The citizen in me is in awe about how well we transfer executive power in our country. No matter who is leaving and who is coming in, the rhythm of the transition demonstrates that the system we have constructed and the values that under gird it are more important than any individual.
The optimist in me can't help but be thrilled by the prospect of a young, vibrant leader who calls on us to participate in our nation's renewal:
For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job, which sees us through our darkest hours. It is the firefighter's courage to storm a stairway filled with smoke, but also a parent's willingness to nurture a child, that finally decides our fate.
The educator in me can't help think about how we can make use of this moment to engage our children and ourselves in the challenges and decisions we face as a nation. Here are three ideas for how to do that.
1. How will the Obama presidency impact the experience of African Americans and the quality of race relations in our country?
To get you thinking about how to raise this issue with your kids, you might want to read a wonderful roundtable discussion that took place on Monday with civil rights and other African American community leaders.
The Reverend Joseph Lowery of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who gave the benediction at the inauguration yesterday, spoke about how this moment is the fulfillment of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream that someday we will live in a nation where people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
Charlayne Hunter-Gault said that while everyone knows about MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech, many young people "don't know the context of it, and they don't know the essential message of it, which was about economics and getting poor people out of poverty and into the mainstream." In that regard, the panelists agreed, we have a long, long way to go.
So ask your kids: What does this moment mean for our nation? How can we best take advantage of it? Use the moment to teach them something about the civil rights movement. And to be taught by them about how we can live better together.
2. Where did the ideas in Obama's inaugural speech come from? Whose ideas was he building on? Who was he responding to?
This one is for high school students.
CNN has a good piece on the sources of Obama's rhetoric. Check it out and use the opportunity to brush up on Thomas Paine. Can you or your kids find the references to Shakespeare? The Bible? Where in the speech is Obama responding to this passage in Ronald Reagan's inaugural address: "Government is not the solution to the problem; government is the problem."
And back to Paine: In what ways are the problems we face similar to those faced by the troops at Valley Forge? In what ways are they different?
3. Obama called for a new "era of responsibility." What does that really mean in practice for our nation — and for each of our families?
Near the end of the speech, Obama called on each of us to take part in national renewal:
Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths. What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility — a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation and the world; duties that we do not grudgingly accept but rather seize gladly, firm in the knowledge that there is nothing so satisfying to the spirit, so defining of our character, than giving our all to a difficult task.
Talk with your kids about: What does this really mean for each of us? For our family? For our nation? What are our duties? What do we have to do differently than we did before? What sacrifices will that entail? Who is going to do what by when? What about that will be hard? What will feel good? How will we hold each other accountable?
And if you're looking for inspiration on this topic — and one of the best critical reviews of Obama's speech that I have found — check out this commentary by Gordon Stewart, a speechwriter for former president Jimmy Carter.