As we all know by now the President of the United States will address American school children on September 8, 2009. Many questions have been posed regarding the appropriateness of this address. Spirited debate has erupted around the internet, on the various media outlets and most certainly on the internet. Much of the debate now centers on the materials that have been prepared to accompany this speech. While many school districts have made what I think is the right decision to let parents decide to let their kids view the address I believe it is still important to know what is in these materials.
I think it would be admirable if President Obama wishes to simply encourage students to work hard, study and succeed. However, I think that any responsible parent would want to know what is contained in the speech that their child will view. I also think that responsible parents want to know what is contained in the materials prepared for their children. What are the learning objectives? Is there a political bent in the materials? Are the materials Obama centric? Are the materials intended only to inspire and motivate the kids? Let’s look at a few excerpts from the prepared materials. The full body of prepared teaching materials can be found at the United States Department of Education website. I encourage you to examine the complete set of materials for yourself. First, let’s look at the high school lesson plans.
The plans start generically. Then it is suggested that
- Teachers may post in large print around the classroom notable quotes excerpted from President Obama’s speeches on education.
This seems to beg the question is this about inspiration or President Obama. My primary complaint in the last post was the idea that a president cannot be non-political. By the very nature of the job it is impossible to separate the President from the politics. Here teachers are being asked to research President Obama’s speeches about education in order to feature the words of President Obama.
Let’s look at a couple of other things. A bit further on in the secondary materials we find this:
Create a “concept web.” Teachers may ask students to think of the following:
- Why does President Obama want to speak with us today? How will he inspire us?
- How will he challenge us?
- What might he say?
- Do you remember any other historic moments when the president spoke to the nation?
- What was the impact?
The questions trouble me because they seem to be as much about President Obama as they are about inspiring school kids. The questions do lean toward a positive view of President Obama. They have to. The speech is being given by an American President. What is the educational purpose of the question about “historic moments”? Why are the questions worded so that they are more about President Obama than his subject? “How will he inspire us?” The assumption is that the President will inspire all the kids. But what does that do for the kids whose parents did not vote for President Obama or who may not be happy with the Presidents’ plan for the country? What does a teacher do with a child who says the President did not inspire him? Do these materials leave room for interpretation? What grade will a teacher give a student who thinks the President is not inspirational? A wise teacher would grade on grammar, construction, support of ideas or validity of the students argument. But what do you do with the teacher who is devoted to the cause of President Obama. What do you expect a teacher who is an Obama ideologue to do with this kids result? On the other hand what would a teacher do who absolutely disagrees with everything the President is doing? Can you expect complete objectivity? No. While the vast majority of teachers are fair, good people there are those who are so devoted to a cause that they cannot see past the cause itself to be fair to a student who disagrees. It will happen. There will be students who will be sacrificed on the altar of someone’s ideology. In America we do not hold kids hostage to a politician. A sitting President cannot ethically give a speech to children who are legally obligated to attend. Further, how can a President then have his Department of Education distribute materials that one must assume will be taken for a grade by many teachers? This is a travesty.
One might well ask why I would spend time in a blog designed to focus on independent learning and home schooling instead focused on a Presidential speech to public schools. I do so because this is the reason that many parents are opting out of the public system. Many, many parents do not want to subject their children to any form of political machination. And, many parents will rightly object to their children being held legally liable to attend a Presidential address. Personally it mystifies me that anyone of any political stripe would stand for this on principal.
Here are a few other examples of things the Department of Education has included in the study materials. You be the judge. But please visit the Department of Education site so that you can look at the materials and make an intelligent decision about what you are going to do with this event. My bias is known. I congratulate the school districts who are opting out.
- What resonated with you from President Obama’s speech? What lines or phrases do you remember?
- Is President Obama inspiring you to do anything? Is he challenging you to do anything?
- What do you believe are the challenges of your generation?
- How can you be a part of addressing these challenges?
From the elementary materials:
- Teachers can build background knowledge about the President of the United States and his speech by reading books about presidents and Barack Obama.
- What can students do to help in our schools?
- What is the president trying to tell me?
- What is the president asking me to do?
- What new ideas and actions is the president challenging me to think about? What specific job is he asking me to do?
- What do you think the president wants us to do?
- Does the speech make you want to do anything?
- Are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us?
- What would you like to tell the president?
As we should all do when making decisions please go to the site and look at the rest of the materials for yourself. I have obviously selected the things that bother me most. There are other parts of the materials that strike me as innocuous. But, this is a President like any other elected by some of the people, opposed by others who is making the presumption that American parents all want him to address their children while they are legally obligated to be at school.
Your children are a captive audience for the President of the United States. And there is not one thing your child can do about it. You can do something about it.
Does the speech make you want to do anything? Are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us? What would you like to tell the president?