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NMSU education professor looks at power of presidency through multicultural lens

As the United States approaches another presidential election, a New Mexico State University College of Education professor says the country should look at the power of the office through a variety of lenses, including a multicultural one.

In his recently released book, "The U.S. Presidency and Social Justice: Implications for Public Education," H. Prentice Baptiste and several New Mexico State University graduate students examine 19 U.S. presidents, including George W. Bush, and discuss the implications of presidential policies on education.

"We need to remove the halo effect from the presidency and present them as the human individuals they are," Baptiste said. "The public should be aware that the U.S. president has more power than we often realize and with power comes a tremendous responsibility."

Baptiste said the actions of U.S. presidents have not always been examined through a multicultural lens in history books.

"We need a diverse group to look at the presidency through their perspectives and give a broader view of our presidents' actions. We need to look at how our presidents have used their power to serve those who have not been served before," he said.

Baptiste and his students' research for the book included a critical look at presidential records, including papers, exhibits, speeches, publications and letters. Several chapters in the book analyze presidents' attitudes, beliefs and actions regarding public education and multiculturalism. Another chapter provides a ranking of the 10 most productive presidential administrations when viewed through a multicultural lens.

Baptiste said many are surprised to find Lyndon Baines Johnson at the top of that list, but Johnson's achievements in the area of social justice included passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964, Medicare, Medicaid, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the Higher Education Act of 1965, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

"What set Johnson's Great Society apart from other reform efforts was that his reforms included all people," Baptiste said.

The No Child Left Behind Act, signed in 2002, and the presidency of George W. Bush, who did not make the list, are criticized in the book for failing to serve all people equitably.

Baptiste and his students said "the negative consequences of high-stakes testing, such as increased dropout rates and added costs associated with testing, are being overlooked, and may not work for the diverse populations our schools now serve."

"The president, as a national leader for the people, must value the interests of all people and make policies that are equitable for all," Baptiste said. "A successful leader's purpose should be to pursue his use of power, not for his own good or for purposes to gain greater status, but to achieve goals of empowering all cultural/ethnic groups in the U.S."

Baptiste has been invited to conduct a Conversation with the Author at the 17th Annual National Association for Multicultural Education Conference in Baltimore this fall.

He plans to continue researching presidential power as it relates to education and will now be evaluating the role presidential libraries play in the legacy of a president.

"The presidential library is the last statement of a president, but they are not really objective. Instead of serving as an educational enlightenment of critical inquiry for our citizenry, they have become propaganda socializing tools for the embellishment of their respective president's persona," Baptiste said.

Baptiste's book was published by Caddo Gap Press. Requests for the book can be submitted to info@caddogap.com or by calling (415) 666-3012.