American Presidents and Their Attitudes, Beliefs, and Actions Surrounding Education and Multiculturalism: A Series of Research Studies in Educational Policy

Article excerpt

Fifth Installment: Examining Presidents Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Lyndon B. Johnson

Introduction

When looking at social injustice and the oppression of "others" in our country, one can look no further than the political leadership of our government to take the moral and ethical responsibility to eradicate such injustices. Looking at the political leadership, the president is held accountable and sets the agenda which will promote, hinder, or ignore social justice issues. Each President has the power to decide what actions and policies will comprise his administration and impact the nation.

This article, the fifth in a series about American Presidents and their attitudes, beliefs, and actions surrounding education and multiculturalism, will examine Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson's presidencies and how their actions and failed actions impacted social issues and influenced social realities as they continue to exist today.

Dominant groups set the parameters for subordinates. "One group holds power and authority in society relative to the other group and determines how that power and authority may be acceptably used" (Tatum, 2000, p. 11). With these two groups, the superior group and the inferior group, one can easily assume the answers to these questions, whose history is taught, who gets the best jobs, and who can seek membership to these groups?

Members of privileged groups, because they have the power to initiate change, must choose to either ignore or fight for issues of oppression and social justice. Too often our textbooks lack an analysis of inequality (Loewen, 1995). The result is a society that fails to recognize inequality and learns to embrace conformity. The white, male privilege defines many aspects of American culture, and others must conform to that point of view (Wildman & Davis, 2000). Consequently, executive and legislative decisions are made in the name of liberty, which too often reflect the dominant white, male's point of view.

We become academically socialized in a monocultural curriculum (Boyer & Baptiste, 1996). "Our desire for power based on cultural norms slows the process of learning-of under standing-and seeing knowledge and truth right in front of us" (Thomas, 1998). Too often we base our way of thinking and living in a society on only one perspective. We use cultural blinders and justifications to help our way of thinking that hinders the possibilities or blocks out other multiple perspectives.

We have not learned how to embrace diversity through a multicultural lens. We need to study the actions and policies of our past presidents and analyze the social realities of African Americans, Asians, Latinos, Native Americans, women, and other cultural and ethnic groups through their leadership. We need to take off our blinders so we can internalize multiple perspectives and fully participate as citizens in a democracy.

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson was the third President of the United States. However, his most prominent contribution to the nation was the Declaration of Independence. His affirmations about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are still interpreted and recited today. His personality has been described as mild and agreeable (Degregorio, 1946). Yet others describe him as being cold, reserved, and a political animal (Dabney, 1991; Degregorio, 1946). He was an eloquent writer, but lacked public speaking skills (Kunhardt, Kunhardt, & Kunhardt, 1999; Wilkins, 2001).

The Presidential election campaign of 1800 was based on domestic issues and states' rights. The election ended in a tie between Aaron Burr and Jefferson. Jefferson, a Democratic Republican, pledged he would not get rid of Federalists if elected President. However, Jefferson used his executive influence on the legislative branches of government to promote his own agenda, power, and political beliefs. …