historical impact of Obama’s election. “He’s the first African-American, that’s what they’re teaching. He’s not. He’s of mixed race,” McAllister said. “Playing it up and making that the focus does more to harm race relations than it does to better them.”
Other local schools will also watch Obama’s inauguration.
“It’s a very important piece of history,” said Ocean City Elementary School (OCES) Principal Irene Kordick.
Many teachers at OCES will use the inauguration to talk about the government and to support ongoing character education, as they have in the past. One key aspect is teaching children that once someone is elected, the country needs to stand behind that person, Kordick said.
Over at Showell Elementary School (SES), Principal Paula Jones said, “We’re all going to dress up in red, white and blue, because we feel it’s a very patriotic day. We’re all going to be very, very good citizens that day.”
Logistics dictate that some SES students will watch the inauguration in classrooms and some in a smaller assembly. Teachers will also base activities around the event. Jones said that the school has watched other historical events, including inaugurations.
“It’s part of our American life. We’re very big on teaching citizenship and all of our students are little citizens,” Jones said.