Here’s the latest exhibit on how polarized the country is and how much distrust exists of President Obama.
He plans what seems like a simple speech to students around the country on Tuesday to encourage them to do well in school.
But some Republicans are objecting to the back-to-school message, asserting that Obama wants to indoctrinate students.
Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer said in a statement that he is “absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology” and “liberal propaganda.”
Wednesday, after the White House announced the speech, the Department of Education followed up with a letter to school principals and a lesson plan.
Critics pointed to the part of the lesson plan that originally recommended having students “write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president.”
The Department of Education has now changed their supplementary materials on President Obama’s upcoming address to schoolchildren on the importance of education — eliminating a phrase that some conservatives, such as the Florida GOP, happened to have been bashing as evidence of socialist indoctrination in our schools.
In a set of bullet points listed under a heading, “Extension of the Speech,” one of the points used to say: “Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals.”
However, that bullet point now reads as follows: “Write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short‐term and long‐term education goals. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals.”
om Horne, Arizona’s superintendent of public instruction, put out his own statement, with an education-oriented critique of the speech and its lesson plans.
Here’s a snippet from his statement:
The White House materials call for a worshipful, rather than critical approach to this speech. For example, the White House communication calls for the students to have ‘notable quotes excerpted (and posted in large print on the board),’ and for the students to discuss ‘how will he inspire us,’ among other things. …In general, in keeping with good education practice, students should be taught to read and think critically about statements coming from politicians and historical figures.
Just as it quickly became impossible to have a rationale discussion about health care as August wore on, we could be heading that way on education. If you haven’t heard (don’t get cable news?), President Obama plans to give a speech to the nation’s schoolchildren next week. To accompany it the Department of Education prepared a – gasp – study guide with some ideas for how teachers can use the speech as a, dare I say it, teachable moment.
Conservatives are screaming that this is unprecedented and amounts to indoctrination and a violation of the federal prohibition on involvement in local curricular decisions. Even the usually level-headed Rick Hess has run to the ramparts. We’re getting lectured on indoctrination by the same people who paid national commentators to covertly promote their agenda.
Please. Enough. The only thing this episode shows is how thoroughly broken our politics are. Let’s take the two “issues” in turn.
The speech, which will be broadcast live from Wakefield High School in Arlington County, was planned as an inspirational message “entirely about encouraging kids to work hard and stay in school,” said White House spokesman Tommy Vietor. Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent a letter to principals nationwide encouraging them to show it.
But the announcement of the speech prompted a frenzied response from some conservatives, who called it an attempt to indoctrinate students, not motivate them.
Although Eisenhower is commonly remembered for a farewell address that raised concerns about the “military-industrial complex,” his letter offers an equally important — and relevant — warning: to beware the danger posed by those seeking freedom from the “mental stress and burden” of democracy.
The story began in 1958, when Eisenhower received a letter from Robert Biggs, a terminally ill World War II veteran. Biggs told the president that he “felt from your recent speeches the feeling of hedging and a little uncertainty.” He added, “We wait for someone to speak for us and back him completely if the statement is made in truth.”
Eisenhower could have discarded Biggs’s note or sent a canned response. But he didn’t. He composed a thoughtful reply. After enduring Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, who had smeared his old colleague Gen. George C. Marshall as a Communist sympathizer, and having guarded the Republican Party against the newly emergent radical right John Birch Society, which labeled him and much of his cabinet Soviet agents, the president perhaps welcomed the opportunity to expound on his vision of the open society.
“I doubt that citizens like yourself could ever, under our democratic system, be provided with the universal degree of certainty, the confidence in their understanding of our problems, and the clear guidance from higher authority that you believe needed,” Eisenhower wrote on Feb. 10, 1959. “Such unity is not only logical but indeed indispensable in a successful military organization, but in a democracy debate is the breath of life.”
Critical thinking is good for kids and good for society.
I attended a recent Russ Feingold lunch [mp3 audio]. He spoke on a wide range of issues and commendably, took many open forum questions (unlike many elected officials), including mine “How will history view our exploding federalism?”. A fellow luncheon guest asked about Obama’s use of “Czar’s” (operating outside of Senate review and confirmation). Feingold rightly criticized this strategy, which undermines the Constitution.
I would generally not pay much attention to this, but for a friends recent comment that his daughter’s elementary school (Madison School District) teacher assigned six Obama coloring projects last spring.
Wall Street Journal Editorial:
President Obama’s plan to speak to America’s schoolchildren next Tuesday has some Republicans in an uproar. “As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology,” thunders Jim Greer, chairman of Florida’s Republican Party, in a press release. “President Obama has turned to American’s children to spread his liberal lies, indoctrinating American’s [sic] youngest children before they have a chance to decide for themselves.” Columnists who spy a conspiracy behind every Democrat are also spreading alarm.
This is overwrought, to say the least. According to the Education Department’s Web site, Mr. Obama “will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning”–hardly the stuff of the Communist Manifesto or even the Democratic Party platform. America’s children are not so vulnerable that we need to slap an NC-17 rating on Presidential speeches. Given how many minority children struggle in school, a pep talk from the first African-American President could even do some good.
On the other hand, the Department of Education goes a little too far in its lesson plans for teachers to use in conjunction with the speech–especially the one for grades 7 through 12. Before the speech, teachers are urged to use “notable quotes excerpted (and posted in large print on board) from President Obama’s speeches about education” and to “brainstorm” with students about the question “How will he inspire us?” Suggested topics for postspeech discussion include “What resonated with you from President Obama’s speech?” and “What is President Obama inspiring you to do?”