What's So Sinister About a Presidential Back-to-School Speech?

America is a free country, my father told me in the ‘50s. In Russia, my grandparents’ homeland, people were arrested for speaking against the government. In America, anyone could stand on a street corner and shout, “Down with the president.”


We happened to live on a corner. So I stood out by the street sign and the fire hydrant and yelled, “Down with President Eisenhower!”

It was the suburbs. No pedestrians. I tried again when a car went by. “Down with President Eisenhower. Down with the government!” No reaction.

I yelled louder for the next car: “Up with Khruschev! Communism is good! America is bad!” Nothing.

President Obama’s Sept. 8 start-of-school speech to students will be shown in schools, the White House hopes. (The speech will be broadcast  on www.WhiteHouse.gov and C-SPAN.) The president “will challenge students to work hard, set education goals, and take responsibility for their learning,” says the Education Department.

Ho hum, I’d say.

But others hear the tramp, tramp, tramp of Obama Youth marching for universal health care, higher taxes, gun control, and unflushed toilets. Hark! Listen as they chant the praises of the Dear Leader and yell down those who’d criticize our Leader’s policies.

This won’t be just a “Hey-Kids-Howya-Doin-I’m-Your-New-President-So-Be-Good-In-School-This-Year-Mmmkay? speech,” writes Stephen Green (Vodkapundit), urging parents to keep their kids home from school to avoid indoctrination.

I think it will be a “be-good-in-school” speech. If it echoes his terrific speech to the NAACP in July, black students may be inspired by a black president to try a little harder and aim a little higher. I sure hope so. But many schools won’t take time out for it, especially on a chaotic first day of school.  In others, kids will shrug and go back to texting their friends about Tiffany’s new eyebrow stud and who’s the new kid in the back row and …


Why the furor?

I blame a set of suggestions for teachers about how to “teach” the speech, which were developed by a group known as White House Teaching Ambassador Fellows.

Before the speech, K-6 teachers are urged to prep students by asking them:

Why is it important to listen to the president and other elected officials like the mayor, senators, members of Congress or the governor?

Why is what they say important?

OK, it does sound servile. (It’s hard to imagine questions less likely to generate an intelligent answer.) And there’s no suggestion that students might disagree with what elected officials say or doubt their honesty or have the right to yell:  “Down with President Obama!”

After the speech, suggestions include discussing “main ideas from the speech, i.e. citizenship, personal responsibility, civic duty.”

That doesn’t seem sinister to me. I can’t believe Obama is going to define citizenship, personal responsibility, and civic duty as joining ACORN and lobbying for  the Democratic agenda. At most, he’ll say it’s your civic duty to stay in school and get an education.

But there’s also:

Students could discuss their responses to the following questions:
What do you think the President wants us to do?
Does the speech make you want to do anything?
Are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us?

That’s sinister if he’s asking them to denounce their parents for grumbling about government spending. But if he’s asking them to write a list of their learning goals for the year, not a problem.


I could be wrong: President Obama could use his “bully pulpit” to exhort kids to demand their parents support universal health care because it’s important to listen to our elected officials. That would be politically stupid — as well as just plain stupid.  I’ll believe it when I hear it — and not before.

Americans distrust politicians, including Barack Obama. Parents won’t let their kids join the Obama Youth. Which, by the way, doesn’t exist.  The president can’t mobilize the 20-somethings any more, now that “President Chimpy Bushhitler” is out of office.

The spirit that led me to the corner of Cedar and Wade to shout “I don’t like Ike” at passing motorists is alive in the American people.

My daughter, at 28, is no longer a student. (Yes!) But if she were younger, I’d send her to school, then ask her about the speech and the class discussion, if any, and what she thought about it all.

Those parent-child discussions are very powerful.


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