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?