01/03/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Freed From the Talkin' Blues

Two points to my friend who teases, "EVERYthing's political with you, Paula!" Politics, meet grammar. President-elect Obama uses correct grammar correctly. It is a powerful tool as we face the gargantuan and urgently essential task: resuscitating the education system Ronald Reagan started dismantling when Governor of California. His privatizing acolytes accelerated the descent, and the likes of Grover Norquist would have drowned public education in the bathtub to which Norquist wanted to relegate government. Perhaps Mr. Norquist would himself like to bathe.

Fixing all the things the Republicans have broken in the past 40 years will take a whole lot of arguing in the political arena. Empowering those most afflicted with a command of English is again, a necessary (but not sufficient!) place to start. Look no further if you want to know why the plutocrats are hostile to public education! The results of both their oblique and their straight forward anti-democratic efforts have been a deliberate, relentless dumbing down of America and Americans.

Relief that it is that Barack Obama's command of our mother-tongue replaces the glaring embarrassment we endured as Bush mangled it. Sarah Palin is merely a "brand extension." Less obvious is the impact President-elect Obama's use of language will have on public education, long abused and largely abandoned in the U.S.(unless someone's profiting from the "testing" now drowning it.)

Humans learn by doing -- "participation precedes learning," declares anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson. We learn from each other (ask any parent). And we learn in response to what's expected of us.*

Set expectations high (say, becoming President of the United States of America?) and our embattled public school teachers' tasks are a little lighter. What better "grammar lesson" that one taught every time the President -- raised by a single mom who relied on foodstamps in tough times -- opens his mouth to speak?

President-elect Obama does more by putting to work his good education, including his grammatically correct English, than all the harping in the world. Our children -- ALL of our children -- must learn to communicate with the broader world, whether it's the next neighborhood over or the other side of the world. This is true whatever their color, status or dreams, whatever the make-up of their 'hood or their families. While I'm certain that the more languages one commands the better, like it or not, English -- standard English -- is now the world's common linguistic currency.

I also find myself celebrating that the next President of these United States put his correct English to work "back in the day", earning scholarships to some of our nation's finest educational institutions. So did the woman he later married. They're living proof of the educated savvy that's necessary (but not sufficient) if we're going to tap the hidden resources of all those kids now trapped in the ghettos we so urgently need to make a thing of the past along with all those kids now trapped in a consumerist dystopia.

Our public schools are the places the vast majority of our kids will have, or be denied, the opportunity to acquire the language skills which they can now see any and every time they see Barak OR Michelle Obama on YouTube or anywhere else.

It's as much a relief to me to have a President coming into office who puts "the queen's English" to good use as it is to have one who has never been known to drunkenly squirm around the floor of a frat house imitating an alligator.

As I was saying, "Grammar, meet politics."

* This appears to be true of all great apes: Jared Diamond's acutely observed "three chimpanzees" (humans, bonobos, chimps) as well as the other two members of our extended family, orangutans and gorillas. I owe an enormous debt to our Bonobo friends who now live at the Great Ape Trust in Iowa for the many ways they have broadened my own thinking about a whole range of issues surrounding learning.

You'll find a broad range of people who stood firm in the face of the wrong-wing's hostility to public education. You'll find excerpts of "The Paula Gordon Show" on YouTube at "sunlightoxygen" and hear full programs at our website,, where people have been listening since 1997.