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Obama Speech To Schoolchildren Continues To Stir Controversy

by @ 5:42 pm on September 3, 2009. Filed under Barack Obama, Politics

Obama school

As I’ve noted already — here and here — President Obama’s speech to schoolchildren scheduled for September 8th has created no small degree of controversy in some political circles:

President Obama’s planned speech at an Arlington County high school next Tuesday, which the White House hopes will be watched live by students and teachers across the nation, is being criticized by some as an attempt to indoctrinate, rather than motivate, young people.

Officials at Wakefield High School say they are thrilled and proud to host the nation’s parent-in-chief for an appearance that White House spokesman Tommy Vietor described as “entirely about encouraging kids to work hard and stay in school.” But a few of Obama’s political opponents are denouncing the event, homing in on suggestions from the U.S. Department of Education for classroom activities that could be linked to the speech.

The administration modified some of the language in those suggestions in response to the complaints. And after receiving inquiries, the Virginia Department of Education has issued guidelines that explain that individual teachers and principals will make the decisions about whether their students should watch the address.

But that hasn’t stopped some Republican officials from accusing the President of seeking to indoctrinate the nation’s children:

“President Bush believed that no child should be left behind,” said state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston. “President Obama apparently believes no voter should be left behind, no matter how young.

“This seems more of an extended campaign for himself, as opposed to focusing on the important issue of education,” Patrick said.

Jim Greer, Florida’s Republican Party chairman, said Obama’s real motive is to indoctrinate students with his “socialist ideology.”

And the reaction hasn’t been much more positive on the right-side of the blogosphere.

Melissa Clouthier, for example, seems to be concerned that the children watching the speech will somehow be turned into instant socialists:

Children want to believe authorities. They DO believe authorities. Depending on the child’s developmental level, he cannot discern that a President would mislead. Heck, many adults have been baffled by Obama’s b.s. They are shocked, shocked! I tell you, at how President Obama has presided.

But let’s assume the substance is benign. I still don’t like it. The President being beamed directly to children is unprecedented. It has never happened and for good reason. The authority in a child’s life is his parent. A teacher has a teaching role but it is subservient to the parent.

Of course, we’ve learned over the past day that speeches like this aren’t at all unprecedented. President Reagan did it in 1988, and the first President Bush did it at least twice with a 1989 anti-drug speech and a 1991 “importance of education” speech.

Every indication we’ve received so far indicates that Obama’s speech will be similar to Bush’s 1991 speech; so, if that was okay, then the only reason to object to Obama doing the same thing would seem to be purely partisan. — and, to be fair, some Democrats did object to Bush’s 1991 speech being paid for with taxpayer dollars.

The broader point, though, is that this idea that children are just sponges who will accept, uncritically, whatever some authority figure tells them doesn’t seem to jive with reality. More likely, the kids will just ignore the content and remember how cool it was that they got to watch the television at school.

Over at Vodkapundit,Stephen Green says he would keep his son home from school:

Nope, Obama can’t just say hey to the kiddies and encourage them to do their homework. He has to make this a — what does the Left call it? — a teachable moment. A speech-in, if you will. Teachers have even been given handy instructions on how best to integrate The One into the classroom.

While I usually find my self agreeing with Steve, I’ve got to side with AllahPundit on this one when he says that a school boycott is a pretty over-the-top over-reaction:

One pap-filled 20-minute speech about working hard and serving others is so lethal a threat to tender minds that they have to be yanked off the premises for the day to shield them from it?

[...]

If this turns out to be some hamfisted attempt by The One to pitch his agenda to kids — which would be politically insane given the outcry it would cause, a sneak preview of which may be found here — there’ll be ample time for outrageous outrage later. For all the media fainting spells over Obama’s oratory, you can count on one hand the number of truly memorable lines he’s uttered; I doubt he’s going to come up with such a corker next week that kids will be planning their lives around it. Remember, this is the same guy who can’t sell universal health care, the virtual raison d’etre of the Democratic Party these days, to the Blue Dogs.

Steve responded by saying that he’d keep his kid home regardless of who was President:

Yes, the speech itself will almost certainly be harmless. I don’t expect anyone’s kids to be coming home and berating their parents for being against this program or that agenda. I do expect Allah has it quite right, that this speech will be just another Daddy Speech, meant to encourage my son to work hard in school.

But you know what? The President of the United States — whether an Obama a Bush or a Lincoln — is not my son’s daddy. That’s my job. We’ve had enough nannystatism, and enough daddystatism, too.

On that last point, I agree with Steve. I’d much prefer that we lived in the country where the President wasn’t the all-encompasing figure of the nation that he as become.

Venomous Kate, though, says she’s sending her child to school:

Frankly, I like to pick my battles carefully. Those of us in the GOP need to realize that bitching about every little thing the Dems do doesn’t make us sound informed or even draw attention to our primary issues; it just makes us sound bitchy.

Besides which, I know from experience that my boy is going to tune out any speech lasting longer than 30 seconds in favor of poking the little kid sitting next to him.

James Joyner, meanwhile, agrees that the reaction on the right is a pretty heavy over-reaction:

Not only is it hard to believe Obama is going to say anything that rises above the level of pabulum but, if he does, the national outrage will make the health care town halls look like love-ins.

I tend to agree with Joanne Jacobs that the whole thing is innocuous, if unlikely to much matter: “I think the president is going to ask kids to work hard in school and teachers will try to get them to pledge to work hard in school and most of them will work just as hard this year as they did last year.”

Finally, law professor Ann Althouse, not surprisingly, sees the possibility of a learning experience:

Ideally, children should learn to understand political speeches and think for themselves about what they mean. I remember as a schoolchild being assigned various political speeches to read and understand. These were historical speeches — by Washington, Lincoln, etc. — but they were by Presidents, Presidents who had a political agenda. These assignments can be especially useful educational experiences, equipping children to live in the world — where politicians will try to influence them and lead them along. Teach them how to see what is being done and why.

I know many of you will say that the teachers are all such big liberals and Obama sycophants that no critical thinking will be taught. But let’s see! I love reading things and applying my critical thinking to the text. I do it as a lawprof reading the stuff judges present as legal analysis, and I’d love to do it as a blogger reading about what the President said and how the teachers dealt with it.

Please, send your kids to school and get a full report on what happened. Encourage your kids to observe and report accurately, and then tell us all about it. The teachers could do anywhere from a brilliant to an abysmal job with the assignment. This is a great opportunity — whatever happens. If the teachers handle it well, the children learn valuable skills. If they handle it badly, that will be the basis of a lesson we can teach them.

I’d like to see we’ll get something like what Professor Althouse is looking for, but given the level of partisan venom running through this country today, I’m not at all optimistic.

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3 Responses to “Obama Speech To Schoolchildren Continues To Stir Controversy”

  1. Rosie says:

    Does anyone have any idea what Obama’s speech will be about? If not, what is the big deal? I thought that liberals could be stupid, but ever since Obama entered the White House, the right-wingers have been reacting to this man that borders on childish paranoia.

    I’m so disgusted that I cannot say anything else on this matter.

  2. [...] Below The Beltway: Obama Speech To Schoolchildren Continues To Stir Controversy [...]

  3. tfr says:

    Heh… “childish paranoia” about sums it up.
    Local talk radio last night reminded me… on Sep. 11, 2001,
    Bush was sitting in a classroom, talking to students. No one busted a blood vessel. Although that wasn’t really all that similar to this.

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