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An Educator's Question
The primary focus of research that we have undertaken at New Mexico State University for the past several years can be summed up with the question--are Presidential Libraries educational institutions or are they simply political monuments and messages?
We have conducted extensive investigations involving visitations to ten Presidential Libraries, telephone inquiries, email correspondences, searches of the presidential websites, and most recently a critical analysis of the Presidential series on C-SPAN and the published Presidential Timelines.
In all of this, we set out to gather some answers to the following questions. What if anything are the Presidential Libraries doing for education? Is the information being disseminated through the Libraries appropriately multicultural in its perspective, or is it more narrow and biased? What can be done to enhance the educational programs of our Presidential Libraries so that they are "more accountable to the diverse public" and "a fair equitable message about the Presidents of the United States" is sent out to students young and old (Baptiste, 2007, p. 167).
In establishing a focus for our research, we selected the following statement as an accurate approach to assure attention to all educational perspectives:
A substantive concept of education not only highlights the qualities of the educated person, but also implies the proper design of the educational process. There are essential minimal conditions for cultivating educated minds. These entail modes of instruction that facilitate development of the standards, abilities, and traits of the educated person. (Paul & Elder, 2007)
Identifying the Political
For purposes of our research, we define political as being any act based on or motivated by partisan or self-serving objectives. We find that too often the Presidential Libraries are places where the men who have served in the office of the Presidency are being portrayed as individuals who did no wrong and made no mistakes.
Therefore the educational programs available through the Presidential Libraries are frequently conveying a "whitewashed and glamorized portrait of each president" (Hufbauer, 2005, p. 140). This is consistent with more general concerns about our schools, where too often we are being academically socialized by our educational system, which is predominantly based on a monocultural curriculum (Boyer & Baptiste, 1996).
Rather than reflecting the perspectives of all groups involved in our nation's history to educate all students, the Presidential Libraries, like too many of our other educational programs, are perpetuating the myth that the Presidents of the United States were perfect leaders. Also ignored and overlooked is the fact that the decisions made by these men had an impact on all Americans, including cultural groups other than their own.
Larry Hackman, retired director of the Truman Presidential Library, says that some Presidential Library museums and collections are embarrassingly biased. Such observations and concerns lead to the question of whether taxpayers should be asked to support such institutions if the museums and library collections disregard historical objectivity (Hufbauer, 2005, p. 139).
Why Look at the Presidents through a Multicultural Lens?
"Presidents throughout our history have handled the complexities of diversity, education, and multiculturalism in different ways and the continuum of Presidential thought, philosophy, and action over more than two centuries has been and continues to be a contributing force in the current situation in America today" (Baptiste, p. 166, 2007). Given this reality, we suggest that it is critical to examine the legacy of American Presidents from a multicultural perspective.
There are many examples of how Presidents' actions throughout history have been a changing force for this nation. Consider Abraham Lincoln and the signing of the Proclamation of Emancipation. It is fact that President Lincoln did sign the Proclamation; however, Lincoln, in the wording of the Proclamation, freed slaves in the rebellious states of the South over which he had no control, but continued to hold slaves in captivity in the North where he did have …