President George H.W. Bush’s life as a public servant

Tuesday, December 4, 2018


Directions: Read the summary, watch the video and then answer the discussion questions. Your students may find it helpful to follow along using the transcriptFor a more in-depth look at George H.W. Bush’s life, read and watch this NewsHour piece

Summary: George Herbert Walker Bush, a World War II veteran who led an international coalition through the 1990-91 Gulf War during his time as the 41st president, died Friday, Nov. 30. He was 94. Like all U.S. presidents, Bush’s time in office had high points and low points. While Bush’s popularity skyrocketed after the Iraq War, the nation’s flagging economy helped lead to his defeat to President Bill Clinton in 1992. The two men later formed a strong friendship. Bush will lie in state in the Capitol’s rotunda starting at 5 p.m. Monday until Wednesday morning. A statement from his son, George W. Bush, who became president years after his father, said the elder Bush “was a man of the highest character and the best dad a son or daughter could ask for.”


Discussion questions: 

1) Read the quote outside the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in Texas. What do you think Bush meant by future generations understanding both the burden and blessings of freedom?


Mourners take part in a vigil outside the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum, a day after the 41st president of the United States died, in College Station, Texas, Dec. 1, 2018. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

2) Read the letter written to President Bill Clinton from President Bush as he was leaving office. How is a primary source like this letter different than reading a newspaper article about the relationship between both men? What advice do you agree with in the letter? Why?


George H.W. Bush’s letter to Bill Clinton, Inaugural Day 1993

3) Navy pilot George Bush sits in the cockpit of an Avenger aircraft, c. 1943-45. What impact might Bush’s experiences in WWII have had on his decision not to invade Baghdad and remove Iraq’s Saddam Hussein from power? What other living presidents have served in a combat military position similar to Bush? Do you think this makes a difference in how they approach matters of foreign policy? Explain.


4) This photo was taken in 2009. Can you name the presidents? What relationship did Bush have with other presidents after leaving office? How could you find out, if you’re not sure?


U.S. President George W. Bush (C) meets with former President George H.W. Bush (L), President-elect Barack Obama (2nd L), former President Bill Clinton (2nd R) and former President Jimmy Carter (R) in the Oval Office of the White House, Jan. 7, 2009. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

5) Media literacy: Human beings are complex and presidents are no different. Over the course of his 94 years, Bush upset members of the public, sometimes even those in his own party, and drew criticism for his actions. It is possible to be respectful of the dead and also be critical, particularly with public figures, like American presidents. What research techniques should you use to find out about Bush’s career as a public servant?

Take a few minutes to read Peter Beinhart’s Atlantic article on how the news media has covered the passing of Bush. Ask your students if they agree or disagree with Beinhart’s argument on race and winning the majority of the vote and its effects on the President’s legacy.

6) What do you think Bush will most be remembered for as president? Explain your response.

Extension activity:

Watch the NewsHour interview below with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Your students may find it helpful to follow along using the transcript.

Ask your students: What is a public servant? What skills does one need to be a public servant?

What is empathy? Do you agree with Kearns Goodwin that empathy should be included in the definition of a public servant?

What qualities of a public servant did George H.W. Bush possess, according to Kearns Goodwin? Why is it important for U.S. presidents to be in touch with the lives of fellow Americans?



Visit PBS NewsHour Extra for more education resources designed to help teachers and students identify the who, what, where and why-it-matters of the major national and international news stories. You can read the original story here@NewsHourExtra