My wife Diane seldom gets upset about politics. But President Barack Obama’s recent demonstration of megalomania in insisting on beginning the school year by simultaneously addressing all public school kids in the United States elicited a concise response: “it’s sick.”
In addition to her Ph.D. in psychology, Diane holds an M.A. in Education, and both primary and secondary teaching credentials in California. She has raised and educated our three kids, each of whom received some combination of home schooling, parochial education, and public schools. What bothers her (and many courageous teachers across the country) is the crude attempt by the Department of Education and the White House to blur all distinctions between education and cult-of-personality propaganda.
On September 8th (the first day of classes for many school kids) the President will address them live about the importance of education. The President will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals and take responsibility for their learning, declares an announcement from Washington. The Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, sent a directive to teachers and administrators declaring: “This is the first time an American president has spoken directly to the nation’s school children about persisting and succeeding in school. We encourage you to use this historic moment to help your students get focused and begin the school year strong. I encourage you, your teachers, and students to join me in watching the President deliver this address on Tuesday, September 8, 2009.”
To prepare for this great event, the Department of Education orders teachers in Grades 7 to 12 to ask their students: Why does President Obama want to speak with us today? How will he inspire us? How will he challenge us? After the great event, the department suggests that teachers of younger students (Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 6) should instruct their students to write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president. These should be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals.
For those who consider this an appropriate use of classroom time at the very beginning of the school year, ask yourself the question: how would you respond had President Bush ordered teachers to get students to write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president?
Public opinion surveys show a precipitous decline in the presidents approval rating, with a majority of likely voters (according to Rasmussen) now disapproving of Barack Obama’s leadership. Imagine the reaction of one of these anti-Obama parents to a first grader who comes home proudly announcing that our whole class made promises about helping President Obama.
If the purpose in the Presidents speech involves inspiration of African-American youngsters who otherwise might feel discouraged by their prospects in school, why not allow the First Lady to give the address in place of her husband? Michelle Obama (like most Presidential wives) has functioned as a non-political, non-partisan national symbol and she actually grew up in an African-American home on the South Side of Chicago not raised, as her husband was, by a white mother Ph.D. in Indonesia, and by a white grandmother bank vice president in Hawaii.
And if the purpose is encouragement for educational excellence, rather than political promotion of the President and his agenda, why not give some additional time to Republican National Chairman Michael Steele, whose black single mother worked by cleaning homes and taking in laundry, not as an anthropological researcher?
A number of teachers have reacted with appropriate indignation to the misuse of public resources and precious school time to encourage the cult of Obama worship. Carole (not her real name), a gutsy middle school teacher in the Midwest, discussed the upcoming speech on my radio show on Monday. Teachers from four different states called in to say that they would follow her example and refuse to devote class hours to watching and discussing the presidential address.
Challenges from parents and taxpayers everywhere could force a change in White House plans. The idea of using government schools to force students to bond with the maximum leader might seem appropriate for Cuba or North Korea, but it’s clearly out of place in a Constitutional republic.