A Teachable Moment: Summit or Summons

Dr. Everett Piper

In all the media hype and hoopla over last week’s “Beer Summit” something has been conspicuously missing.  The glaring omission: The event’s purpose as expressed by the person who called the meeting to order in the first place.  


You see nearly every other Presidential “summit” in political memory has been preceded by months of negotiation whereby the vested parties haggled over and ultimately agreed upon the meeting’s specific goals, objectives and intended outcomes.  Rules for dialogue were set in advance. The topics to be discussed were clarified.  Expectations were well defined.  The location for the event was determined.   Furniture was selected, flags were positioned, and fanfare was controlled.  All this was and is done in an effort to assure neutral footing for all involved because, you see, everyone knows that without such clarity the meeting could easily gravitate toward the self-serving instincts of one party or the other and that’s not the purpose of a summit – Is it?? 


But with the much ballyhooed “Beer Summit,” such shared ownership of goals, strategy and objectives seemed to be lacking.  All we knew of the event’s intended outcomes was what we were told by its One and only organizer and its One and only host.  As far as we knew, no other input was offered (or sought?) and, in fact, it seemed to be clear that our President was not seeking mutual consent on the target that he obviously had in his sights.  Mr. Obama knew what he was after: The only reason for the meeting, we were told by the One who called it, was that it would be a “teachable moment.”


Teachable moment?  I don’t know about you but when I hear these words used by someone in authority they almost always mean that this is a moment for “them to teach and you and me to learn.”  In other words, the person calling the “teachable moment” to order is saying “I am going to talk and you need to listen.  This is a time for the teacher to teach and the student to learn.” 


So what I argue has been missing in the media coverage of this entire “summit” is the presumed pedagogical paradigm of our Teacher-In-Chief.  To say it another way – Shouldn’t we be asking what exactly it was that the President felt needed to be taught and to whom was he directing his teaching?


For example, did our President teach Dr. Gates that he should be thankful to the police for putting their lives on the line in responding so quickly to a potential robbery of the professor’s own residence? 


Did our President instruct Dr. Gates that he should be grateful for neighbors who cared enough about the collective safety of the community (and the professor’s property) to make the 911 call in the first place?


Did our President lecture Dr. Gates that he should be thankful for a police officer who was not so naïve as to accept, at first blush, the professor’s flippant explanations that “this is my house” and instead asked for identification from the very one who was attempting forcible entry into that same house?


Did the President edify everyone at this “summit” that it is unwise and presumptuous to take sides in a disagreement and label one person “stupid” before you even know the details and facts of the matter in dispute?


Did Mr. Obama’s lesson plan include anything about the time tested truth of justice being blind and the implicit racism of assuming mistreatment and victimization simply because of what you see in the skin color of your accuser?


And finally, did the President ever confront the professor and teach him that rude and angry vitriol almost always betrays the self-righteousness of one’s ego rather than the objective rightness of one’s arguments? 


Yes this was a teachable moment but somehow I doubt that the above pedagogy was ever employed and I sincerely question whether our President’s lesson plan included any of the ideas thus described. 


My suspicion: This was not so much a summit to debate ideas and differing opinions but rather it was more of a summons where the One in charge, taught others what to think, what to do, and what to say – Because, after all, to disagree with the Principal when you are summoned into his office for a “teachable moment” would be – Well how should I say it? – Stupid.