WASHINGTON — President Obama issued an artful apology Tuesday, taking back a “glib” remark encouraging students to ditch art history for more lucrative pursuits.
Playing to the lunchpail crowd at a General Electric plant in Wisconsin late last month, Obama took a swipe at art-history courses while trying to persuade young people to pursue more practical skills.
“A lot of young people no longer see the trades and skilled manufacturing as a viable career, but I promise you, folks can make a lot more potentially with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art-history degree,” he said.
Immediately sensing that he had painted himself into a corner, Obama kept going:
“Nothing wrong with [an] art-history degree. I love art history. I don’t want to get a bunch of e-mails from everybody. I’m just saying, you can make a really good living and have a great career without getting a four-year college education, as long as you get the skills and training that you need.”
So an art history teacher wrote Obama demanding an apology:
Obama’s backtracking didn’t satisfy Ann Collins Johns, an art professor at the University of Texas at Austin, who fired off a letter through the White House Web site.
Johns told the art website Hyperallergic that she wrote Obama to point out that her courses “challenge students to think, read and write critically,” as well as educate them about art history.
Johns, who runs UT’s program in Tuscany, was stunned to get a handwritten apology from the president himself on White House stationery.
“Ann — let me apologize for my off-the-cuff remarks. I was making a point about the jobs market, not the value of art history,” he wrote.
“As it so happens, art history was one of my favorite subjects in high school, and it has helped me take in a great deal of joy in my life that I might otherwise have missed,” Obama said in the 13-line note.
He added: “So please pass on my apology for the glib remark to the entire department, and understand that I was trying to encourage young people who may not be predisposed to a four-year college experience to be open to technical training that can lead them to an honorable career.”
He signed the letter, “Sincerely, Barack Obama.”
Two things to say here - this art history professor says she still "loves" Barack Obama and was sorry for putting him on the spot, so not exactly the toughest pushback ever from a teacher.
Second, Barack Obama owes an apology and an about face for his school privatization policies, for Race to the Top, for all the schools closed and all the teachers demonized by his education policies and his Secretary of Education/Gates Foundation, Arne Duncan.
As Micahel Brenner so articulately put it at Huffington Post:
A feature of the Obama presidency has been his campaign against the American public school system, eating way at the foundations of elementary education. That means the erosion of an institution that has been one of the keystones of the Republic. The project to remake it as a mixed public/private hybrid is inspired by a discredited dogma that charter schools perform better. This article of faith serves an alliance of interests -- ideological and commercial -- for whom the White House has been point man. A President whose tenure in office is best known for indecision, temporizing and vacillation has been relentless since day one in using the powers of his office to advance the cause. Such conviction and sustained dedication is observable in only one other area of public policy: the project to expand the powers and scope of the intelligence agencies that spy on, and monitor the behavior of persons and organizations at home as well as abroad.
There's more, much more, that Brenner lays at Obama's feet, including the firing of those teachers at Central Falls, Rhode Island and the hailing of that firing by Secretary of Education Privatization Arne Duncan and Obama himself, the preferential treatment the Obama administration has given to the charter school industry, the way the president has scapegoated teachers and schools for the 2009 financial crisis.
These are the reasons Obama should be apologizing to teachers, along with abandoning those policies that are deliberately meant to undermine the public education system and privatize it.
But we get no apology from Obama on this, and no turnaround on these policies either.
For that, Obama should be put on the spot by teachers all across this land and never mind the concern that Ann Collins Johns has that you're taking up the time of a "busy man."
To be frank, Obama is busy destroying American public schools - it would be good to take up all the time you can from him and his merry men and women in reform at the USDOE.