Who do you think is the most important leader in the world?
Students in two of my 11th grade classes pondered this question during an introduction to second conditionals. In the first class, this question popped a classroom’s worth of eyes out of their sockets towards me. Silence resounded. Did I accidentally speak in Greek? A second round of the question with some clarification pushed the eyes back into place and sent them darting from one wall to the next.
One slightly quivering girl rose up from the middle of the room. “Obama,” shook out of her lips in a creeky near-inquiry. I probed. What about Obama? “He is the most powerful in the world,” she said a bit more confidently. He’s the most powerful leader. Ok. Why? “He is the leader of USA…” she trailed into a shrug. Yes, but why do you think he is the most powerful? The corners of her mouth slipped further down; the more I asked her, the more these corners, her cheeks, eyebrows sunk with a loss of understanding. Others murmured the words America, USA, president. None ventured to assist their classmate, who soon sunk all the way to her seat.
Shooting my gaze around the room, I further probed. Do you all agree with your classmate? Yeses exploded throughout room. Obviously, I am American. I should understand. Obama all the way! Eyes rolled at the mere suggestion of the need for an explanation and at the notion that anyone else in the world could even be a close second to Obama’s apparently limitless power.
The second class was equally though differently intimidated at first. The question launched them into a buzzing chatter as they all turned to their friends for translation and reassurance. Several hands shot up after a few moments of murmuring. A young woman with flowing waves of hair offered Obama as an answer. When asked why she thought that, she responded, “He’s presidenti amerikes…” with the same uneasiness as the students in the first class–an aversion to explaining what seems like fact rather than their own opinions.
Later on, a male classmate added his opinion to the discussion: “The Obama is black.” Restraining laughter, their head teacher asked the student if there was anything else that makes him think President Obama is an important leader. The student responded with a shaken head. The suggestion that the Pope or Vladimir Putin might also be powerful leaders was literally scoffed at.
Dear United States Government, your image is secure in Kosovo.