Who says no one listens to kids? National Geographic Kids magazine certainly does, and we offered them the chance to grade freshman President Barack Obama on how they think he's done this past year. Based on what they said, maybe the President has a few things to learn from this young group of advisers.
In a December 2009 survey, NG KIDS called on its readers to grade Obama on his performance. We gave 758 readers ages 5 to 15 the opportunity to share their views on important topics like health care, the war in Iraq and Afghanistan and the environment, and offer the 44th President some savvy advice straight from the schoolyard. So President Obama, get ready to take notes.
Overall, 90% of the survey respondents gave Obama a passing grade, but that doesn't mean they think he deserves straights A's. When it came to the issue of health care, 46% of kids gave Obama grades of A or B and 22% gave him either a C or D. But 15% of NG KIDS readers flunked the President on his ability to fix health care -- the largest number of kids to give the President an F on any topic. In fact, when asked what disappointed them the most during Obama's first year in office, many kids said it was his mismanagement of the health care reform process.
The NG KIDS survey showed that kids are on opposing sides when it comes to the health care debate. Most readers had strong opinions, making statements such as, "Give people free health care" and "Drop the universal health care issue."
With such committed views, it's not surprising then that kids offered specific, thoughtful suggestions to the President on how to fix health care. One reader advised Obama to "tax and spend carefully" over the next year. Another urged him to "slow down and not push a poor health care bill through just to get it signed." One NG KIDS reader recommended that "instead of reforming the entirety of health care, why not create a minor injury unit in hospitals? It will serve the purpose of helping those with minor injuries and people who need instant care."
How did kids score Obama on his foreign relations test? Kids were most impressed with how well Obama gets along with world leaders, with 41% of survey respondents awarding him an A. But when it comes to the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, one in four kids gave the President a C or D for his performance. Here, too, they were sharply divided on his handling of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and both sides were extremely vocal about the stance they thought the President should take. On one side, NG KIDS readers offered up advice like "Do NOT pull our troops from Iraq and Afghanistan," while the other side wrote, "LEAVE AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ!!!!!"
Although they were quick to choose sides, it's clear from the survey that kids' views are sincere. One reader admired Obama's decision to send 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, writing, "He was brave in doing something that he was a little 'iffy [on].'" Another reader wanted to suggest that Obama remember that "there are families who are alone because their family members are in the war."
One NG KIDS reader even advocated a nonviolent approach, writing, "Conflicts can be resolved without fighting or war. One that solves problems without violence gets more respect than one who solves conflicts with violence."
Kids were unified on the topic of the environment, with nearly half of respondents giving Obama an A or B for taking better care of the environment. Eighteen percent of NG KIDS readers named the environment as the most important issue the President should focus on next year, with many kids mentioning his attendance at the United Nations Climate Change Conference as one of the highlights of his first year in office. Looking forward, though, kids told the President exactly what they thought he should do to create a greener Earth. Some readers offered simple suggestions like "make sure everyone recycles" and "we shouldn't have factories that blow air pollution." Other readers did their homework and advised the President to "start using hydro power instead of fossil fuels."
And just in case the President wanted some frank advice on how to be a better leader, NG KIDS readers offered up plenty of that, too. Readers gave pointers such as, "Sometimes being a leader means standing alone and doing the right thing when no one else will," "Stay grounded," and "Listen to the people, because the people make up this great union." And for extra credit? One reader's sage piece of advice to Obama was, "Try not to slouch so much."
OK, President Obama -- NG KIDS readers are challenging you to improve these grades. They're monitoring your progress with interest. Now, get back to class.