Wrath Without Reason – Obama To Speak To Schools

Posted in General by TBartine on September 6, 2009 No Comments yet

It was November 14, 1988…and a popular American president spoke to the nation’s schoolchildren.  It was a long speech, and afterward the president took questions from children…he talked about the importance of civic duty, and how it is important for citizens to be informed on issues, and to vote.  Of course, he talked about why it is important to get a good education, and of the necessity for children to defy peer pressure and reject drug use.  He also talked foreign policy, and about “defending freedom” from enemies abroad.  He even spoke at length about tax policy and the economy (because, if there is one thing kids love learning about, it’s tax policy):  “We have to remain economically competitive, and that means being aware of two things: first, what makes economies tick, and second, what works in other societies. We’ve been trying very hard in Washington to make America even more economically fit by really overhauling our entire tax structure. When we came into office, the top personal tax rate that the Federal Government could put on your income was 70 percent. Now, you can understand, I think, that if you were getting up in those brackets – there were 14 different tax brackets, depending on the amount of money in each bracket you earned. And when you could look and say, ‘ If I earn another dollar, I only get to keep 30 cents out of it,’ you can imagine the lack of incentive there. Well, we lowered it to 50 percent, and the economy really took off. Now we’re trying to lower it yet again so that families can keep more of their money and so the national economy will be lean and trim and fit for the future.

It was a very “positive” time…we had yet to learn of the lasting damage that “tickle down” economics would do, and the recession we would soon be thrust into.  We could not know that 20 years later, economists would openly mock the ideas the president was proposing for our financial salvation.  We had yet to learn that the “communist threat” of the U.S.S.R. was nothing more than a shadow…a poor, technology-starved country that possessed little of the military might we had been led to believe they had at the ready.  We did not yet realize that, in our name, the government was making shady back-room deals with third world dictators, drug cartels, and rebel armies…towards the purpose of “securing freedom” in foreign lands.

No.  We were happy.  And who could reasonably argue with the heart of Reagan’s message to our children: “Stay in school…don’t do drugs…be good citizens…cutting taxes is good.

It was October 1st, 1991…and another, perhaps less popular, president was speaking to the nation’s schoolchildren.  His name was George Herbert Walker Bush, and this day he was visiting Alice Deal Junior High School in Washington D.C. and his message was being broadcast across the country to children.  Perhaps wisely, Bush avoided topics of foreign and domestic policy…he did not mention his tax policies, or any aspect of the economy.  His message was simpler:  education…is fundamental and essential, and you need to take control of it.  He talked about each student’s personal responsibility, about trying their hardest, and about the rewards it would bring them: “Block out the kids who think it’s not cool to be smart. I can’t understand for the life of me what’s so great about being stupid. If someone goofs off today, are they cool? Are they still cool years from now when they’re stuck in a dead-end job? Don’t let peer pressure stand between you and your dreams.

Take control – challenge yourself. Only you know how hard you work. Maybe you can fake, maybe, just maybe you can fake your way into a job, but you won’t keep it for long if you don’t have the know-how to get the job done. Maybe you can cram the week before that marking period ends, and turn that C into a B. But you can’t con your way past the SAT and into college. If you don’t work hard, who gets hurt? If you cheat, who pays the price? If you cut corners, if you hunt for the easy A, who comes up short? Easy answer to that one: You do.

You’re in control, but you are not alone. People want you to succeed. They want to help you succeed. Here at Deal, teachers like your outstanding teacher standing here with us today, Ms. Mostoller, from your principal, Mr. Moss, to your custodian, Mr. Francis. Right now in classrooms across this country, in the communities you call home, when things get tough, when answers are hard to come by, there’s a teacher, a parent, a friend or family member ready to help you. They want to see you make it.  If you take school seriously, you won’t have to settle for a job, just any job. You’ll have a career. If you make it your business to learn, one day you’ll be a better parent. You may not think about it now, but one day your children will want to look up at you and say, ‘I’ve got the smartest Mom and Dad in the world.’ Don’t disappoint them.

Let me leave you with a simple message: Every time you walk through that classroom door, make it your mission to get a good education. Don’t do it just because your parents, or even the President, tells you. Do it for yourselves. Do it for your future. And while you’re at it, help a little brother or sister to learn, or maybe even Mom or Dad. Let me know how you’re doing. Write me a letter — and I’m serious about this one — write me a letter about ways you can help us achieve our goals. I think you know the address.

He may not have been the most popular president…and the time in which he led the country may not have been as “positive.”  But who could argue with such a message of responsibility, and the value of learning…who could argue that coming from the President of the United States, his message would have anything but a very positive impact on our country’s children?

It is now September of 2009.  A very popular president, during a very “negative” time, prepares to speak to the nation’s schoolchildren on Tuesday, September 8th.  His message, one similar to George H. W. Bush’s…one of hope, responsibility, and the inherent value of both education and hard work.  Also like Bush, the entire focus of Obama’s speech will be on learning and education, with a deliberate avoidance of any other policies or political agendas.

Who could object?  Studies show that such a speech would have the impact of increasing positive student outcomes among the students who hear it.  Historically…students DO listen, and as a result DO better in school.

Well, many conservative parents…are OUTRAGED, and now threaten to keep their children home from school that day.  Some conservative-led schools and school districts are saying that they won’t air the speech in their classrooms.  Some Republican legislators have gone so far as to irresponsibly suggest that parents should allow their children to skip school that day.  Conservative media pundits, including the usual group of Hannity, Malkin, Beck, Limbaugh, WorldNetDaily, NewsBusters, and others, have voiced objections leaning well into the realm of absurdity.  Glenn beck made comparisons to the Hitler Youth…NewsBusters’ Finkelstein compared the president to communist leader Chairman Mao…Michelle Malkin openly avers that the purpose is to indoctrinate children as “junior lobbyists.“  The Republican Party of Florida released a statement saying that children “will be forced to watch the president justify his plans for government-run health care, banks, and automobile companies, increasing taxes on those who create jobs, and racking up more debt than any other president.”

As a result, the White House has released all of the educational materials related to the speech…there is obviously no mention of anything remotely “socialist“…nor any other political platforms or ideologies of the Democratic Party…just talk of EDUCATION.  The materials have even been modified so that the assignment asking students to write about how they might “help the president” is no longer included….despite the fact that Bush’s speech asked schoolchildren the EXACT same question.

So are opponents to the speech placated?  Do they withdraw their objections?  Of course not…because their objections quite clearly have nothing to do with the idea of a president speaking to schoolchildren…nor do they have anything to do with the content of the speech.  The speech could be eight words long, and simply “Stay in school…work hard…don’t do drugs,” and these same people would still cry “INDOCTRINATION!”

That’s because these critics’ REAL concern…is THIS president speaking to our nation’s children.

For some, the matter is as simple as race: they are still very angry and disturbed that our country has a “non-white” president.

Others…fear his popularity.  They have seen the influence of a message of “hope” and “change,” and they worry that their children will “fall in love” with both this president…and by extension, his message.  And for people who do not want change, who do not want to abandon their ideas, whether on the subject of race, gender, immigrants, sexual orientation, religion, or socio-economic status…they can conceive of nothing worse than their children holding different ideas, different values.  They worry that Obama will “drag” their children into the 21st century, while they steadfastly linger and rot in the values (or absence of values) of the Pre-Civil-Rights-America.

And there is still another group: a group that has still not accepted that they lost an election, and that this is part of the normal, healthy democratic process.  They have irrationally seen the peaceful, democratic transition of power as something “un-American.”  They see it as the “death of America” and the “death of the Constitution,” despite the fact that, as with any election, it represents the exact opposite.  When a majority of American voted against George W. Bush, and lost, THEY knew that this did not represent the “end” of anything.  It meant that the “other guy” and his party would hold the reigns of power in this country…until the next election.  THEY knew that this meant that the “other guy” and his party would do things that they didn’t necessarily agree with…but that he WAS the president, and that THAT is the way democracy works.  THEY also knew…that they would be given opportunities in the future (we call them “elections”) to replace the “other guy” with “their guy.“  But conservatives in today’s America…many of them cannot see past their disappointment and comprehend any of these truths.

To bring things full circle, part of the reason many conservatives cannot see these truths…is education.  Ironically, many will not allow their children to view the president’s speech…and will therefore not reap the education benefits of the speech.  Their children will continue the cycle that has led conservatism in America to be less educated, less informed, and less knowledgeable about their own country, its laws, its democratic principles.  Their children, like them, will be more easily manipulated by corporations, partisan politicians, and corrupt media entities, into believing things that have no basis in fact or reality…things that will cause them to act against their own best interests.  Meanwhile the children of liberals, independents, and centrists WILL hear the speech…WILL try harder…and WILL succeed.  And as long as this cycle of “self-imposed ignorance” persists, conservatives will continue to fade as a political power…and their children will pay the price of their parents’ ignorance by enjoying less say in their government and less success in their careers and in their lives.