George H.W. Bush talked to schoolchildren via closed circuit TV to encourage greater interest in science and math. He used the occasion of a space launch to focus on the sciences at a time when it had been well established that US students paled in comparison to others around in the world in this essential discipline. Even still, then-Speaker of the House Richard Gephardt said, “The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students.”
Ronald Reagan’s speech was something else entirely. Was it political? Absolutely. It was a primer on American political theory. Reagan didn’t insert himself into the personal lives of his audience, but instead asked school children to insert themselves into the public life of our nation. His speech didn’t focus on personal goals but on the sacrifices of our founders to establish the freedom to make such goals.
That’s the crucial difference, and the reason Mr. Obama’s message bothers me. The President of the United States is not the “First Father.” His role is not to be an uber-parent, offering sage advice on personal behavior for school kids via televised lectures.
If we accept this display of “non-partisan parenting,” we’re tacitly acknowledging that the government of the United States of America has an appropriate role to play in raising our children. I don’t think it does.
Even if the message is a positive one, the very fact that it has been delivered is intrusive and assumptive and just plain creepy.
Then again, my kids didn’t see the speech. They went for a walk with their parents instead.