Obama’s Addressing Students on September 8…What’s the Big Deal?

I found out a few days ago that President Obama is going to address the students of the United States on September 8. The Yahoo story I was looking at when I found out the news quoted several people who are outraged. Among other things, they are accusing Obama of trying to brainwash the youth of the nation for some twisted purposes.

I think this attack on the President for trying to tell American students to stay in school and take every advantage they can in getting their education is ridiculous. I’m not a fan of President Obama. For the most part, he’s a snake oil salesman who’s good at giving speeches and making promises. But, in the interest of fairness, I think it’s a good thing he’s actually trying to get our kids to do better in school. I teach high school students, and I really, really worry about this country’s education system. From my daily observations, it’s pretty clear that functional literacy is on the decline. Furthermore, the liberal arts educational ideas popularized in the 1920s that aim to make every educated person have some awareness in several subjects have all but disappeared. My students see no point in knowledge they feel they will never use, and as a result, most have no zeal for knowledge. This lack of zeal is what’s wrong with the country: Too many people want to take the easy route while too few are pushing the envelope in newfangled noble pursuits.

I have reviewed both the lesson plans for the pre-K to 6 grade students and the 7 to 12 grade students which have been released by the US Department of Education.  The verdict: I find no attempt to brainwash students. The only real bias I found was in two pre-speech critical thinking questions in the 7-12 grade plans:

  • How will he inspire us?
  • How will he challenge us?

This is biased because it should pose the questions, “Will [the President] inspire us? How or not?” and “Will [the President] challenge us? How or not?” That being said, it is clear that these plans are just a resource and teachers are encouraged to use and tweak them as they see fit. Aside from the biases above, the plans are solid from an educational standpoint and encourage students to recall and reflect on what the President says in the speech.

My entire opinion may change after the President gives his speech. If he goes off on some liberal tangent and tries to influence children about issues like gay marriage and abortion, then I’ll probably be really upset. I seriously doubt he’ll do this: That would be political suicide, especially considering the honeymoon is over and his approval ratings continue on a path of slow and steady decline.

As it stands right now, though, opponents of this address to students are barking up the wrong tree. I applaud any public figure with some influence who is willing to challenge our students to do something great. If someone doesn’t wake our youth up soon, there may well be no greatness left.

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