U.S. President Obama took time out of bombing Libya to answer some questions about what his administration is or is not doing to address the problems facing the English Learners and Latino students in our schools. Jorge Ramos of the Univision network put this “Foro Comunitario” together las Monday as part of their feature entitled “El Presidente, Los Hispanos, y la Educación.”
The event took place at the Bell Multicultural High School in Washington D.C and in conjunction by the Gates Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education, and advocacy groups. (Even NASA is credited on the Univisión website as having had a hand in it. )
Obama spoke in his usual, calculated manner, pointing out things he has said before, unveiling no surprises, but as a whole the forum served as a good landscape view of the Obama administration’s positions on issues that affect the Hispanic community, and the national educational trajectory in general.
Here are some of the highlights, in case you don’t want to sit through the whole 45 minute video:
Jorge Ramos confronted Obama with the statistic that his administration has deported more people than any other, to which he responded that his administration has made the deportation of “criminals” rather than normal hardworking people a priority. The latter group, he argued, has seen a decrease in deportation.
In one of the most poignant moments a student asked via video, why she received a deportation order, challenging his assertion that they were only trying to deport criminals. The POTUS responded with administration talking points on the importance of securing borders and getting comprehensive immigration reform passed.
Then he fielded a tough question on the amount of money the U.S. spends on war compared to what it spends on education. He tiptoed around it, and said that the defense budget was built over many decades. He claimed that in his new budget, even with all the wars he is still committed to fighting, he was able to increase the overall education budget by ten percent. Balance, balance, he argued.
He then gave the usual billboard advice to parents on the importance of reading to your child and staying involved in school, and going to college. He also did more than his fair share of tooting his administration’s horn on his accomplishments on making college more affordable and such. He was clearly in campaign mode at times, and managed to crack a few jokes where he could.
But the atmosphere was punctured by a woman who spoke about her son who died as a result of bullying, who asked why did he not answer her letters and what we was planning on doing about it at a national scale. He said he was sorry to hear about it, and went on to tout what he was already doing about it.
Obama also went down the list of tech devices he owns–ipad, computer, blackberry–which led to the final question, delivered by another student, Diana Castillo, about access to technology.
Obama raced through the answer, but said “if” schools know how to use technology well, every student should have access to the computer. “Technology is not a magic bullet,” he said and added that
Another student challenged him on the amount of standardized tests, which he found excessive. Obama replied by saying that those tests are being used to punish students an schools too much, and that we needed a “less pressure-packed atmosphere” and that we should perhaps consider giving tests every few years. Obama and his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, have hinted such things in the past, but it was refreshing to hear him say that he doesn’t want students evaluated solely on standardized tests, and that education should not be focused on “teaching to the test”.
To what extent they are going to move on this given the sad state of the Congress is still to be seen, although signs are not hopeful–but not altogether hopeless either.