Re: Teacher-in-Chief

I touched on the growing controversy surrounding President Obama’s address to school kids earlier in the week. As I said, I thought Obama’s speech would be pretty harmless and I expect that the speech will be filled with the usual platitudes and educational cheerleading. That’s fine and is the sort of feel-good thing we should expect the President to do. However, I did find the “lesson plan” released by the Administration to be a little weird. I think it was this memo, not the speech itself, that got people wound up and paranoid to the extent that some school districts across the country aren’t going to air the speech in their schools.
Supporters of President Obama have pointed out that both Presidents Reagan and Bush, Sr. also addressed school children. And they were also criticized. For instance:

As Barack Obama prepares a nationwide broadcast to America’s students next Tuesday, it has been revealed that Democrats complained in 1991 when then President George H. W. Bush broadcast a speech from a Northwest Washington junior high school.
In fact, the House Majority leader at the time, Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), said “The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students.”
Such was reported by the Washington Post on October 3, 1991 (h/t KY3 Political Notebook via Chuck Todd)

The difference, I’m pretty certain, is that neither Reagan nor Bush put out a comprehensive lesson plan, much less a poorly written one, beforehand in preparation for their speeches.
The Obama Administration has fallen to blaming this misunderstanding on the “inartfully worded” memo and has changed at least one “suggestion” from, “Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president” to “Write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals.” That’s a smart change and more indicative of what the President’s address should aim to do a la Reagan and Bush. Inspire the students about education in general by encouraging them to think about themselves (that’s what kids do best, anyway!). Shy away from anything that could be inferred as Presidential hagiography. President Obama is also going to release his speech ahead of time. Another wise move.
So, the lesson plan is one reason–and probably the biggest–why people got upset over this. Over-exposure is another. Since he took office, we have seen or heard the President speaking at us about nearly every aspect of our lives, from health care to the economic crisis to the baseball All-Star game. People who disagree with Obama’s politics are just plain getting sick of the Obama Show. Yet, despite all of the media exposure, at least they could switch the channel or turn the page. But with this address to the schools, they see Obama circumventing their ability to control who or what has access to their children. I think they are over-reacting and that part of being a parent is discussing such things at the dinner table. Re-programming, if you will. Dan Riehl (h/t) thinks the backlash is symptomatic of a deeper conflict going on within the country:

That what once would have been a non-event is so incredibly controversial suggests to me that a great many Americans likely feel disconnected from the nation’s political affairs right now, as well as extremely concerned about what the future’s going to bring. The crisis Rahm [Emmanuel] suggested taking advantage of doesn’t just cut one way, after all. And I doubt that any alienation, or all the concern came about from just 9 months of any one term.

That is certainly part of it, but it has been a heckuva nine months. For myself, I agree with John Podhoretz:

If, in his speech, he tells kids to do their homework and listen to their teachers, he will be doing something good, especially for African-American kids, who are, all sources and studies report, desperately in need of hearing that performing well in school isn’t some kind of betrayal of their race.
If he does use the speech to do some politicking on his agenda, there’s going to be trouble in the schoolhouse. As the nation learned in June and July, it turns out there are few things more boring than listening to Barack Obama discuss health care; school-age children by the millions will be shifting in their seats, rolling their eyes, and beginning to think seditious thoughts if they are forced to sit through such a thing.

Basically, I think most kids are going to hear Charlie Brown’s teacher. Mwa mwa. Mwa, mwa mwa mwa mwa. BUT, if some come away inspired to learn, all the better.

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brassband
brassband
11 years ago

I’ve got an open mind on this one.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with the President reminding these kids that it’s their duty to study hard, be always respectful of their parents, teachers and fellow students, do their best at work and play, and think about the debt of gratitude they owe to those — at home and abroad — who risk their lives to protect our freedoms.
Who could have a problem with that message?
If the President politicizes it . . . well shame on him.
But let’s at least hear what he says before complaining about it.

arturo fernandez
arturo fernandez
11 years ago

The right wing is crazy. Paranoid Marc calls it. That’s part of it.
The Bush Administration was such a disaster they’re now looking for ways to make out the new Democrat’s worse. Just admit a mistake and move on, Republicans voters.

rhody
rhody
11 years ago

Thank God my home-schooled niece won’t have to watch this abomination with a bunch of her peers Tuesday (or the overheated cable news analysis). She’ll be vacationing on the Cape with her parents (hey, home schooling’s not just for the religious right anymore).
What if Obama tells kids to say their prayers, take their vitamins and do their homework? Oh, the horror!

Monique
Editor
11 years ago

“school-age children by the millions will be shifting in their seats, rolling their eyes, and beginning to think seditious thoughts if they are forced to sit through such a thing.”
I have completely changed my mind on this matter.
The president’s speech should be mandatory viewing for all children.

Robert Balliot
11 years ago

Ironic that the same people had no issues with Bush or Reagan addressing children.

What’s so great about being stupid?

Marc
Marc
11 years ago

Robert, I think the difference is the lesson plan that was developed and released for Obama’s address. Reagan and Bush had no such thing.

Robert Balliot
11 years ago

Marc –
I doubt if many knew there even was a lesson plan until after the fact. Yet, at least a lesson plan would provide an outline of what to expect. Reagan’s speech without a lesson plan certainly included ‘politicking on his agenda’:

Today, to a degree never before seen in human history, one nation, the United States, has become the model to be followed and imitated by the rest of the world. But America’s world leadership goes well beyond the tide toward democracy. We also find that more countries than ever before are following America’s revolutionary economic message of free enterprise, low taxes, and open world trade. These days, whenever I see foreign leaders, they tell me about their plans for reducing taxes, and other economic reforms that they are using, copying what we have done here in our country.
I wonder if they realize that this vision of economic freedom, the freedom to work, to create and produce, to own and use property without the interference of the state, was central to the American Revolution, when the American colonists rebelled against a whole web of economic restrictions, taxes and barriers to free trade. The message at the Boston Tea Party — have you studied yet in history about the Boston Tea Party, where because of a tax they went down and dumped the tea in the Harbor. Well, that was America’s original tax revolt, and it was the fruits of our labor — it belonged to us and not to the state. And that truth is fundamental to both liberty and prosperity.

kathy
kathy
11 years ago

My friend is keeping her son out of school on Wed, and taking to to Boston Museum of Science and then to Plymouth Plantations for an education, rather than be subjected to the foolishness.

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