As the father of twin seventh graders navigating one of the nation’s most demanding public school systems, I see a lot of report cards. In addition to quarterly reports, Fairfax County also sends out interim results midway through each grading period, so I receive the equivalent of 16 report cards per academic year — about one every ten days. I now have so much experience interpreting report cards that I feel well-equipped to grade just about anybody on anything. So I thought I would use my final blog posting for 2009 to rate President Obama’s performance during his freshman year at the White House, using the same categories Fairfax County public schools do.
In reviewing the following grades, please note that — unlike his predecessor — President Obama is in the “gifted and talented” track. So the performance bar has been set higher for him. Also, I’m referring to President Obama as “Barry,” since that’s what everybody called him back when he was a student.
Math, “B.” Barry began the year a bit weak in the basics, but he learned quickly as a result of tutoring from Professor Bernanke. He now understands that big budget and trade deficits are bad things, and that the government must work harder to live within its means. I expect continued improvement in his sophomore year.
Science, “A.” With fewer than one in ten scientists calling themselves Republicans, Barry counts may climatologists and evolutionary biologists among his friends. That has helped him to appoint exceptionally capable people to senior science posts, and to make smart choices on technology investments.
History, “B.” Barry exhibits a good grasp of the nation’s democratic traditions, but he has trouble distinguishing between American and European models of governance. In particular, he overestimates the capacity of the federal government to change social patterns, a lesson he should have learned in his classes on the New Deal.
English, “A.” Barry is a gifted communicator who gets high grades for eloquence and persuasive power in his public remarks. His use of language is so effective that he sounds right even when he is wrong — unlike his predecessor, who managed to sound foolish even when he was right.
Foreign Language, “A.” In marked contrast to his predecessor, Barry has a nuanced grasp of overseas politics and cultures. This has enabled him to restore frayed relationships with allies despite inheriting a legacy of inept economic and security management over the previous eight years.
Health, “B.” Barry needs to work harder at giving up cigarettes in his sophomore year, because he is a role model for other students. But his determination to reform delivery of healthcare is long overdue, and his insistence that reforms be revenue neutral shows that Prof. Bernanke’s influence extends beyond the math class.
Physical Education, “B.” Perhaps because of the cigarettes, Barry resisted doing any heavy lifting in security matters during the early months of his tenure. But the nation’s fitness for coping with current security challenges has improved steadily under the watchful eye of Professor Gates, and Barry seems to be learning fast.
A few closing notes. Barry has excellent study habits, interacts well with his peers and exhibits natural leadership skills. Although he sometimes seems too passive in confrontations with other students, he is very good at building consensus among diverse classmates. I recommend that he remain in the gifted and talented track during his sophomore year.
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