Thursday, September 03, 2009

Campaigning long before they're 18: Schoolchildren, permission slips, and Obama's speech.

UPDATE: The White House has greatly changed--and improved--the lesson plans, although the "how will he inspire us" line is still in the 7-12 plan. A copy of the original preK-6 plan, "Are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us?" and all, has been located.

David Safier of 'Blog for Arizona seems a bit perplexed by parental backlash against the showing of a speech from President Obama in schools. Either he missed the note from Tom Horne (Superintendent of Public Instruction) or he's willfully ignoring the rational basis for the actions of people with whom he disagrees.

I'm not going to say that there aren't parents who simply do not want their children to hear an Obama speech. But the Department of Education, in a misstep rivaling the proposal, has released suggestions for classroom activities which verge on enlisting teachers (perhaps without their realizing it) as propagandists and Obama mythmakers. (Backup copies of the K-6 and 7-12 suggestions are available on the Arizona Department of Education website.

Horne is correct: neither writing "notable quotes" from past Obama speeches on the board in big letters and having kids reflect on the meaning nor--especially!--having the kids reflect on how President Obama will "inspire" them are appropriate.

Watching Obama's speech certainly has its place in schools as part of a larger civics lesson emphasizing critical reflection on the statements of politicians and perhaps also considering the rĂ´le of the President in American culture. The reverent attitude promoted by Arne Duncan's Department of Education, and the Obama-only focus, is inappropriate in largely mandatory schools in a free society. Parents would not be unreasonable in thinking that at least some teachers have received the Education Department's suggested lesson plans nor in thinking that some teachers, either due to left-wing personal prejudices or lack of criticality, will implement them.

Neither I nor (I suspect) many of my readers may like it, but the transition away from government-run schooling will be a very slow one; the obsolescent relics known as "public schools" will be with us for at least the near future. Until the education market develops to the point where school choice is the norm--we're not at that tipping point, yet--we need some ground rules for the sake of social peace.

It's the most cynical political slogan I can think of since the days of (Pat) Buchananite crypto-racism in the early '90s: "Elections should mean something", the lament of American soi disant "progressives" that the consent of the governed precludes a hard left turn towards social democracy. But even these left-wing ideologues should be able to agree:

Elections should not mean that the winners get to indoctrinate and propagandize the schoolkids.

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