Wednesday, September 02, 2009

What say you, Mr. President?

President Obama wishes to address the nation’s school children on Tuesday, and the outcry has already begun. “Indoctrination” is the accusation of the day since teachers across the country are going to be challenged with lesson plans on how to make the most of the opportunity for the students.

Am I missing something? I am not an Obama supporter and am not happy with the way things are transpiring with the economy, the health care debate, the lack of attention to Social Security, etc. Name it, and I’m pretty much not happy with it. But accusing any term-limited president of attempting to “indoctrinate” school-age kids by challenging them to “work hard, set educational goals and take responsibility for their learning", as stated by US Education Secretary Arne Duncan, hardly sounds like an attempt at “indoctrination”.

I’ve said before and many times since that trust is a major issue among the electorate right now, and it really doesn’t matter whether we are talking about this president, that speaker, or some congressman. The Congress as a whole cannot seem to rise above its well-earned 30% approval rating, and this president’s approval numbers seem to be in steady decline, according to Rasmussen and others. So it may well be that anyone, particularly political adversaries, would view such a far-reaching event as suspect, given the intended audience.

The Department of Education is also offering suggested “classroom activities” to coincide with the president’s address, presumably to get the kids to more fully engage in what might otherwise be pretty much of a boring lecture. I just finished my first day as a substitute teacher in a local high school, and I can say from that one day that these kids may or may not choose to pay attention. It is questionable whether they will even be willing to actively listen. As a parent, I can also honestly say that young children do not tend to listen well especially if they are being called on to do more than they might be willing to do.

Still, it is an important endeavor and it could be spun in a positive enough way that young people understand that they are not merely “incidental” to life in this country, that what they do matters not only in the present but also very much in the future. I recall listening to some very silly people who suggested that their personal problems would suddenly disappear under an Obama administration. With these few, a message of “personal responsibility” has not gone over well and could partly account for Mr. Obama’s sliding approval rating.

I think we can think of many other things to complain and be concerned about, but the president addressing the nation’s school children is not one of them.

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