Monday, September 07, 2009

Obama Youth

Sipsey Street (via Common Reader) comments on the Obama Speech Lesson Plan:

You get the idea.

In 1976, the fall of my 3rd grade year, the school distributed the presidential election issue of the Weekly Reader to all the students. I don't remember what it said, but I remember the pictures: Jimmy Carter at the top with a gleaming smile; below him Gerald Ford, scowling. It wasn't hard to figure out whom we were supposed to support, and indeed I was shocked to discover, upon arriving home, that my mom supported Ford, notwithstanding that he was so obviously mean and crabby.

Returning to the matter at hand: Obama's Speech strikes me as pretty anodyne. It's the usual concoction of pep-talk, half-truths, and useful lies that grownups have been giving students since the dawn of mass education. Without knowing specifically, I would guess that those grownups probably include presidents, although usually they are content making the speech at a local school rather than trying to broadcast it to schools nationwide.

The lesson plan, however, is more problematical. (Note that the links above are to the cleaned-up version put out after the story broke.) It's one thing that the speeches of, say, Lincoln and Roosevelt are fodder for educational hagiography: the controversies surrounding them are long dead, and we discern in retrospect which of them were important and which not. But can anyone point me toward any other instance where a presidential speech was integrated into a school lesson plan at the time it was delivered? Let's look at a few selections from the grade 7-12 version:

  • Teachers may post in large print around the classroom notable quotes excerpted from President Obama’s speeches on education.

  • Teachers may ask students to think of the following:

    • Why does President Obama want to speak with us today?

    • How will he inspire us?

    • How will he challenge us?

    • What resonated with you from President Obama’s speech? What lines or phrases do you remember?

    • Is President Obama inspiring you to do anything? Is he challenging you to do anything?

    • What do you believe are the challenges of your generation?

    • How can you be a part of addressing these challenges?

And from the K - 6 version:

  • Why is it important that we listen to the president and other elected officials, like the mayor, senators, members of congress, or the governor? Why is what they say important?

  • 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?

  • After the Speech: 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?

I have a news tidbit for the U. S. Department of Education: Obama's speech isn't actually in the Bible. The man isn't even dead. So maybe we should hold off on the canonization.

UPDATE: Megan links to this story about a speech that Bush '41 gave to the students of Alice Deal JHS in 1991. Back then, the Washington Post and the Democrats (but I repeat myself) characterized the speech as a "media event", a "production", and "carefully staged for the president's political benefit." They even called Congressional hearings to investigate "the expenditure of $26,750 of the Department of Education funds to produce and televise an appearance by President Bush."

Megan criticises "hypocracy on both sides", but I don't see it. The right has not questioned Obama's speech itself; still less have we called for Congressional hearings. Rather, we are objecting to the speech's integration into a lesson plan in a frankly sychophantic way.

No comments: