Just when you thought August recess couldn't get any wackier, conservative talk show hosts have stirred up a hornets' nest over President Obama's planned speech to the nation's schoolchildren next Tuesday. Obama plans to tout the value of education, encouraging kids to work hard and stay in school. But now, after working themselves up into a frenzy over death panels and Nazi symbols, conservative critics are inspiring a new wave of madness, calling the speech a political recruiting tool and partisan propaganda. Florida Republican Chairman Jim Greer took an incredible leap of logic, saying that Obama intends to "indoctrinate America's children to his socialist agenda."
According to newspaper reports in Texas, Florida, and Colorado, parents have called local schools requesting that their children be excused from viewing the speech or threatening to keep their kids home if the speech is shown in their classrooms. The Associated Press reports that school districts in six states - including the President's home state of Illinois - will refrain from showing the speech to students. In response to concerns, the White House has taken the unusual step of promising to make Obama's remarks available a full 24 hours before he delivers the speech at an Arlington, Va., high school. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has written to teachers encouraging them to incorporate the speech into their lesson plans, using the president's message about hard work as a learning tool. But, in reaction to concerns from parents, some schools have decided that the speech won't be discussed at all in their classrooms, leaving it up to parents to decide whether the speech merits a conversation with adults.
All of this raises a few questions: What happened to classrooms as venues of learning, where ideas are explained and debated? Isn't it the exact job of schools to turn out young citizens who are informed and engaged enough to be full participants in political discourse? Since when should we be directing schools to shield children from history, politics, and culture? If a speech by the president of the United States isn't a legitimate pedagogical device, then I'm not sure what is. No one is demanding that the president's words not be dissented from or challenged; indeed working through differing views is a critical part of our educational process.
It's not unusual for presidents to visit schools
when promoting policies, as George W. Bush did when he passed No Child Left
Behind. Mostly it's been considered a privilege and a learning opportunity to have
an important political figure speak to children. Political candidates often use
schools as a backdrop for their education pitches. And it won't be the first
time teachers have turned on a TV so students can witness important political moments. The notion that letting children hear the president speak is worthy of
fear seems antithetical to America's democratic values. Moreover, the subject matter should be something that people
of all political stripes agree on: education should be prized, working hard
should be valued, and staying in school helps kids getting ahead. Have we really gotten to a point where parents are afraid of having the president impart those messages? It's been one crazy summer.