As you may remember, President Obama instigated no small amount of controversy last year over his campaign speech to school children celebrating himself hard work. The most disgusting part of the whole thing, though, was the recommended teaching materials put out by the Department of Education that originally included asking students to write letters “about what they can do to help the president.” The ultimate version was not much better, including lesson plans that are a bit much. For example, one suggested that teachers “build background knowledge about the President of the United States and his speech by reading books about presidents and Barack Obama.” Can you say “cult of the presidency“?
In a short video posted here, Gene Healy and Neal McCluskey discuss why this particular speech was problematic.
I’m of two minds on the basic matter of whether presidents and other politicians should address school children. It is certainly good for children when prominent and upstanding members of the community (pretty sure most politicians don’t meet both halves of this standard, but I’ll give the current president the benefit of the doubt) encourage and model appropriate and exemplary behavior.
However, I am deeply troubled by the way in which politics creeps into every nook and cranny of our world, leaving little space for us to breathe the fresh air of private life. This would include temporal space, namely childhood.
Therefore, I have a problem with the idea of having the President invade the (relatively) innocent realm of our grade schools to give speeches that are bound to be political or politicized (or alternatively trite and thus serving no function) no matter who is in the White House. So in the final analysis, I guess I’d prefer that presidents stick to adult messaging (or better yet, turn away from the “rhetorical presidency” model altogether) and leave behavior modeling to parents and others in the community. At the least, this type of activity should be reserved for middle and high school audiences as children in these grades are able to appropriately analyze such speeches in a thoughtful and critical fashion. When pre-K through 5th graders are included, such speeches ring of indoctrination of the worst kind.
I bring this up a year later because President Obama is set to deliver another school speech this week. I found out about it when my child – a kindergartener – came home with this (see below) note asking whether the child has my permission to attend the address (at least the school asked, which it doesn’t – I’m sure – when they indoctrinate children with the new environmental religion):
Despite my dislike of such political events, is it really best for my child to bar him/her from participation? Isn’t is pretty likely that the content of the speech – especially in an election year – will be pretty harmless? Moreover, do I want the teachers and administrators to treat my child differently if they are offended by my decision? Is it really worth it? On the other hand, do I really want the school to think it can get away with teaching whatever it wants without any pushback from parents like me who have to hold their nose (because the cost of alternatives where I live is too great) just to send their kids to public schools in the first place?