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Shirley Sherrod Scandal: The Obsession With 'Teachable Moments'

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Lots of people despise the term "teachable moment" and I can understand why. A lot of the time, the phrase is invoked as a way of saying, "Hey, isn't the good news that all of you now have this awesome opportunity to learn from the monumental mistake I've just made?"

Nevertheless, the Shirley-Sherrod-fiasco-as-teachable-moment idea came up at yesterday's White House press briefing with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, so let's get into it:

Q: Robert, during the campaign, particularly during the speech on race in Philadelphia, the President said he would use every opportunity to advance dialogue on race. Since taking office the President has had numerous opportunities or these teachable moments to advance the dialogue on race. Why hasn't he done more to advance the national discussion on race and race relations?

MR. GIBBS: Well, look, I think this is one of those teachable moments, and I think -- we contacted the Department of Agriculture last night in order to ensure that fairness was done in this and that a review that the Department of Agriculture is doing is undertaken. I think that is -- I think a teachable moment is a moment in which the facts change and you react to those different facts. I think this is one of those moments, and I think that's what's happened.

Q: Will he call a national -- because the Congressional Black Caucus has asked for a national summit on race. Would the President --

MR. GIBBS: I have not heard a discussion about that. Chip.

Q: If it's a teachable moment, who's the teacher? Are we going to hear from the President on this, do you think?

MR. GIBBS: Let me just be clear. I don't think the teacher is -- I don't think -- I don't know who the teacher is in this, Chip. I don't think the teacher is, in and of himself, necessarily the President. I think -- again, I think everybody asks themselves questions about the events of the last 24 to 36 hours. I think based on those common-sense questions that you're asking -- that everybody asks themselves -- you find a moment that you can learn from.

Q: Would you rule out the President speaking about this, using it as a teachable moment?

MR. GIBBS: No, I wouldn't rule it out, no.

Well, look: if the best we can do, as far as teachable moments are concerned, is that we can have a national discussion on the hiring and firing processes at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we may as well not even have that teachable moment.

That said, I don't think Gibbs' instincts are wrong when he suggests that President Obama isn't necessarily the person who should be cast in the role of teacher. One of the things that deserves to be repeated more often, as the media gnaws on this story, is that Shirley Sherrod, along with Roger and Eloise Spooner have been wonderful and inspiring teachers. If you watch the full videotape of the Sherrod speech at the center of this firestorm, you'll hear the story of how one woman confronted her own prejudices and fears and flaws and went on to save a family from ruin. That alone is an amazing story worth hearing.

It's unfortunate that the reason we get to hear this story is because the story was warped and manipulated in an effort to defame her character. But the silver lining is that when Sherrod was at her weakest moment, the Spooners, having been rescued by Sherrod decades ago, stepped up to return the favor. I think one of the most powerful pieces of video you'll watch this year is this clip from CNN, as Sherrod reacts to hearing Eloise Spooner defend her unequivocally.

This is how decent human beings are supposed to behave.

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