Thoughtful piece by Marty Durlin at High Country News on President Obama’s speech today to school kids. Durlin looks back on past controversy’s over political figures’ intrusions into public schools, and says that while reaction by some on the right is clearly over the top (the by-now-familiar associations with Hitler, and so on) sometimes it just comes down to whether you like the guy, or agree with him on a particular issue. She notes that part of the outrage stirred up by speech came from a recommendation, since corrected by the administration, that “students write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the President.” Then she ponders how she would feel if such a directive would have come down from the previous administration.
I remember my parents’ outrage about the Weekly Reader when I was in elementary school — avid Democrats, my parents didn’t like the two-page “newspaper” handed out to students every week, often featuring President Eisenhower being “political.” For me, it was the DARE program that infiltrated public schools during my daughter’s elementary years. Brainchild of the controversial former Los Angeles police chief Darryl Gates, Drug Abuse Resistance Education was forced on students around the country, although it has been found ineffective in curbing drug abuse and may actually increase it. The idea was for (armed) police officers to come into the schools and lecture kids as young as the second grade about drugs. When I objected — because police (no matter how well-meaning) are not qualified to teach my child about health or drugs, and because the DARE program doesn’t work — the principal looked at me like I came from Mars. Even though she couldn’t understand my concerns, she allowed me to take my daughter out of the classroom when the weekly session came around.
Okay, so in the speech, he tells kids to work hard and study. Hardly political. He talks about having a dad who left home when he was two, and having a single mom who struggled to pay the bills. A lot of kids can surely relate to that. The part about “helping the President?” Seems to be about choosing to work hard and make the tough choices to succeed. Which isn’t always easy, he tells the kids. This is what he says:
“So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?
Seems like a President ought to be able to be inspirational to school kids without being accused of being political.
— Rita Hibbard