Photograph by Karl-Ludwig Poggemann
Dear Mr. President,
We don’t know each other and that makes it hard to write a meaningful letter, so let me tell you a bit about myself. All four of my grandparents came to this country about 100 years ago as young, orphan immigrants, escaping the genocide of Armenians by the Turkish government. My life is essentially the fulfillment of the new life of freedom and opportunity for which they hoped. My parents and grandparents taught me, through example, to work hard, to love others, and to learn as much as I could learn. Since I have always been a curious person, their lessons led me to be a teacher. Learning, both as a teacher and as a student, is the bedrock of who I am as a person.
I am concerned about your foundations as a president. My hope is that you can begin to embrace learning as a core attribute as you move ahead.
Being president of the United States is obviously a formidable undertaking — especially in your first year. When I began teaching, I accepted all the help I could get from colleagues, from my mentors, from books, and even from many students. It put me in a position of humbly asking for assistance (which I can see is hard for you), but much of my success was based on being open to needing help along the way. I’m a tad jealous of all the ways you can get information, including the following: your large staff, the vice president and other cabinet members (including daily CIA and FBI briefings), your other key advisers, President Obama and other past presidents, the Library of Congress, and all the ways that the rest of us get information from books, from friends, and from the internet. Please use all of your resources as you make life-changing decisions that will affect millions of Americans and that impact the whole world.
Even when I started to think I knew what I was doing, people pointed out holes in my understanding, so I found ways to learn more about those areas. Your recent attempt at honoring Black History Month exposed your need to know more. I would suggest walking through the National Museum of African American History and Culture just down the road from your new residence. Another informed source who you could speak with is Congressman John Lewis. You could either seek him out or listen to his “Love in Action” interview with Krista Tippett from On Being.
You seem to take issue with what a fact is and how the media uses facts; being an open-minded learner sometimes means altering your view of the world due to new information. As a teacher, I emphasize using facts and citing them as a norm, not creating “alternative facts” to prove one’s point. Please have your spokespersons get their facts correct before speaking; we don’t want anymore “Bowling Green Massacres” made up by your staff. Another example out of many was when your possible secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, plagiarized part of her comments during her questioning. The citizens of this country are watching, and the blatant disregard for facts displayed by you and your staff is alarmingly wrong. What kind of role models for learning are you promoting?
I challenge you to take time to think before you tweet, to pause, to read over what you’ve written, to consider the words you choose, to reflect, to ask questions, and to listen to and consider the opinions of others before acting. My niece has two elementary-age daughters who love to read and one of their interests is presidential facts. Keep in mind that you are a model for these children and for all of us — a model of behavior, but also a model of a thinking, learning being.
Our second President, John Adams, said “I read my eyes out and can’t read half enough. The more one reads the more one sees we have to read.” What will the presidential fact books say about you?