OUT OF LEFT FIELD
THE GOAT THAT INSPIRED
The Day George W. Bush
Paid Tribute to Literature
By STAN ISAACS
In this week when George Bush is leaving the White House as President I suggest we revisit what may have been one of his finest hours as Commander in Chief. He should be honored for the devotion he showed to literature at the time of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks by terrorists on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.
Bush has been criticized for remaining in the classroom at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota County, Florida even after he had been informed that planes had hit the World Trade Center buildings in Manhattan.
Bush remained to listen to second grade teacher Sandra Kay Daniels leading the class in the now celebrated story, The Pet Goat. Video tapes show Bush listening as the children read from the story. This is, I believe, high praise for his appreciation of literature.
The Pet Goat is about a little girl and a mischievous goat who did bad things. He ate pans and cans and caps. Her father wanted to get rid of the goat, but the girl made him stop being mischievous. A robber comes on the scene just as part one of the story ends.
Here are some excerpts which Bush heard the second-graders read:
A girl got a pet goat. She liked to go running with her pet goat. She played with the goat in her house. She played with the goat in her yard .
One day her dad said, That goat must go. He eats too many things.
The girl said, Dad, If you let the goat stay with us, I will see that he stops eating all those things.
Scholars were at first unable to find the story because it was mislabeled, My Pet Goat. And it is not a stand-alone story. It is one of many stories in the workbook, Reading Mastery II: Storybook I.
Some of the other stories in the book are: The Fox Wants Ice Cream, Meet Spot, and The Elephant Gets Glasses.
The Pet Goat was written by Siegfried (Zig) Engelmann, who is 73 and is a professor of education at the University of Oregon. He told reporters he didnt remember the story because it is one of more than a thousand he has written in the past 30 years.
The video of the reading shows Bush sitting to the side of the teacher listening raptly to the recitation. At one point, his aide, Andrew Card, comes to whisper something in his ear. Bush nods, but continues to sit and listen even though he had been told about what Card called an attack on America. To some, he seemed to look off in space, dazed perhaps. He sat listening for seven minutes while the nation was hearing about the attack.
When the reading was finished Bush did not rush from the classroom immediately. He told the children they were great readers. He asked if they read more than they watched TV and said Thats great when reassured. Thanks for having me, he said upon leaving and posing for photos.
The story measures 372 words. The shame of it in terms of Bushs appreciation of the kids is that he had to leave before they finished the entire story. He heard the first 184 words, but he wasnt around for the final 188 words (372) in all.
I would suspect that even now Bush doesnt know how the story turned out. Maybe he will read this and find out. He left just when a car robber came to the girls house. He probably would like to know that the robber was foiled in stealing the familys car by the goat attacking him. The story continued:
Just when the goat stopped playing, he saw the robber. He bent his head down and started to run for the robber. The robber was bending over the seat of the car. The goat hit him with his sharp horns. The car robber went flying .
The girl hugged the goat. Her dad said, That goat can stay with us. And he can eat all the cans and canes and caps and capes he wants.
While the nation was in turmoil, the Commander-in-Chief, who boasted to the end that he always made tough decisions, did not return to Washington immediately. Bush seemed to be in the tow of his advisers, particularly Vice President Cheney from Washington. He was flown first to bases in Barksdale, Louisiana and then Offutt, Nebraska. He did not return to the nations capital until 10 hours after the attacks.
Bush is now turning his attention to his memorial library at Southern Methodist U. that will celebrate his administration. When he starts to put books into the library shelves, I hope he will have a place of honor for Reading Mastery II: Storybook I that includes the immortal The Pet Goat.
©2009 by Stan Isaacs. The Stan Isaacs caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. The illustration is from IMSI's Master Clips Collection, 1895 Francisco Blvd. E., San Rafael, CA, 94901-5506, USA. This column first posted Jan. 19, 2009.
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