Watching Barack Obama take the oath of office this morning and then listening to his bracing call for national responsibility, I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by a variety of emotions: Relief that it snowed today so that I could enjoy this moment from the comforts of my apartment rather than spending a day of distracted teaching on campus; excitement that President Obama’s election signifies, for so many people, that one element of Martin Luther King’s dream has been realized; sadness at what eight years of conservative rule have done to our country; apprehension at what the next eight years will demand. In fact, even as Obama talked about what he called “the price of citizenship,” I found myself reflecting on my role as an educator, as someone involved, however minimally, in the process of preparing students not only for a beleagured work force but also for participation in a larger national, and even global, dialogue.
If you’ve read my blog, you may know that I don’t wear the “teacher as hero” mantle very comfortably. I’ve often expressed ambivalence about movies that depict teachers who come in and rescue students from the ghetto, from middle class conformity, or from established gender roles. And I don’t think I’ve reimagined my role as a professor significantly after watching Obama’s speech, but it’s difficult not to feel some sense of encouragement–for lack of a better word–at hearing Obama endorse values that might be regarded as intellectual: curiosity, seriousness, dialogue. Or to hear various pundits describing someone as “professorial” without intending it as a pejorative. No matter what else happens today, I can’t pretend that today’s events aren’t meaningful for me. For the first time in ages, I feel like my values are being affirmed by the people who run our feeral government, a feeling that is only strengthened by seeing the millions of people lined up for miles along the National Mall.
There are other things about the day that are exciting as well: the reinvention of the White House website, complete with a blog run by a director of New Media (Macon Phillips), seems to promise a more inclusive, participatory government. In fact, Phillips’ first post emphasizes three priorities that are enticing for any of us who have felt excluded from the direction the country has taken for the last eight years: communication, transparency, and participation. Obviously, these principles are ideals and may be difficult to achieve. The cacophony of blog comments and video responses may complicate any desire for participation, and promises of transparency often fade as the real challenges of governing emerge. But as an ideal, it’s truly impressive.
And although there are many reasons to be enthusiastic, I’ll admit to some wariness. Inviting Rick Warren to give the invocation at today’s inauguration feels like a rejection of all of my gay and lesbian friends. And like Marc Bousquet, I’m concerned about Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, because I’m concerned that Duncan’s results-driven educational models that may not lead to actual learning. Of course, if Obama is sincere about increased participation, then this is an opportunity for educators at all levels to contribute to a national dialogue about what eductaion should do. I’m also aware of how my own emotions have been shaped by the scriptedness of the national ritual and the affective accounts of the day’s events from pundits attempting to convey the scope of this transformation. But, for the first time in a long time, I’m cautiously optimistic about where things are heading, and judging by the crowds gathered in front of the Capitol and lining up around the Lincoln Memorial where Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream Speech” forty-five years ago, I’m guessing that others feel the same way.