An Open Letter to President Barack Obama

Dear Mr. President,

Seize the moment this Wednesday. Make the education of America’s youth the number one issue to secure “the dream” for each and every child. When you stand on the exact spot where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “I Have A Dream Speech” 50 years ago, you owe it to MLK’s legacy to spell out a plan to eradicate poverty and injustice through education.

At a wedding I attended last week, I sat by a 29-year-old African American man and talked good old American politics over a cigar late into the evening. This man was exceptionally well read and a self-avowed history buff.

Without his generation, you would never have been elected President, so I was taken aback when he asserted that you were a weak President. He felt you have been too cautious for the times. He felt you have kowtowed and cowered to the neo-conservative wing of the Republican Party on seminal issues. We both agreed your administration’s communication apparatus has failed you.

I found myself defending your accomplishments since you were inaugurated in January 2009. Both my cigar partner and I were watching in person from the Capital lawn that incredible, freezing day, when you took the oath of office.

My defense of your presidency is grounded on the fact you have not had a willing partner to reach consensus on solutions to our greatest problems. If you had a working partnership with the Republican Party to “compromise” on the big issues, like education, immigration reform, gun control, poverty, the environment, alternative energy, crime and foreign policy, we would be making significantly more progress.

That said, I argued with my new friend that we have made progress thanks to your calm and thoughtful leadership. Healthcare will become available to 31 million more Americans because of your leadership in passing the Affordable Health Care Act of 2009.

Your first Inaugural Address was soaring. Your voice boomed and echoed with righteousness, setting forth a vision of an America rising up from the depths of the current crises, to become that beacon of hope for others once again. You said, “The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry over that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.

Mr. President, I implore you to seize the moment Wednesday afternoon to reset the educational agenda. The full measure of happiness and MLK’s Dream can only be achieved for each and every child if our public education system is one of the best in the world. We know we have lost ground the last several decades.

A year before MLK addressed those assembled on the Capital Mall, John F. Kennedya gave a historic speech at Rice University. This was prompted by the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik, which demonstrated to the world that we were no longer the leading technology power on the planet. President Kennedy, in front of 40,000 spectators, boldly declared, “We choose to go to the moon.” In less than seven years, the once impossible goal was a reality.

In order to accomplish this audacious goal, we needed a country and a government determined to fund the effort with the best technology and minds. Kennedy set the course, and we stayed on target with bipartisanship. The world, and particularly our nation, benefited tremendously from the vision. Neil Armstrong setting his foot on the moon’s surface of Tranquility Base was inspiring to many.

Mr. President, as you have espoused, a quality public school education must begin with high quality early learning experiences. In addition, each and every classroom from the “hilltops of New Hampshire” to the “curvaceous slopes of California” must have a quality, caring teacher, well prepared with the tools needed to ensure achievement for each and every child. All our schools, preschool through high school, must have a leader as equipped to lead as our military officers who graduate from our nation’s academies.

I believe that if we put the goal of eliminating the achievement gap by 2020 as the nation’s highest priority, we can achieve this result. It will take bold measures and a President willing to clearly articulate the importance of doing so to realize “the dream” of MLK.

In my view, eliminating the achievement gap is infinitely easier than landing a man on the moon as we did in July 1969. We know what works for all children to achieve. All we have to is act.

Mr. President, please make education a focus once again. It can be done.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.


  1. Joseph,

    Every time I read your column, I get more irritated that you side the real problem here. Unless and until upper administration, and people like you, start supporting teachers, students, and put their needs first, nothing is going to get any better.

    The infighting and politics I see in the educational system is just sickening. No wonder our teachers/kids aren’t getting what they need to succeed.

  2. My problem is that you keeps bleating for every Tom, Dick and Harry; and any organization with any name recognition to do something about education.  Then you squander away money firing, hiring and rewriting contracts for “game changing leaders”.  You keep swinging for the fences – and you keep whiffing.

    I think you need to stop thinking big and start thinking small.  See if you can affect the life of a single child before you try to change the world.