Michael P. Ackley has worked more than three decades as a journalist, the majority of that time at the Sacramento Union. His experience includes reporting, editing and writing commentary. He retired from teaching journalism for California State University at Hayward.More ↓Less ↑
Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.
Say what you will about our first couple’s problem-solving incapacity, the two do have a talent for pointing out societal challenges.
For example, Michelle Obama climbs off her taxpayer-funded jet, works a rope line of youngsters – spontaneously provided from a grade-school field trip – and notices a high percentage of children in overstuffed T-shirts and muffin-top jeans.
“Wow!” she whispers to one of her 16 staffers, “we have to get these kids off the Froot Loops and into kale and watercress.”
Before long, she’s declaring childhood obesity a crisis and the Department of Health and Human Services is telling us not to consume so much salt.
Next, the Obama family, dining on a chef’s salad with vinaigrette dressing and julienne of tofu, discusses the matter. The president opines that Michelle is really on to something, because many military recruits can’t do a single burpee.
“Good heavens, Barack,” she says, “this means fat children are a national security issue.”
“I don’t worry about getting fat,” says the president through a mouthful of lettuce and arugula, “because I play basketball. Besides, my smoking is an appetite suppressant. But these corpulent kids really need your help. This could be the greatest first-lady project since Lady Bird Johnson beautified our highways.”
“By golly, Barry,” says Michelle, “I’ll have to put some of my 16 staffers on this, although it may divert some energy from my first-lady efforts to nurture girls and young women, utilizing the White House as a platform for education and inclusion.”
“Michelle, this is too important to neglect,” says the president. “Your staff budget is pushing million-and-a-half dollars, but maybe I can squeeze out a bit more for you from stimulus funds. I can’t think of a more important job than telling parents how to raise their families.”
“Oh, thank you, Barry,” responds Michelle, “and it would help if you wouldn’t eat those giant grease burgers at every other photo op.”
“Hahaha,” laughs the president, “have you seen that insurance commercial where Mary Todd Lincoln asks Honest Abe if her dress makes her backside look big?”
“Watch it … dear,” says Michelle, “or you’ll be launched into a real ‘Sputnik moment.’”
“Sputnik moment.” That phrase and the first lady’s anti-fat crusade, particularly the reference to national security, carried me back to my adolescence, specifically to Oakland’s McChesney Junior High School, where I was lazing my way through the seventh grade when the Soviet Union launched its beeping basketball.
It was a galvanizing event, to say the least. National leaders bemoaned a perceived slippage in American science and math education, as Barack Obama is now. The Oakland School Board jumped on the bandwagon, and by the end of eighth grade all the bright and semi-bright kids from McChesney found themselves spending the first few weeks of summer vacation taking tests in the Oakland High School cafeteria. We took intelligence tests, socialization tests, math tests, spatial perception tests. We filled in score sheets (No. 2 pencil only) until the little blanks went to our heads like the bubbles in a glass of champagne.
Then, inured to any kind of testing, we found ourselves channeled into four years of science (chemistry, biology, physics, organic chemistry) and four years of math, right through integral and differential calculus. Even now, if you throw a calculus problem at me, I’ll handle it as well as any barnyard animal.
Some of us went wrong and ended up journalists. Others became real mathematicians and scientists. That group now must be contemplating retirement after careers in the service of human knowledge. On that score, the push for science and math must be counted a success.
As for fatties: I didn’t know many overweight classmates in my day, in part because boys and girls of that era were required to have an hour a day of physical education. It was a holdover from the years of World War II and Korea. The nation wanted us to be fit and ready for the next conflict.
I’m sure that soon there will be a call for still more money for math and science education and to combat childhood obesity. But in finding the funds, let us not expand national, state and local deficits. Instead, let us cut the worse-than-useless programs our pudgy nation has fostered during the past several decades of left/liberal public education. We could start by eliminating self-esteem and sex-education programs, which seem only to have increased teen angst and teen pregnancy.