American Presidents and Their Attitudes, Beliefs, and Actions Surrounding Education and Multiculturalism: A Series of Research Studies in Educational Policy: Sixth Installment: Examining Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and William Jefferson Clinton

By Baptiste, H. Prentice; Orvosh-Kamenski, Heidi et al. | Multicultural Education, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

American Presidents and Their Attitudes, Beliefs, and Actions Surrounding Education and Multiculturalism: A Series of Research Studies in Educational Policy: Sixth Installment: Examining Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, and William Jefferson Clinton


Baptiste, H. Prentice, Orvosh-Kamenski, Heidi, Kamenski, Christopher J., Multicultural Education


Introduction

In our nation's history all of the presidents have been white males. As West states (1993) in his seminal book, Race Matters, the significance of the race factor cannot be overlooked in the selection of our national leaders and this national value is reaffirmed in the following quote: "Race still matters in this country, largely in ways that are subtle but is no less venomous to the threadbare proposition that we live in a colorblind society" (Wickham, 2002, p. 233).

Each president must decide through his agenda to fight for social justice or distance himself from issues of race, class, and access to employment, health care, and other societal needs. The president must negotiate his agenda through bargaining, debate, and sometimes domination. "Because of its status in the policy process, the President's agenda is the subject of intense conflict" (Light, 1999, p.1).

The president's leadership, actions, and policies have great significance on matters of social justice and matters of race. "The presidency is the chief engine of progress in American history; its leadership and power are central" (Blumenthal, 2003). The president is involved in each stage of policy making (Shull, 1993). Furthermore, "Much of the expected policy change is likely to be attributable to presidential influence" (Shull, 1993, p. 26).

This article focuses on the recent presidencies of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and William Jefferson Clinton and is the sixth installment in a series that examines how presidents, through their office of power, have impacted U.S. citizens by their actions and policies. By viewing the presidents through a multicultural lense we can more clearly understand the impact of their legacies that have been advanced and continue to exist today with respect to issues of social justice.

Our reasons for examining the presidency are apparent, "the president is the embodiment of leadership in this country.... the ambiguity of the Constitution in relation to the chief executive . . . has the power to frame, implement, and transform government" (Baptiste & Sanchez, 2004, p. 34; Schlesinger, 2002). We invite you, if you haven't already done so, to look back at the previous five installments. Reading those installments will not only put this current article in context, but it will also give you a better sense of understanding our purpose in writing these articles.

Ronald Reagan

(40th President 1981-1989)

The country in 1980 was in a profound state of gloom. For more than a year Jimmy Carter had struggled unsuccessfully to free a group of fifty-two American hostages held in Iran. And with the economy in trouble and inflation in double digits, Carter's repeated calls for sacrifice and lower expectations had left many Americans pessimistic about the future. Ronald Reagan saw his job, as president, as teaching Americans how to dream again. (Kunhardt, Kunhardt, & Kunhardt, 1991, p. 294)

Social Currency

Ronald Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois in 1911. He grew up in a lower middle class environment (www.multied.com). He had a difficult childhood and attended public school. His father was an alcoholic and his undiagnosed nearsightedness held him back in school (Kunhardt, Kunhardt, & Kunhardt, 1999; WorldHistory.com). Reagan graduated in 1932 from Eureka College where he majored in economics and sociology (www.americanpresident.org).

In 1932 Reagan began his career in the spotlight as a radio sportscaster and was later cast in more than 50 films (Kunhardt, Kunhardt, & Kunhardt, 1999). When he became the host of the television show General Electric Theater, he became one of the "most recognizable men in America" (Kunhardt, Kunhardt, & Kunhardt, 1991, p. 292). He later became part owner of the show and very wealthy. Reagan became General Electric's spokesperson and traveled to GE factories around the United States gaining political capital. …

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