Presidential Education

PresidentSchool

It’s only recently that presidents and first ladies have actually routinely attended college at all, but just in case you were wondering, Washington and Jefferson College professor James McMurtry Longo has apparently written a book about the education of our presidents (and their wives).

From Classroom to White House: Presidents and First Ladies as Students and Teachers apparently gives readers the full education experience, “chronicling the school days of these historic figures” as well as “providing an informative overview of American schooling over time.”

According to an interview Longo did with Scott Jaschik over at Inside Higher Ed:

I do believe their experiences as students had a lot to do with how they approached higher education.

Lyndon Johnson’s years as a student and then as a teacher convinced him nothing was more important to the nation’s health than investing in education. Prior to his presidency, Congress had passed only six education bills since the Lincoln administration. Johnson signed 60 education bills into law and more than doubled the amount of federal funding for all levels of education. Lincoln had a limited education as a student but was a lifelong learner. His support of land-grant colleges allowed students with limited resources to attain an affordable college education.

Betty and Jerry Ford, both student athletes, supported the Title IX Act opening up athletics to women throughout all educational institutions. Harry Truman, like Lincoln, was a bright student with no money to go to college. His support of the GI Bill opened up higher education to millions. I believe dozens of other presidents can trace (or could have traced) their attitudes and policies toward higher education back to their own student experiences.

The personal lives of the president and his wife is one of the most over-covered subjects in American journalism, so it seems unlikely there will be any new revelations here.

Is there really too much more to learn about Michelle Obama’s studies at Princeton (let me guess, she was really hard working), Mamie Eisenhower’s days at Miss Wolcott’s School for Girls, or Benjamin Harrison’s time at Miami University of Ohio? Richard Nixon’s resentment was born of a sense of inferiority because he attended the obscure Whittier College. Sure, so what?

Longo said that the idea for the book came about because “I began to wonder whether other presidents had been teachers and discovered half the presidents and first ladies had taught.“

That’s an interesting premise, but being a teacher isn’t that rare. Because the barriers to entry into education were so low, being a teacher at some point was always very common among American professionals.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer