Thursday, November 26, 2009

Capitalizing on Obama's Bow: Teaching Opportunities

The one week that I'm not in front of my 8th graders, I missed out on an amazing teaching moment in our nation.

Obama. He took a bow.

Now, I've already been over it many times with a few close friends. Growing up in a conservative household has only recently struck me as being an incredibly common experience. Hearing the general public, and yes, the conservative media's reaction to Obama's sign of respect was interesting, but nothing out of the ordinary. It is almost frightening to see how quickly we can turn a sign of cultural appreciation - a bow - into a negative.

It's a sign of submission they say.

A quick look to our dictionary will show that a bow can be either a sign of respect or a sign of submission. It is obvious that other cultures use the bow as a sign of respect. Japanese and Korean cultures use bowing in varying degrees to show respect, reverence etc. It is interesting that in a "Western" culture, we view the bow as a sign of submission ONLY, and not as a gesture of respect.

Democracies, many conservatives would argue, do not use bowing as a gesture because all people are equal. By the People, For the People. Dick Cheney exemplifies the conservative approach best: “There is no reason for an American president to bow to anyone. Our friends and allies don’t expect it, and our enemies see it as a sign of weakness.”

Back to Obama's situation with Emperor Akihito. Surely this bow was not an informal one. It was very formal, as sign of respect in an attempt to establish proper diplomacy. Let us not forget George W's treatment of Saudi Arabian Prince Abdullah. It was a kiss. A good one. And in the moment of George W's apparent rush and uneasiness, he managed to touch lips with the Saudi Prince. That's right. A full on kiss kiss smooch...followed by hand holding.

How my conservative friends (especially those against Gay Marriage and homosexuality in general) can rationalize the two, as to why Mr. Bush is in the clear and Mr. Obama is in the wrong, simply astounds me. If one is bad, can the other not be okay? I believe, firmly, that both of these gestures were made in an attempt to create positive diplomatic relations. Therefore, President Obama shouldn't have to suffer the obvious barrage of flack led by the Fox News Campaign Against Anything Not Republican (F.N.C.A.A.N.R. for short)

Back to my teaching moment. What better subject to stage a debate? What better topic, one that is timely and easily relatable to young students, to teach students how to be comfortable speaking in the front of the classroom? Students need to be pressed in the Social Studies classroom, every so often, to examine our current events as well, and to relate them to their subject matter in a thoughtful, positive way. No matter what side students defend, the simple fact that they are defending anything, speaking publicly, and learning to form logical arguments, is the key to this teaching opportunity.

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