Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
May 1, 2015

Beyond My Pet Goat: Race, Education and the President's Long Game

If you’re a politico and you want to make a point about education, you need to sit or stand in front of a wall of books. That’s the first rule. The second rule is to make it about the students. And like all the smart kids in school, President Obama follows rules to a T. Here he is working the stage with student moderator Osman Yaya during a meeting yesterday with a group of junior high school kids in a Washington, D.C. library. Billed as a “virtual field trip,” the President had a difficult time breaking out of his tendency to think-speak in slow, labyrinthian terms of policy minutiae. Watch the video and you might find yourself squirming in your seat, too. Did someone say library check out?

But a compelling twist in the subplot to this visual story is how moments of national crisis get paired with the My Pet Goat genre of presidential optics. With nearby Baltimore’s civil unrest spilling over into other cities, and against the President’s stubborn inclination to keep buttoned up on the problem of systemic racial inequality, this photograph works as a subtle, yet optimistic play in the president’s long game. Race is a multi-faceted issue in America, and there’s more to it than turmoil in the streets. It’s almost as if Obama is trying to point out, for anyone willing to hang in there long enough, that he knows exactly who holds the key to America’s future.

-Philip D. Perdue

(photo: Pool/Getty Images. caption: U.S. President Barack Obama (R), with student moderator Osman Yaya (L), responds to a question during a “Virtual Field Trip” with middle school students from around the country at Anacostia Library April 30, 2015 in Washington, DC. Students countrywide participated to discuss efforts to increase learning opportunities with improving access to digital reading content and public libraries.)

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