President Who?

I visited my daughter’s school the other day, and spent some time in the science classroom where she is taking AP Physics. AP Physics. Advanced Placement. I’m not bragging. That’s relevant to the story. You’ll see why in a minute.

It’s always interesting to see what inspiring or educational posters or other media have been placed on the walls of classrooms to ignite the interest of students.

I have to admit I was a bit shocked to see a framed official Presidential photograph of Gerald Ford on the wall, half-hidden behind some kind of cardboard cubbyhole arrangement. If it had been in a history classroom, or even a “general” classroom, I would have understood, but in a science classroom?

I asked the teacher about it because you know me…can’t just let something like that go by.  And it turns out that the photo has been there forever, apparently – long before this teacher’s time. It seems no one has ever thought to remove it. Certainly this particular teacher hasn’t.

Occasionally, students are curious about it she said. Some of them actually ask her who it is. And she has to explain that it’s Gerald Ford, who was President from 1974 to 1977. I’ll repeat. She has to explain who it is. In a high school.  In an advanced placement class. See? I told you it was going to be relevant.

Now, admittedly Mr. Ford did not particularly distinguish himself as President (though truth be told, it’s not as if sought the position), but his connection to Richard Nixon should be memorable — it was due to Nixon’s Watergate scandal that Ford became President in the first place AND he later pardoned Nixon, as I’m sure you’ll recall, and Jimmy Carter became President after him. And yet none of her students know who he is!

Seeing things like this just has me wondering several “Why’s?”

I bet that photo has been on that wall for decades. Probably since it was first released. Why has no one ever upgraded it to a more recent President? If it has no significance in a science classroom, why not just remove it instead of putting things in front of it? Or replace it with a more science-y photo. Galileo perhaps (since we’re going with unrecognizable figures in history)? Or maybe Nikola Tesla. Or hey, there are always the standbys of science: Newton and Einstein.

And just why don’t high school students, especially those taking AP Physics, recognize a 20th-century President anyway? I mean, it’s not like it’s a photo of Millard Fillmore or Franklin Pierce or some President they have no reasonable right to know.

There’s an old joke which is apparently a pretty new joke as well. Ask a kid today how many Presidents there have been in our history, and they can name George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and – hopefully! – whoever the current President is. And that’s it. I know, sad joke.

There are a lot of problems with our school system, and that ancient and unrecognized photo of President Ford is just the latest example of it.


President Ford

17 thoughts on “President Who?

      • Depending on the curriculum they may not have made it all the way to the 1970a in their history class, before the end of the year. We ran out of time, and I was taking US history when Ford was in office. There is even more to learn now! 😉

        • Hi! These are 10th, 11th, and 12th graders (they mix them together at my daughter’s school). I would’ve thought that at some point in US History (taught in 9th grade), they would’ve covered it. According to Sarah (my daughter) they did go over the Watergate scandal and the subsequent events such as Ford’s appointment to the Presidency, but she couldn’t have picked him out of a line-up either. You’re right though, there is so much to learn! And when you get down to it, they have the kids studying more for tests really than actually learning. Here, US History is a year long class rather than a semester. Not sure if it’s the same in every school. Regardless, it’s a class that’s not leaving much of an impression I suppose. Which is sad.

        • It is sad that they’re not remembering it. As is usually true, how much my own daughters got out of their history classes depended on the teacher. One of them was so inspired by the unit on WWII and the 40s that she reconnected with her grandfather (one of the youngest WWII veterans and part of the postwar occupation forces) and also took up swing dancing! The next one had a different teacher for the same course and was kind of “meh” on the topic.

  1. Just because the students are in AP Physics doesn’t mean they are in AP History. If the latter were true, then I would be surprised if they didn’t know who Gerald Ford was.

    • Thanks for reading! I would expect anyone fresh off history classes (as high school students are) to be able to recognize a modern day President. I expect even more from those in advanced placement classes. It is not often that they simply take one AP class. It’s usually an entire regimen or at least several. I’m not blaming the students for not being able to recognize Ford. They only know what they’ve been taught. I’m blaming the school system for failing in their job.

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