Saturday, September 05, 2009

Think you can't trust the President?? At least trust the kids!

Cross-posted from Social Issues (the blog of the John Dewey Society Commission on Social Issues)

I was greeted early yesterday morning by a local newspaper article noting that some folks (specifically, "conservatives,"  but it's hard to know who that refers to) are angry that President Obama plans to give a speech at a public school urging young people to stay in school and take advantage of the education being offered them. Throughout the day yesterday -- and this morning -- I encountered this "developing story" ... on CNN, in The New York Times, and elsewhere.  

What are we to make of this?

The Obama folks clearly made one mistake in the run-up to the event.   They posted lesson plans that teachers could use in preparation for and after listening to the President's speech (offered live in one school but available for broadcast in any school).   One part of that included a question to be posed to the students:  "What can you do to help the President?"    In context, the question was clearly about supporting the good of the nation, but I can (if I really stretch Peter Elbow's "methodological belief") see why those who do not agree with the "President's ideology" would be concerned.  And it seems the President's folks were listening and focused on making this a non-partisan event. That question in the lesson plan was changed to ask how a student could achieve his or her educational goals.

I am struck by the concern with the "President's ideology," because the complaint incorporates the assumption that ONLY the President has an ideology, that the one complaining is speaking the non-biased truth.   Of course, the President has views on how to deal with the issues of our time, as do we all.    And we don't all agree with each other.   But it seems we have lost even the notion that we share one common goal:  a desire to educate children to be good Americans (even when we are not in agreement about what that means.)  Each of us -- especially the duly elected President of the country -- deserves that benefit of the doubt no matter how hard we fight in the arena of ideas and policies.

We have apparently moved into an era when even the clear election winner, a father of two young daughters, will not be trusted to speak to school children.  Have we so little confidence in our children's ability to listen critically and form and frame their own minds that we fear the influence of Barack Obama?   If that's so, then I fear no education is possible, certainly not the real education that requires openness to people who don't look and think like we do.  

Children who would become democratic citizens need to experience the play of democratic functioning.  I remember well my 6th grade Catholic school playground days during the Nixon/Kennedy elections.   My teachers and most of my classmates were Kennedy supporters (the result of religioius "ideology"? )   My parents -- and I -- were Nixon supporters (the result of my business executive father's socio-economic status?)  I and the few other Nixon supports held our ground when everybody else challenged us;   for the most part, we enjoyed it.  Whether or not we can trust our President in this case (and I obviously think we can),  I am quite certain we can trust our children.   Bring the President into every classroom;  it will do us good.


Jim Horn said...

Since President Obama has essentially adopted the education agenda of the Wall Street Journal's editorial board, there is no ideological basis for the wingnuts' protest, which is really about diminishing Obama in the eyes of those who look up to him, who are inspired by him, who bother to go vote for him.

Too, calling Obama a socialist indoctrinator provides some salve for the raw racism that keeps many white parents feeling prickly, and thus, some other more morally generous rationale for protecting Seth and Caitlin from the scary black man with the middle name, Hussein.

Lisa said...

I think that this has gotten out of hand, students should be able to listen to the President.

Anonymous said...

Arguing that calling an African-American President a liberal/progressive/socialist is going to strike racial terror into the hearts of white Americans is pretty far out.

Nancy Flanagan said...

Talk radio's latest twist: the President deliberately released the text of the speech early so the resultant publicity (created initially by talk radio, of course) would make the speech seem exciting and forbidden. You know, kind of like reading under the covers with a flashlight.

I actually remember watching Reagan's "we have figured out taxes and other nations envy us" speech, a couple of decades ago, with my middle school students. None of this is about speech-making. It's about retribution.

Anonymous said...

"So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. ... Make us all proud - I know you can do it."

You have an odd idea of exciting and forbidden if this sounds exciting and forbidden to you.

Nancy Flanagan said...

You missed the point, Anonymous-- Talk radio hosts are now saying that the President released his speech text early to incite a publicity uproar, thus making his speech seem like more than it is. So people who normally wouldn't care would tune in.

That's about as bizarre a rationale as one can imagine: the President and his team set this up as part of his strategy to influence young minds. And since many presidential speeches draw less-than-stellar crowds, let's try to gin up some controversy by releasing the text! And include lesson plans! That's the ticket!

Bizarre indeed.

I fully agree that a national leader urging kids to take their education seriously is as innocuous as it comes.

Lisa said...

I agree,Students should be able to listen to the President's speech

Anonymous said...

Paying attention to talk radio hosts is maybe not the best use of your time.

AClark said...

I also believe that students should be able to listen to the President's speech. I believe that the position of the President of the United States deserves respect regardless of the political party you belong to or whether or not you agree/disagree with any of his policies. His speech also encouraged students to stay and school and work hard. How could this message be harmful to anyone?

Private schools Gwinnett said...

I don't think anyone has a problem with the President encouraging educational excellence.

Most of the uproar I heard was over the Administration's suggested "assignments" that were truly geared toward supporting the President's legislative agenda. That is definitely crossing the line.

By the way, the Administration could have avoided the "questions" surrounding the content of the speech by circulating it earlier.

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