I am not permitting parents to opt students from viewing the president’s message, since this is a purely educational event.”
-Dr. Arthur Tate Jr., Superintendent of Schools, Tempe Elementary School District Number 3, Arizona
Hmm. Not permitting? Just who do the kids in your school district belong to, their parents, or to the state?
The White House dismisses criticism (they do that all the time these days) from parents who object to the idea of their children being forced to watch the President’s speech on education this coming Tuesday. As an educator, I am all FOR encouraging children on the benefits of lifelong learning, including speeches from our elected leaders. The speech itself is not what shocked me. The “suggested classroom activities” for PreK-6th graders are what made this teacher blink and take a step back.
Understand that it is a good thing for a classroom teacher to build background knowledge, encourage students to take notes, and provide time for discussion in response to any speech. All of those are very important pieces of learning.
However, the Teaching Ambassador Fellows with the U.S. Dept. of Education, who wrote these suggested activities, have a different view of government than I do, and it clearly shows through in the words that they chose. They wrote their suggested activities from the perspective that the Government is supreme and the people answer to the Government. The quote above from the Arizona school superintendent is proof that there are many in our great republic who have lost sight of what it means to be a federation of states rather than a top-heavy federal entity.
From a professional educator’s perspective, here is what is right and what is wrong with the outlook of these much-debated suggested lesson plans:
Before the Speech
This plan suggests that teachers build background knowledge by reading books about Presidents “and Barack Obama.” The office of the presidency is larger than the man, is it not? Or has that changed somehow? I guess I can see the legitimacy of reading a non-biased book about his background if one exists. But it does smack of putting the man before the message, does it not?
The activity guide suggests that teachers ask students questions to get them thinking, such as…
- Who is the President of the United States?
- What do you think it takes to be president?
- Why is it important that we listen to the president and other elected officials, like the mayor, senators, members of congress, or the governor? Why is what they say important?
Those three innocent-seeming questions are actually teeming with an underlying belief that the government is supreme and is separate from and above, rather than of, the people. The president and other elected officials are supposed to answer to the people! They are supposed to represent us — but the tone of this question implies that their words are important and are not to be questioned.
During the Speech
Teachers are encouraged to get students to take notes in various forms. This is a great idea and is one that I used liberally during last year’s presidential debates. Note taking is a great skill. However, the activity guide again assumes that the government (Obama) is supreme through these questions:
- What is the president trying to tell me?
- What is the president asking me to do?
- What specific job is he asking me to do?
- Is he asking anything of anyone else?
Makes me wonder just what it is that he will be suggesting. If he is asking students to work hard, take personal responsibility, and cultivate a love of learning, then yahoo! I totally agree! But I do believe his speech may overstep those general bounds based on subsequent questions in the activity guide.
After the Speech
Teachers are encouraged to have students share their notes and discuss the “main ideas from the speech, such as citizenship, personal responsibility, and civic duty.” I do believe that President Obama’s idea of civic duty might not line up with mine, and I do not think kindergarten children should even think along the lines of what their duties are to their state. To their families, yes. To the civic arena? No. Older students are able to debate ideas; kids this young are like sponges and do not necessarily have the intellectual capacity to sort through what their president tells them about civic duty. This *could* come close to the “i” word (indoctrination), depending on how it is handled. For example, if the president exhorts students to not give up, to keep moving forward despite adversity, to seek after lifelong learning for learning’s sake, to pursue all their endeavors with excellence– those are noble causes, and he can use the office of the presidency to encourage. If, however, he tells students that they all deserve equal shares of the American pie, that they all deserve equal grades for their equal efforts, then he is misleading them down a road called socialism.
Another GOOD part of these classroom plans is the suggestion that students write out their personal goals. These are good ideas, particularly as they pertain to education (not civic duty). For example, it would be completely appropriate for a second grader to set a goal to learn her addition facts by December 31st. It would also be okay for a third grader to decide that he will give up his seat on the city bus to the elderly for the next six months. But that kind of goal is best made under the guidance of his parents — not his president, and not his teacher.
The main editorial in today’s Dallas Morning News, Trumping Civic Virtue, accuses those right-wingers upset about the speech of irrationality and of a lack of patriotism.
Once upon a time, patriotism assumed a basic respect for America and its institutions….conservative writer P.J. O’Rourke expressed astonishment at the boycott initiative, admitting that he’s cautious about criticizing Obama around his children because he wants them to honor their president…Skepticism of those in power is a healthy instinct, necessary to a vigorous democracy (my note: we are a republic. Look it up!). Skepticism unhinged from reason becomes paranoia and undermines the rational foundations upon which democratic self-governments depends.”
Paranoia? Undermining the rational foundations of our existence as a nation? Those are serious charges against me: an American and professional educator and writer who knows that the words we choose convey much more persuasive material than people realize. I make it a point to let my own child know when I both disagree and agree with President Obama’s policies, and I instruct her to honor the office of the President as well as the president himself. God himself is the one who ultimately chooses our leaders, and we dishonor him when we dishonor our leaders. However, honoring someone does not mean suspending criticism. It means respectfully questioning and ultimately using our voting powers to elect representatives who truly represent us. If the act of asking questions about my government’s decisions make me paranoid, then our republic is in worse shape than I realized.
Ultimately it comes down to the word “public.” Teacher Cynthia Mostoller, whose 8th grade history class hosted President George H.W. Bush’s speech in 1991, put it this way:
Every president needs to talk to the kids and have a message and speak from the heart….These are public schools. They’re funded with public monies. It’s a public institution. (Presumably) he’s not advocating a position of ‘support me in Afghanistan.”
Presumably he won’t advocate a position of supreme authority of the presidency, either.
The ripples from this speech should not be surprising to Christians who send their children to public schools. Public schools are, in fact, public. They are owned by the Big G, at least as far as Superintendent Tate and others like him are concerned.
And that is one of the biggest reasons why I homeschool.