President Obama spoke to the nation’s school kids today about working hard and doing well in school. Apparently that’s such a controversial topic that many Texas schools didn’t air the speech live — and some parents kept their kids out of class, just in case.
I am utterly dumbfounded.
Since when have we considered a speech by a sitting president something ill-suited for children’s viewing?
For the past 30-years, nearly every president has traipsed into a classroom somewhere in this country and chatted with children about the importance of doing well in school. In October 1991, President George H.W. Bush did a live back-to-school broadcast, so not even the nationwide aspect of President Obama’s speech is new.
What is new is the public’s response.
Back in 1991, the Democrats complained about President Bush’s live back-to-school speech to kids (http://bushlibrary.tamu.edu/research/public_papers.php?id=3450&year=1991...). They accused him of misappropriating public funds on a publicity stunt to boost his approval rating; they demanded the General Accounting Office look into the matter. They huffed and puffed and ranted and raved. But the public paid little attention because, in the end, everyone agreed that the president had every right to go on television and talk to the nation’s kids.
Not so anymore.
When President Obama announced his intention to speak live to the nation’s school kids, the story went viral. Some accused the president of using the speech to push a socialist agenda. Others picked-apart the Department of Education materials that were supposed to accompany the speech, saying they were too supportive of President Obama and didn’t encourage kids to think critically. In response to angry calls from parents, school districts throughout Texas, and later in the rest of the country, issued press releases stating that children didn’t have to watch the speech if their parents didn’t want them to do so, or that schools wouldn’t broadcast the speech at all.
The White House attempted to calm everyone down by releasing the text of the speech (http://www.whitehouse.gov/MediaResources/PreparedSchoolRemarks/), but it didn’t work.
“I don't understand the logic of the President of the United States addressing elementary school children. I don't know what they will get out of it,” Jeff Gardner, a father of a high school senior, told College Station television station KBTX (http://www.kbtx.com/home/headlines/56730637.html).
The logic of the President addressing school children is simple: he is the leader of this country and, as such, a powerful role model. Children look up to him. So it behooves him to use his position to influence them to do well in school. When he talks, kids may just listen.
As for what kids will get out of the speech: hopefully, they’ll hear the message to do well in school. Regardless of your politics, you have to admit that Barack Obama is a living embodiment of what’s possible in the country. No matter how jaded the kid, it’s hard to ignore the nation’s first black president (and son of a single mom) when he tells you that anything is possible if you knuckle down and study.
But then, given the furor over the speech, many kids may not have heard it at all. And even if they did, they likely heard so much else about it that the core message got lost in the cacophony.
I am dismayed that this country has become so polarized politically that we debate the benefit of our children watching a Presidential address. I’m saddened that parents would rather pull their kids out of class than have them watch a speech by the leader of this country. And I am disgusted that we are teaching children to castigate or ignore people with whom we don’t agree.
That isn’t political discourse. It isn’t even political dissention. It’s plain old ignorance. And it has no place in school.
We should be ashamed of ourselves.