Sometimes our memories of events become skewed. They get all tangled up in the emotions we were feeling at the time, and the actual facts, the actual words, get lost in the chaos as our brain set’s the memory and files it away for future reference. Someday in the future you may ask me what all this hullabaloo was about. I want to take a moment and set down the details surrounding what really should not be an earth-shattering ground breaking moment. President Barack Obama’s address to school children today.
This is not a new thing. Presidents have been addressing school children for years, as have nearly all the other branches of government. Senators, Local and State Representatives, Governors, Judges, and Mayors representing both the Democrats and the Republicans all spoke to me and my peers at school. President Reagan gave a presentation that was aired to me while I was at school. No advance notice was given. There was definitely no advance text provided of the actual words that were going to be said. No permission slips sent home for my parents to sign. No public outcry.
So what makes this time different?
At first the outcry was because President Obama was speaking to school children directly, while they were at school. But then people were reminded that many Presidents have done so, as have politicians in other offices.
Then the outcry was because one of the lesson plan suggestions was to have the students write a letter to President Obama, which was later changed to have the students write a letter to themselves. But President George H. W. Bush also asked students to write a letter to him.
Then the outcry was because of the very existence of the optional teaching aids that were provided for teachers to use, if they so choose, to help the students interact with what the President has to say. But lesson plan ideas are packaged with everything these days. Toys I buy for you have papers included with ideas of how I can use the toy to teach a lesson, the Baby Einstein DVDs include ideas for ways parents to interact with baby and the show, even many of the novels I read have 20 page inserts in the back with discussion points for book groups. And the suggestions are the types of things students learn in class anyways. There is nothing wrong with students learning about past and present Presidents. In fact, it’s standard teaching material. The optional lesson plan ideas may be a new element of the traditional Presidential address to students, but they are everywhere right now. This is the wave of the future, and you will see more movies and toys packaged with optional teaching aids over time. The teaching aids are optional, not a requirement. And, most importantly, the teacher, not the President, determines whether the classroom discussion turns political. Don’t forget that half the teachers in this country are Republicans.
The outrage continues on all of the above topics even though they have been addressed. As you can see, and you will experience throughout your life, outrage rarely responds to logic. It is an unfortunate fact, and I honestly don’t have any good advice for you on how to get around that. Just reply with logic, and understand that it may have no affect whatsoever. Just try not to let people bring you down to their level. That does not help anything, and often it makes things worse. Trust me, I’m speaking from experience. Take the high road, even if the people around you are lying.
I have a great deal of faith in you, and a great deal of respect for your intelligence. I would not insult you by assuming that you could be brainwashed by a speech from the President, whether I agreed with the President’s administration or not. I adamantly opposed the actions of President George W. Bush, but were he to speak at your school, I would expect you to respectfully listen and consider what he has to say. That does not mean that you have to agree with him. I am sure that this tradition of Presidential addresses to students will continue, despite the uproar this time, and I expect you to be respectful of the position of the President. You will not get a hall pass from me just because I don’t like the President.
This is a lesson for you. Not the lesson President Obama was trying to get across, this lesson is from me. You will repeatedly find yourself in positions throughout your life where you are surrounded by accusations, hateful words, lies, and the energy flying back and forth between both sides of the issue is heated. It is very difficult to figure out what is going on, why people are angry, why people think lying will make their point more valid. And it is especially difficult to figure out where you stand on the issue, and make sure you are standing on facts.
I want you to read the text of the speech included below, as well as the optional ideas for classroom activities that were provided to teachers I have included below.
When you get older, I will expect you to apply critical thinking skills. Are there rival ideas that are valid? What are the issues and the conclusions? What are the reasons that are being provided? Are there any parts that are ambiguous? Are there any errors in reasoning? Is there any important, relevant information that has been left out? Look at the words that are used, look at the examples cited. What is the message that President Obama is trying to get across? Do you agree with that message? Do you disagree? It’s OK to disagree. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. What are the political elements of the speech? What are the political elements of he teachers’ tool? Are there any sentences or phrase with which you take issue? Are there any that stand out that you agree with? What about the ideas that were provided to the teachers? What is the purpose of those ideas? What do they teach? If a teacher uses one of these lesson ideas, is President Obama controlling the conversation in the classroom, or is the teacher?
Could you have critically analyzed the President’s address, and the accompanying ideas for teachers, without first reading them? Is it fair to judge an idea or proposal based on who proposed it without actually reading it? Is it fair to say President Obama is trying to brainwash student’s with this speech and the optional materials for teachers? If so, what is he trying to brainwash student’s to believe or do?