03 September 2009

Obama's Speech to Schoolchildren

I know the few Republicans who read this blog are going to call me crazy, but here goes: This coming Tuesday, President Barack Obama has a speech planned to a very special audience: schoolchildren. All across the country, kids in classrooms are going to be tuned into the speech by the leader of the free world, which, according to a letter from the US Dept. of Education Secretary Arne Duncan is on the topic of "[challenging] students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning" and "about persisting and succeeding in school." Along with this letter are two .pdf files which give teachers suggested corresponding learning materials to use in their classrooms to stimulate discussion on the speech and the topics. Basically, it's an outline of questions teachers could ask, like "What is the President asking you to do?" and "If you were the President, what would you tell students?" for younger students in grades K-6, and questions like "We heard President Obama mention the importance of personal responsibility. In your life, who exemplifies this kind of responsibility? How? Give examples." and "Do you remember any other historic moments when the president spoke to the nation? What was the impact?" Apparently, leaders in Congress, state education systems, and some parents have a problem with this. They view it as an attempt to indoctrinate their kids in the classroom to Barack Obama's liberal ideology. Here in Arizona, Republican State Superintendent Tom Horne called the accompanying lesson plans "call for a worshipful rather than critical approach" to viewing the President's address. Former gubernatorial candidate-turned political pundit and PAC leader Len Munsil was recently citing Arizona state law ARS 15-102 to allow parents to "opt out" of anything they feel is "harmful" to their children during school hours. Here's Len's Facebook status message from about 8pm Thursday night:
"Lots of folks concerned about President Obama's speech to students Tuesday. When Bush 41 did this, Dems complained about the waste of tax money for a "political ad." But one of the reasons for concern today is the 'cult of personality' surrounding this president, unlike anything we've seen since JFK. Some schools are saying attendance is mandatory, but parents in AZ are in charge. Under ARS 15-102, you can opt your kids out of anything you consider 'harmful.'"
I feel that this type of behavior is not only rediculous, but it's just another disappointment coming from the GOP in an era of already-bad messaging from the right. Do some of them have a point? Yes. From Texas Governor Rick Perry: "Nobody seems to know what he's going to be talking about.... Why didn't he spend more time talking to the local districts and superintendents, at least give them a heads-up about it?" That might have dispelled the notion of a socialist takeover of the classrooms, sure. From Plano, TX (Associated Press news article):
PTA council president Cara Mendelsohn said Obama is 'cutting out the parent' by speaking to kids during school hours. "Why can't a parent be watching this with their kid in the evening?" Mendelsohn said. "Because that's what makes a powerful statement, when a parent is sitting there saying, 'This is what I dream for you. This is what I want you to achieve."
From a messaging standpoint, it makes sense to talk to students about their education DURING school hours, not after school when they're playing video games, doing homework, watching tv, or eating dinner. But any Republican - actually, any PERSON - actively calling for parents to pull their kids out of school because of this speech, or calling teachers, principles, or school officials demanding that they not show the address is doing their children an extreme civil disservice. I think, as an average citizen with an above-average knowledge of the political system, that it is important to hear from the President of the United States. I respect that office enough to know that what he has to say, even to a national audience of schoolchildren, is important to consider. And I think it's important for kids to be given the opportunity to learn about and make their own choices about politics and civic duties. It is part of the job of the parents of those kids to help them understand what the President is saying and interpret it according to that family's principles. Parents can watch this address at the time of its broadcast on their phones, televisions, or internet (it's being broadcast on C-SPAN, CSPAN.com, and some local channels), or even go into the classrooms with their kids to watch it live. They can become active in the discussion, letting their kids talk with them about the President's words and discussing what parts of the speech conform to their family values, and which may not and why. And if they want a "fair and balanced" approach, there are plenty of Republican materials and speeches on education that they can discuss and teach their children. It's sad that Republican leaders are telling parents to pull their kids from classrooms in order to advance dislike of the person holding the highest office in the land. Exactly what kind of message does THAT send to our kids?

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