I was greeted early yesterday morning by a local newspaper article noting that some folks (specifically, "conservatives," but it's hard to know who that refers to) are angry that President Obama plans to give a speech at a public school urging young people to stay in school and take advantage of the education being offered them. Throughout the day yesterday -- and this morning -- I encountered this "developing story" ... on CNN, in The New York Times, and elsewhere.
What are we to make of this?
The Obama folks clearly made one mistake in the run-up to the event. They posted lesson plans that teachers could use in preparation for and after listening to the President's speech (offered live in one school but available for broadcast in any school). One part of that included a question to be posed to the students: "What can you do to help the President?" In context, the question was clearly about supporting the good of the nation, but I can (if I really stretch Peter Elbow's "methodological belief") see why those who do not agree with the "President's ideology" would be concerned. And it seems the President's folks were listening and focused on making this a non-partisan event. That question in the lesson plan was changed to ask how a student could achieve his or her educational goals.
I am struck by the concern with the "President's ideology," because the complaint incorporates the assumption that ONLY the President has an ideology, that the one complaining is speaking the non-biased truth. Of course, the President has views on how to deal with the issues of our time, as do we all. And we don't all agree with each other. But it seems we have lost even the notion that we share one common goal: a desire to educate children to be good Americans (even when we are not in agreement about what that means.) Each of us -- especially the duly elected President of the country -- deserves that benefit of the doubt no matter how hard we fight in the arena of ideas and policies.
We have apparently moved into an era when even the clear election winner, a father of two young daughters, will not be trusted to speak to school children. Have we so little confidence in our children's ability to listen critically and form and frame their own minds that we fear the influence of Barack Obama? If that's so, then I fear no education is possible, certainly not the real education that requires openness to people who don't look and think like we do.
Children who would become democratic citizens need to experience the play of democratic functioning. I remember well my 6th grade Catholic school playground days during the Nixon/Kennedy elections. My teachers and most of my classmates were Kennedy supporters (the result of religioius "ideology"? ) My parents -- and I -- were Nixon supporters (the result of my business executive father's socio-economic status?) I and the few other Nixon supports held our ground when everybody else challenged us; for the most part, we enjoyed it. Whether or not we can trust our President in this case (and I obviously think we can), I am quite certain we can trust our children. Bring the President into every classroom; it will do us good.