Obama’s School Speech in Context

The President announced that he was going to give a speech to all school children nationwide.  The Department of Education released guides for supportive activities for grades 7-12 and for K-6.  Among other things, the suggested activities included encouraging children encouraged to “write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals.”

That’s when “everything” (to keep this PG), broke loose.

So what’s the big deal?  A speech by the president on the benefits of education is not in and of itself objectionable, even though a democratic Congress launched a Congressional hearing when President George H. W. Bush did the same.

The big deal in this case was in the “package” deal—the speech with the lesson plans.  That displayed an approach that is extremely un-American.  I blush to use that term, which has been overused and misapplied a lot lately (mostly by Nancy Peolosi).  For the life of me I can’t think of a more appropriate description.

American politicians do NOT use their position to create a dutiful and adoring following as if they were royalty or dictators, especially with children.  Adulation must come from bottom up—through honest appreciation of a leader’s talents—rather than being orchestrated from top down.  Any politician can brag on himself or herself, but he or she cannot use their elected position and government funds to set themselves up as something great.  AND, even more importantly, in America children are never the target of efforts from an American leader to set up hero worship.  Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and Kim Jong Il can schedule events as a leader with “learning” activities that show how great they are.  They can mandate that schoolchildren study them and their words and have the education system instill in them the idea that their leaders are the greatest thing since sliced bread.  That is odious to anyone in a free society, especially in America.

The uproar over the speech must have averted something not only because the lesson plans were changed, but because the speech was changed.  If the speech wasn’t changed, then someone doing lesson plans in the Department of Education was creating an impossible task for the children.  If you think this is not the case, then perform a little exercise.  Read or listen to the speech—it’s on the web—and then do as the original lesson plans asked: Based on the speech, write a letter to yourself to say what you can do to help the president. I have a college degree and I couldn’t do it based on the speech that he gave.  His speech doesn’t indicate anything that he wants help with.  I looked very carefully.  There was only one thing that I could come up with reading between the lines, and it’s a stretch.  If what Obama is saying is that each student is really getting an education for the president’s sake, you can help the president by staying in school.  Even with all of the talk about personal responsibility in the speech, it may boil down to that.  Everything is for the sake of Obama.

A common complaint of someone being criticized is that the media takes things out of context, so let’s consider the President’s words in context by looking at all of the lesson plans provided.  In context, what is going on is that this is all about immersing students in Obama—listening to Obama and learning to think in terms of performing for Obama.  “Teachers may post in large print around the classroom notable quotes excerpted from President Obama’s speeches on education.”  Teachers can tell children to “build background knowledge about the president of the United States by reading books about presidents and Barack Obama.”  The recommended activities for before, during, and after the speech, especially for the younger children, are all about surrounding themselves with pictures, posters, stories, “poems, songs, or personal essays,” contests, conversations, and all kinds of classroom activities that would keep the ideas in Obama’s speech.  Given the age group, it would undeniably result in many images of Obama.  (Think:  an early year elementary student is told to draw a picture of what they got out of the speech—what is the most common image that will result?)  Like the inspiration source itself—Obama—more time is to be spent on discussing the concept of learning in the plans than on actually learning concrete basics.

Even though proponents of the speech have claimed it’s no big deal, they made it a big deal.  For example, Democratic National Committee spokesman Hari Sevurgan said of Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty for criticizing the giving of the speech.  “Outrageously, Governor Tim Pawlenty, who, as a leader in his state, should be encouraging the success of our children . . .”  So, if anyone has any problem with this situation, they are not encouraging the success of our children?   This speech is the only thing that matters?  Being in favor of an inspirational speech by the president is the only way you can encourage the success of our children?

In the end, the speech that was given was not as objectionable as I think it would have been without the uproar.  Also, one speech may be ok, but if it happens again . . .we need to consider the context.

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Published in: on September 10, 2009 at 4:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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