WASHINGTON, PA (Feb. 9, 2012)—Did you know Bill Clinton was called “motormouth” by his sixth grade teacher, or that Woodrow Wilson had severe learning and reading problems his entire life? Lady Bird Johnson was so shy, she sabotaged her own grades. Eleanor Roosevelt was kicked out of school for lying.
James Longo, Ed.D., professor of education and chair of the education department at Washington & Jefferson College, was curious to learn more about America’s presidents and first ladies and how their experiences as students impacted their paths to the White House. The result is his new book, From Classroom to White House: The Presidents and First Ladies as Students & Teachers, which compares and contrasts the educational opportunities and experiences of male and female residents of the White House.
Longo spent more than ten years researching the book. He visited many of the schools where American presidents and first ladies were students and teachers; read their report cards; spoke with teachers and classmates; and even sat in many times on the Plains, Ga., Sunday School class taught by Jimmy Carter.
“Of all the presidents and first ladies, half became teachers, but all were students. I wondered what they were like. Most people think when you get to the White House, you grew up an angel. But in actuality, you put them all in a classroom together and you would have a handful,” Longo said.
Longo said many presidents and first ladies were “late bloomers,” “painfully shy,” or “painfully extraverted.” A number struggled with reading, others had difficulty taking tests. Barack Obama taught constitutional law to great reviews at the University of Chicago Law School.
“I love history,” Longo said. “I love connecting these young men and women to their childhood and who they became. I see something endearing in almost all of them”
Jackie Kennedy Onassis was called a “brat.” Abraham Lincoln was “lazy,” and Barbara Bush was a “bully.” George W. Bush was a straight “A” student until his sister died in 1953, when his grades began to deteriorate and he was labeled an “underachiever.”
“It is no accident that he fell in love with a second grade teacher,” Longo said of Bush. “This is a very bright man who has covered up a lot of pain.”
Longo believes the book represents “hope” for the parents of underachievers and salutes those teachers who really make a difference.
“The book contains a lot of life lessons,” Longo said. “I love teaching and I really believe in teachers. It was a fun book to do.”
Gerald Ford was a “gentleman,” whose high school football coach helped get him accepted to Yale. Two people saw greatness in Ronald Reagan, his high school English teacher and his wife, Nancy. George Washington and Harry Truman could never master spelling, Longo added.
Longo has met several presidents and first ladies and taught and worked with a number of children whose ancestors once lived in the White House. A Fulbright scholar, he is the recipient of a number of teaching and community service awards, including from the National Association for Children and Adults with Learning Disabilities and the American Youth Foundation.