The education of our next president

John McCain went to 20 schools before Annapolis, as his father, a Navy submariner, was transferred from base to base.

When they lived in Indonesia, Barack Obama’s mother woke him at 4 am to study correspondence-school English lessons.

Both went on to elite private schools: Obama started Punahou in fifth grade; McCain went to an Episcopal high school.

Education Next has more on The Early Education of Our Next President.

McCain calls the base schools “substandard.” Sometimes the schoolhouse was “nothing more than a converted aircraft hangar,” he writes. “The classes mixed children of varying ages. We might have one teacher on Monday and a different one on Tuesday. On other days, we lacked the services of any teacher at all.” Needless to say, he was “often required in a new school to study things I had already learned. Other times, the curriculum assumed knowledge I had not yet acquired.”

He developed a love of reading after spending a summer reading his father’s old books by Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Booth Tarkington.

Obama lived with his grandparents while his mother earned a PhD in anthropology in Indonesia. She nagged by letter. His father, who was Phi Beta Kappa at Harvard, visited once when his son was in fifth grade.

(He) counseled his son, during a brief visit that first year at Punahou, not to be shy about doing well in school. “It’s in the blood, I think,” he told his son.

And then he left.

Obama’s bio is titled, Dreams From My Father. McCain, whose father was off fighting World War II during his elementary-school years and often at sea afterwards, titled his book, Faith of My Fathers.

Sarah Palin, McCain’s pick for veep, is married to a part-Eskimo oil worker, fisherman and snowmobile racing champion who never finished college and doesn’t miss it.

“For those of us who learn by touching and tearing stuff apart and for those who don’t have the financial background to go to college, just being a product of that on-the-job training is really important,” (Todd) Palin said …

Joe Biden attended parochial schools and then a Catholic prep school, so Sarah Palin, daughter of a science teacher and a school secretary, appears to be the only one of the four educated at the local public schools.

About Joanne


  1. I highly recommend reading both books.

    Written before either had aspirations to the highest office, they give more accurate insight to the men seeking the highest office of leadership.

  2. Homeschooling Granny says:

    KauaiMark, I believe that John McCain’s book was written in 1999 when he was gearing up for a run for the presidency in 2000. I remember this because of a story I heard at that time. Up until then McCain had been extremely reticent to talk about his experience as a POW, saying that only those who had been one themselves could understand. Faith of My Fathers was the first full telling by him of his POW experience. With the assistance of Mark Salter, it is a remarkable tale beautifully told. I can’t resist speculating that the endeavor to communicate the experience in a way those who weren’t there could understand was cathartic for him.

    I agree that both books are to be recommended as well written and revealing of their authors.

  3. Up until then McCain had been extremely reticent to talk about his experience as a POW, saying that only those who had been one themselves could understand.

    While he didn’t talk about it as ubiquitously as he has in the last few months, he has always talked about it, and has never exhibited any reluctance to do so. It’s his best political weapon and he’s used it regularly since his first campaign for congress.

  4. superdestroyer says:

    I am beginning to question the ability of individuals who were educated at private prep schools to ever be able to reform public education. CAn someone who went to school with all people of above average ability and with a general high desire to learn ever be able to understand what happens in most public schools these days.

  5. Superdestroyer, this may be the first time I’ve ever agreed with you.

  6. I went to both public and private school and honestly, it’s not all that different. In the end, neither worked out for my kids.

  7. Another “data point of one” – I went to the local public schools in my town for eight years as a kid and was MISERABLE. The “cool” kids pulled Cs and Ds while partying on the weekend (at least, in the early teen years). I cared about grades and learning and I most assuredly did not fit in.

    My parents sent me to a prep school for high school and that was the best thing they ever did for me. (It is possible that it even saved my life, considering some of my thoughts and feelings by the end of eighth grade). I wound up with other smart weird kids. I actually had friends. There were people who actually respected my abilities.

    How to reform public school? Maybe make it non-mandatory, or at least give teachers the power to kick out the kids who make life miserable for everyone else?

    I will say I’m glad I’m not running for office because I will never have to have a workable design for improving the schools.

  8. Mrs. Davis says:

    I’d agree with Andrea but from the perspective of having sent children to both. Because for private schools to succeed it’s enough to simply not be public schools for those who can afford to escape those who cannot be expelled. Until both have to compete for their revenue, they’ll both revert to the mean and define proficiency down.

  9. Mom in Georgia says:

    Did (do) any of the candidates’ kids attend public schools?

  10. In answer to the last question, Obama’s daughters go to private school, Biden’s children went to Catholic schools, McCain’s children attended private schools (his youngest is in high school now); only Palin’s children go to public school.

  11. I will say I’m glad I’m not running for office because I will never have to have a workable design for improving the schools.