Throughout its more than 200 year history the United States of America has been able to maintain what it terms, “a smooth transition of power.” This means than whenever the national leadership changes, it changes without violence, military rule, or martial law. Americans go to the polls, choose their candidates, and allow the political process to tell them the winner. This does not mean that people are not sometimes upset with the results. It does not mean that people do not cry foul if they think their candidate did not get a fair chance. But it does mean that for the most part Americans respect the process and allow it to run its course in electoral decisions.

In November 2008 one of the nation’s most remarkable elections took place. Against all odds, a freshman U.S. Senator from Illinois, Barack Hussein Obama became the 44th President of the United States. This is a remarkable and historic accomplish-ment because at the founding of the nation someone with Barack Obama’s credential could have never been elected president. Indeed, someone with his background could not even vote when the nation was founded. Senator Obama did what many thought impossible—a man of African descent became President of the most powerful nation in the world. It is not surprising that some Indiana schools have decided to commemorate this amazing event with a curriculum guide. However this guide is about much more than the election of an African descent president. It is about the United States as a nation of possibilities.

The beauty of this curriculum is that it uses the election of President Barack Obama, not as an ending point but as a beginning place for engaging so many students who have typically been disenfranchised by school. Instead of expecting students to sit through 179 days of instruction about what “other” people have done, this curriculum starts with the excitement and hope of a new kind of president with a new kind of agenda.

In this curriculum educators and students can look at the incredible rise of Barack Obama and how his diverse and multi-textured history has come to define us as a nation. To understand how we elected our new president we have to understand the relationship between the US and the continent of Africa. We have to understand how geography, politics, culture, economics, and sociology helped shaped both President Obama as an individual and us as a nation. This curriculum regards Barack Obama as the embodiment of multiculturalism, democratic reform, and change. These are three qualities that the nation has nurtured and cultivated and even though they are idealized qualities, not yet realized, they are significant foundational qualities just the same.

An additional quality of this curriculum is that it uses the agreed upon standards of the state and local district to build a rigorous, relevant, rich set of learning experiences for all students. Rather than the stripped down, didactic teach to the test materials that have pervaded urban classrooms over the past few years, this curriculum demonstrates that there need not be a split between high interest and achievement. When we argue that we want students to develop critical thinking skills we must recognize that they have to think critically about something. By considering the life and presidency of Barack Obama students are encouraged to ask the critical question —“How is it that someone with a modest background and a seeming racial disadvantage can rise to assume the nation’s highest office?”

Students also are prompted to ask a critical question about their own futures. “If Barack Obama can become president, what are my prospects for success in my chosen field?” Such a question can help students as they trace their own histories, patterns of migration, cultural traditions, and political experiences. This curriculum guide does a wonderful job of placing President Barack Obama’s rise to the presidency in the context of hard work, struggle, and cultural pride that preceded him. In this curriculum we see the work of people like Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, W. E. B. DuBois, Granville T. Woods, and others so that our students recognize that President Obama, while exceptional, is not unique. African American excellence and ingenuity is threaded throughout US History. Our students must study this history to gain a proper perspective on the way African Americans and other people have contributed to the development and prosperity of this nation.