Teaching About Obama’s Presidency – How Soon Is Too Soon?

As a history teacher, I make decisions every summer with regards to student learning. The one area I have struggled with constantly for almost 30 years is when do I begin teaching about a President and events that happened in their term as history. For Reagan and George HW Bush, I waited a few years, especially with Reagan. With Clinton and George W. Bush, I had lessons implemented before they even left office. Sometimes events take a while to unfold before you see the true impact of an event and how it plays out over time.

As it stands right now, the final lesson I teach every year is about the raid in Abbottabad, Pakistan on the Bin Laden compound. Everything in the lesson is about giving the students tiny bits of information at a time as they make decisions.

However, what I am struggling with as an educator this fall is if I add something to my curriculum, I have to take something out. I only have a finite number of days to teach about US history since 1900 and that doesn’t leave a lot of room for the very recent past. I like spending a lot of time teaching about the 20th Century as there are a lot of lessons that any young American citizen could learn from and apply in today’s world.

When I actually do sit down next summer and start looking at next year‘s curriculum, deciding to include lessons on Obama’s two terms will be one of the key things I have to ponder. In trying to decide what else to teach about besides the Abbottabad raid, I want to focus on the mess he inherited from President Bush, which included two ongoing wars and an economic recession. When Obama left office eight years later, the stock market rebounded and gained an additional 6000 points while unemployment dropped substantially.

Part of me says that I am retiring soon and I shouldn’t worry about it at all. Just keep doing what I’ve done in the past and that’ll be good enough. But that’s not how I am. I always give my best. I don’t mail in my job. I don’t shy away from controversial things. My job is to teach the children and it’s their job to learn how to interpret charts, graphs, and diagrams along with analyzing primary documents, speeches, educational films, and photographs and they are free to reach their own conclusions.

So, here’s what I’ve been thinking about when it comes to possible lessons about the Obama era.

1. I have over 1000 editorial cartoons of Obama on a variety of subjects. Cartoonists are not usually kind during a president’s actual term. They might be later, but during the term, the cartoonist’s job is to be critical. I love cartoons because they are fun to analyze and the kids love them as well.

2. Scenarios. One of the things I just love to do that the kids just eat up like candy are scenarios/simulations. I like to put forth a historical event and walk them through it with a list of options. It usually takes two or three scenarios at the beginning of the year for them to start thinking about the consequences of their actions and how it’s going to impact other people. And that’s the key to why I do simulations scenarios. They have to put themselves in other people’s shoes. I only give them as much information that they need to know in a single moment. By also giving them options, it avoids the teenage male from wanting to “nuke” everything.

3. The Affordable Care Act – Most of the students that I’ll be teaching next year were two or three years old when the Affordable Care Act was passed. They probably have little or no knowledge about what it is and what it truly contains.

4. Ranking Achievements – I would give them an article about events in Obama’s presidency and they would have to read the article and rank the key events with #1 being the most important. It is interesting to find out how they think and what matters to them as future citizens. I think this might be the most doable.

5. Others – I could also do lessons about the Economy, LGBTQ+ court cases, the Environment, Trayvon Martin, Colin Kaepernick, Drones, Cuban Relations, and much, much more.

These are just a few ideas that are rolling around in my brain. This is how it all starts. Now I’m interested to see how it’s going to come to fruition in a year. I would be intrigued to see where they stand on a few of these issues and why.

In the end, though, if something goes into the curriculum, something has to come out. I could try something out this spring and see how it goes.

That might lead to more. That’s kind of how things work.