Friday, September 4, 2009

President Obama's Address to Students

President Obama will be delivering an address to young students on Tuesday, September 8th.  According to the White House press release his remarks are intended to stress the "importance of students' taking responsibility for their education, challenging them to set goals and do everything they can to succeed."  The White House has encouraged educators to view the address with students and provided resources that teachers can use to engage their students in a meaningful dialogue about the President's remarks.  

Regardless of what political motives might be involved here (I, personally, doubt that there are any other than to send a message that education is critical to the wellbeing of our country), this seems like a useful thing for students and teachers to be a part of.  Some parents and conservatives have objected to schools participating saying that they don't want students "forced" to listen to the speech and that it will eat up "precious" class time. 

 I think it would be a mistake for any parent or teacher to keep students from hearing the address for a number of reasons:

1.  The message is an important one (regardless of who the messenger is).  Whether you agree with Obama's policies and political leanings or not, the fact is that education is an integral part of the success of our nation.  A message intended to excite students about learning and help them see its value is one we want them to hear.  And, the star power of a president (especially this one) is a rhetorical tool that can help.  If the White House has said that this is not a political speech and intended only to underscore the importance of education, let's trust them until we know otherwise.  The speech will be available online beginning Monday for parents and educators to review.  If at that point it becomes apparent that the Obama camp was lying and that the speech is filled with propaganda (which would be incredibly stupid for them to try and pull off), that would be the appropriate time to decide that your student or class will not view the address.  

2.  Blindly refusing to allow your child to listen to the address sends a dangerous message.  Children watch what adults do and make decisions about what is "normal" behavior based on these observations.  When a child hears mom say, "I don't agree with Obama's politics, so you aren't listening to what he has to say" they infer that such behavior (i.e. that when you disagree with someone you should refuse to listen to anything and everything they have to say) is the norm.  I'm not arguing that we should accept all of the current administrations policies.  What I am arguing for is openmindedness and dialogue.  If you disagree with Obama (or even things he says in the address), have a conversation with your student/child about those things and what you and they think about it.  Insulating them from differing viewpoints won't serve them in the long run.

3.  Schools are meant to be democratic spaces.  Historically, educational institutions were intended to prepare young people to be engaged citizens, capable of dialogue, productivity, and service to the community.  Only recently (relatively) did public schools become focused on preparing students for college or university study and/or the workforce.  Schools serve a democratic function and, accordingly, should model for students what a democratic society looks and feels like (I could blog about the failings of modern school systems in this realm for days, but I'll end here).  Participating in a presidential address and then discussing its implications presents a marvelous opportunity to involve students in the democratic process.  Too often we give students the impression that being in a democracy means going to the polls. There is a lot of preparatory work (e.g. listening to the views of politicians) that we don't ever mention.  Furthermore, as mentioned above, our schools should provide opportunities for meaningful dialogue about political issues and prepare students to become part of the engaged citizenry when they leave our institutions.

For the record, I am independent and disagree with plenty of the democratic parties policies.  However, if my daughter were in school (we're about 5 years away), I would want her hearing what the president has to say.  His message is a good one and it would give me something to talk to her about that's a little more important than whatever reality TV show we watched on tv last night.

No comments: