Sunday, November 30, 2008

Rating a President

What will We be Looking for in Mr. Obama?

The transition leadership is taking shape as President-elect Obama is forming his economic and foreign policy teams this week. The pundits, both critics and apologists, are having a hay-day with speculations and predictions of the soon to be Cabinet and White House. On a daily basis the newspapers and online news sites are full of great teaching points. I hope you have been cluing your classes in on these marvelous opportunities.

This week, however, I want to take a different angle on the Presidency. In Lesson 19 in the Executive Branch unit of Hippocampus' AP Government it talks about the qualities of the men who are our presidents. Particularly, there is a discussion of the ideas of James McGregor Burns. Burns has written that as we judge the effectiveness of a President we need to keep in mind if he had clear focused goals going into office and if he was indeed able to achieve those goals. This, Burns would contend, defines presidential greatness.

I would like to call your attention to several fine articles that you will be able to locate on-line that may be a supplement to Lesson 19. You will find them in the PBS Frontline site under "the choice 2004: what makes a good president". The first of these articles is by Fred Greenstein entitled "The Qualities that Bear on Presidential Performance." Greenstein in this article identifies six important qualities that must exist for a President to reach Burns' idea of successful. These traits are: the ability to communicate effectively with the public, possessing organizational capabilities, understanding and using political skills, having a vision for the administration, maintaining a solid cognitive style, and possessing emotional intelligence.

A possible lesson plan for the above article would be to have your class read the article and then break up into small groups. Each group would be assigned one of the modern presidents. They would need to do research on the president and then rate him on the above criteria. Each group would then report out to the class on the man, the president, and his success/failure based on Dr. Greenstein's standards.

The second article is by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. entitled "Rating the Presidents: Washington to Clinton". This article was based on a 1996 ranking of presidents by leading historians and political scientists. The Presidents were rated in one of five categories: Great, Near Great, Average, Below Average, or Failure. If your class has done the above activity or if you have simply read the Greenstein article and discussed it in class, this article will make predictions of greatness by the class very relevant.

The site also has articles by several other authors (one is Karl Rove) that are interesting and can be used in an AP class studying the presidency. This year it would be fun to have a class discussion on the apparent strengths and weaknesses of Mr. Obama, and have the students make their own informed prediction on his White House success. You can have a "you are the pundit" time with the kids. If you do any Socratic seminars this would be a good topic.

Next week I will continue to look at other aspects of the presidency. Until then...

No comments: