Presidential Address to Schoolchildren: Encouragement or Indoctrination?

September 1, 2009

It is being reported via Service Wire, Michelle Malkin’s blog, & other sites that President Obama will be addressing the nation’s schoolchildren on September 8th, 2009, in the interest of promoting persistence in education to achieve success. It sounds innocuous enough, and certainly, no one would suggest that America’s schoolchildren should go out of their way to fail academically, or in life.

America’s teachers have been provided with helpful tips, from Teaching Ambassador Fellows, U.S. Department of Education, to aid in personalizing the president’s message to the youngsters with activities and questions that can be explored during and after the president’s address thereby making it a more interactive and memorable experience. Some of the ideas highlighted at Michelle Malkin’s blog to implement during and after the speech include the following:

During the Speech:

• As the President speaks, teachers can ask students to write down key ideas or phrases that are important or personally meaningful. Students could use a note-taking graphic organizer such as a Cluster Web, or students could record their thoughts on sticky notes. Younger children can draw pictures and write as appropriate. As students listen to the speech, they could think about the following:

What is the President trying to tell me?

What is the President asking me to do?

What new ideas and actions is the President challenging me to think about?

• Students can record important parts of the speech where the President is asking them to do something. Students might think about: What specific job is he asking me to do? Is he asking anything of anyone else? Teachers? Principals? Parents? The American people?

• Students can record any questions they have while he is speaking and then discuss them after the speech. Younger children may need to dictate their questions.

After the Speech:

• Teachers could ask students to share the ideas they recorded, exchange sticky notes or stick notes on a butcher paper poster in the classroom to discuss main ideas from the speech, i.e. citizenship, personal responsibility, civic duty.
• 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?

Of particular interest, however, is the following question put forth for educators to ask the impressionable young minds in the captive audience:

“Why is it important that we listen [emphasis added], to the President and other elected officials, like the mayor, senators, members of congress, or the governor? Why is what they say important? [emphasis added]

Let us consider not only the verbiage in the suggested question above, but let us consider the context in which it is used. Shall we? As already noted, the people in the target audience for Mr. Obama’s speech are children, and children are impressionable. The fact that they will view Mr. Obama’s speech in the scholastic setting subtly accomplishes the following:

1) The students ARE a captive audience by virtue of the fact that they are in school at the time the speech is aired. It is not as though they can “opt out” as in some cases, like with sex ed, where parents can request that their children be excluded from instruction that is contrary to their values or religious beliefs. And because it is done in the context of a supplemental educational experience, it thus constitutes a special “learning opportunity” which is made more significant by the fact that it is a message of “encouragement” offered by a busy president to his youngest constituents. The aspect of the President of the United States specifically addressing the children can foster a sense of trust and warmth towards the President. Think of it as a sort of loyalty-enhancing team-building project.

2) The teachers in the classrooms and the school represent authority in the lives of the impressionable schoolchildren. Because the purpose of the schools is to educate children, they are conditioned to go to school to learn, and they trust their teachers to teach them that which is true. Because the President of the United States represents the ultimate figurehead of authority in the nation, by virtue of the office, and because his speech is directed to the nation’s schoolchildren in the school setting, it not only personalizes the message to the youngsters who will be hearing it with the weight of the authority of the positions held by the President and their teachers, but the positional authority of teachers and President also gives a sense of legitimacy to whatever information is conveyed to the children.

3) The use of the “before” speech discussion exercises suggested by Teaching Ambassador Fellows, U.S. Department of Education, by educators, which includes such questions as: “Who is the President?” and “What do you think it takes to be President?,” not only serves to establish and reinforce the authority and legitimacy of the President and his position in the minds of the children, it sets up the authority and legitimacy of the other lesser elected officials addressed in the question above, that we are presently dissecting, in the minds of the impressionable youngsters.

While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and societies, as in the educational setting, require a sense of order and voluntary submission to authority (governmental & otherwise), the benefits thereof really depend on the quality of the government, its messages, and its goals. If all the impressionable young people in the President’s target audience are merely receiving a pep talk to encourage them to persist in their educations so that they can become high achievers, there is some value in it. If, however, the President uses the opportunity to sow seeds of indoctrination that go above and beyond the generic messages of pursuing excellence, and helping those in need, to suggesting that the present administration and all of the Democrat mouthpieces holding public office have god-like qualities that exempt them from answering questions about policies, and exempt them from public accountability, and instead cultivate relationships with these impressionable children whereby they are encouraged to love their state figures with all of their hearts and report parents whose views may not align with the administration’s, we have a problem, and perhaps parents should take it upon themselves to make sure their children see the video below, either before, or after the President’s speech. Consider it an additional learning opportunity whereby history comes alive in a format familiar to these impressionable little ones.

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”

~ George Santayana


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