President Obama’s address: are your kids going to listen?

I’m a bit confused by the reaction to the upcoming speech that President Obama is planning on delivering to school children on September 8th, encouraging them to stay in school and, no doubt, mirroring JFK’s “ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”
According to the Department of Education, “the president will speak directly to the nation’s children and youth about persisting and succeeding in school. The president will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning.”
I’ve been watching CNN Headline News (now known as “HLN”, according to their logos and branding) and they’ve even had a woman from Atlanta in tears, saying she thinks it’s highly inappropriate for her child to be forced to watch the president’s speech because it’s just going to be propaganda.
Most schools around the nation are going to make it optional: the child or their parent can opt out of watching the speech.
Typically, though, in the flurry of coverage this Labor Day Weekend, there’s not been a single word about making the speech a teachable moment for children, and I’m a bit frustrated about that…


The phrase “teachable moment” is probably educational jargon, so I apologize for that, but the idea is that instead of just having the teachers take five while their students are in the auditorium listening to the speech, why not actually have the class break down what President Obama said, explore the style of his presentation, what he mentions when, and then discuss the points he raises?
In other words, instead of passively watching the President’s address and then using Department of Education’s recommendations to respond to the speech, teachers could actually use this as a splendid opportunity to teach children how political speeches work. If the children are naturally skeptical — or are primed by their parents — then they could learn how to disassemble and see how manipulation, hyperbole and analogy are used in this sort of speech. If they’re fans of President Obama, they could go through the same exercise and better understand why so many people find him a strong, compelling, inspiring speaker.
Instead, the DoE suggests [PDF] that 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? What would you like to tell the president?”
Nice, but I sure wish sometimes we lived in a country where instead of some goofy mom producing her own propaganda, being in tears over how those big mean people in Washington DC have taken away her freedom to decide what her children should be exposed to, we instead had parents who said “let’s teach our children how the system works and then let them make their own decisions about whether it works for them or not.”
I’ve already emailed my children’s teachers, asking them to let my kids watch the speech. Whether they agree with what the President says or not, I want them to see firsthand what a powerful orator he is. Then we’ll talk about the speech and examine what he said, why, and what it meant to my children.
How about you?

8 comments on “President Obama’s address: are your kids going to listen?

  1. I’m not a parent, but thanks for suggesting we use this opportunity as a teachable moment. Students can use their critical thinking skills to determine if they agree with the president or not. It baffles me that our country is against its leader from addressing a segment of the population, especially when the focus is on making education a priority. Our educational system lags behind other countries and it worries me that the future generation will not be able to compete with its global counterparts. Lastly, I mentor high school girls and if parents knew everything their kids were exposed to at schools, they would happily let their kids listen to a speech by President Obama.

  2. As soon I heard about the president’s plan, I expected bitter opposition and lots of noise – which alas is what we unfortunately got.
    I’m continually disappointed by the ‘lowest common denominator’ approach of the right – and completely agree with you that a better approach would have been to use the occasion as a teachable moment.
    Those against the ‘socialist agenda’ of the president could teach their kids about propaganda, politics of the left, political euphemisms, big government ‘feel good’ politics, spend and tax, etc, etc.
    In particular, they could discuss the dangers of being lulled by an articulate and charming persona, and the importance of reading between the lines. Focusing on the actual policies, rather than being blinded by the larger than life personality of the president.
    Instead we get a mother crying on HLN. So disappointing.

  3. I like the teachable moment concept, and believe it extends to the home. Actually, I think it STARTS in the home! I’m no Obama fan, didn’t vote for him, and won’t in ’12 – just to make that clear up front.
    Here’s a few bullet points where I’m coming from:
    – education is the responsibility of the parents
    – government-run public schools are simply a tool to help meet that responsibility
    – I’m certain that every single day in any public school, children are exposed to ideas, attitudes, concepts, language, and worldviews that are different than our own, regardless of political stripe. THEY SHOULD BE!
    – A parent needs to a) be involved in the children’s education enough to know what’s going on, and b) be prepared to initiate discussion on any topic
    – A parent’s goal needs to be to help their children think critically, see multiple sides to issues, and how to make decisions on their own.
    The President’s address is a perfect opportunity to exercise that responsibility. The right is wrong here – ‘protecting’ children against an opposing political view does NOTHING to “train them up in the way they should go.”

  4. Another thing is that I REALLY don’t think this issue would come up with any of our past presidents. There’s a very loud, yet small group of people who are trying to make President Obama’s job difficult. These are the same people who said, when Bush was President, it’s unpatriotic to question your government.
    I’m more offended that my kids will NOT see this in school, as I believe there are a lot of implications there… including possible racial motivations.
    Seriously, this is not an issue about our President speaking to our children. This is politics.

  5. As a public school teacher of third graders I have been dealing with this quite heavily this week.
    I have had several parents comment about it and told me they would pull their kids out of the classroom if I watched it and another that said they would pull their child out and watch it at home with them if I did not show it.
    I have decided to encourage parents to watch it with their children at home that evening. The unfortunate partisan climate of our nation would make it an activity that pulled my students apart rather than pull them together.
    I will be watching it with my 4 year old daughter at home so we can discuss it together.

  6. My only concern with the viewing of this by my son at school is not being able to talk to him about it as he’s watching. He just turned 6 and began kindergarten this week and it’s hard to know how much of this he will internalize and if he’ll remember and be able/willing to share those feelings with me after the fact. I do have faith in his teachers’ abilities to help him through any immediate concerns/questions but that prevents me from being the one to provide that interpretation and have it be consistent with our family beliefs. I have found it helpful to read the comments here because perhaps now is the perfect time in his life for this to happen, now when he is beginning to be influenced so heavily throughout his day by others in an environmnet we don’t control. He will need to learn to navigate those differences and process the information for himself. He is fascinated by our president and will no doubt absorb at least some of what he hears. I hope I am lucky enough that he shares his thoughts afterward.
    As a side note, we do not have TV so I will be watching the address myself online.

  7. Great post, Dave.
    We’ve two little ones. They’re not school age yet. But, I completely agree with your points.
    The ability to think critically is super important. The “teachable moment” you described is a great way to let kids to think and critique themselves about what the presidents said.
    I grew up in a foreign education system that was based on memorization and some degrees of “brain wash”. When I moved to the United States and enrolled in high school, one thing I treasured the most was the ability to think freely and think critically.
    But, I still think our education system is not doing enough to cultivate “critical thinking”. Your blog post is right on!

  8. I’m late on this, but just ran across your blog, so sorry for the untimely comment.
    I contacted my children’s school and was disappointed that the secretary had no idea whether or not the children would be watching the speech that day. I didn’t want to make a fuss over it since I knew her personally and just commented that I would simply record the speech and have my kindergartener and first grader watch it after school with me.
    They didn’t watch it in school and nothing was ever mentioned about the speech. I’m not surprised, we live in a very rural area deeply rooted in Republican values and have very little cultural diversity. I know exactly why this was not going to be shown.
    My children and I enjoyed the speech together even though I know they didn’t “get” all of it. We discussed it afterward, briefly, and my boys both said how much they liked their President. I could have made a stink about it, demanding that they be allowed to watch their President give a positive message on the importance of education, just as some parents may have protested that it was propaganda. I wanted to teach my boys that not only can we disagree, but we can quietly yet firmly let our opinions be known, make our own choices and be a better American because of it.

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