The Pet Goat
|"The Pet Goat"|
|Author||Siegfried Engelmann and Elaine C. Bruner|
"The Pet Goat" (often erroneously called "My Pet Goat") is a children's story from the 1995 book Reading Mastery II: Storybook 1 by Siegfried Engelmann and Elaine C. Bruner. It gained attention on September 11, 2001; U.S. President George W. Bush was reading the story at the Emma E. Booker School in Sarasota, Florida, when he was informed of the ongoing terror attacks.
"The Pet Goat" is the story of a girl's pet goat that eats everything in its path. The girl's parents want to get rid of the goat, but she defends it. In the end, the goat becomes a hero when it butts a car thief into submission.
The book was written by Siegfried Engelmann and Elaine C. Bruner and is part of the 31-volume Reading Mastery series published by the SRA Macmillan early-childhood education division of McGraw-Hill. It uses the Direct Instruction (DI) teaching method, which was originally developed by Engelmann and Wesley C. Becker.
George W. Bush during the September 11 attacks
On the morning of September 11, 2001, some time around 9:10, in front of a sign stating "READING MAKES A COUNTRY GREAT", George Bush was reading the The Pet Goat while also listening to it being recited by a group of schoolchildren at Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota County, Florida, just after White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card informed him that a second airplane had just hit the World Trade Center. Bush remained seated for roughly seven minutes and followed along as the children read the book. After spending about 20 minutes total with the children, Bush was scheduled to give a short press conference at about 9:30 a.m. At the conference inside the school, Bush made his first speech about the attacks and was later taken to a secure location by the Secret Service aboard Air Force One before returning to the White House later that evening.
Bush's critics—notably Michael Moore in his film Fahrenheit 9/11, in which Moore erroneously named the book My Pet Goat—have argued that the fact that Bush continued reading the book after being notified that the attack was ongoing shows that he was indecisive. However, Bush's defenders (and also other Bush's critics) make the case that he felt keeping the children calm was his most important duty at that time. A 9/11 Commission Staff Report entitled Improvising a Homeland Defense, without citing a source for the claim, reads: "The President felt he should project strength and calm until he could better understand what was happening." According to Bill Sammon in Fighting Back: The War on Terrorism from Inside the White House, Bush's Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, at some point, was in the back of the classroom holding a pad on which he had written "Don't say anything yet." Sammon contends that, although Bush was not wearing his glasses, he was able to read this message, decided to let Fleischer determine his course of action and that not bewildering the children was his priority, and it went unnoticed by the media. Sammon further states:
Bush wondered whether he should excuse himself and retreat to the holding room, where he might be able to find out what the hell was going on. But what kind of message would that send—the president abruptly getting up and walking out on a bunch of inner-city second-graders at their moment in the national limelight?
Osama bin Laden made reference to the story in a videotaped speech released just prior to the 2004 U.S. presidential election, stating that Bush's reading of the book had given the hijackers more than enough time to carry out the attacks. His full quote was:
But because it seemed to him that occupying himself by talking to the little girl about the goat and its butting was more important than occupying himself with the planes and their butting of the skyscrapers, we were given three times the period required to execute the operations - all praise is due to Allah.
In the years following the incident, faculty and students of the school have come to offer their foreign policy opinions regarding Bush's decisions. Principal Gwendolyn Tose-Rigell defended Bush, stating: "I don't think anyone could have handled it better. What would it have served if [Bush] had jumped out of his chair and ran out of the room?" Shortly after bin Laden's death, former students Lazaro Dubrocq and Mariah Williams had been asked about the incident by Time, crediting Bush with keeping the classroom calm by finishing the story. Williams has said:
I don't remember the story we were reading — was it about pigs? But I'll always remember watching his face turn red. He got really serious all of a sudden. But I was clueless. I was just seven. I'm just glad he didn't get up and leave because then I would have been more scared and confused.
Chantal Guerrero agrees, and is grateful that Bush regained his composure and stayed with the students until The Pet Goat was finished. Guerrero has said: "I think the President was trying to keep us from finding out, so we all wouldn't freak out."
- Radosh, Daniel (July 26, 2004). "The Pet Goat Approach". The New Yorker.
- Adair, Bill; Hegarty, Stephen (2002-09-08). "The drama in Sarasota". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2007-06-15.
- "Improvising a Homeland Defense" (PDF)., page 22
- Sammon, Bill (2002). Fighting Back. Regnery Publishing. p. 85. ISBN 978-0-89526-149-6.
- Osama bin Laden (November 1, 2004). "Full Transcript of Bin Ladin's Speech". Aljazeera.net. Al Jazeera. Retrieved 2006-03-20.
- Padgett, Tim (May 3, 2011). "The Interrupted Reading: The Kids with George W. Bush on 9/11". Time.