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September 7, 2009

Schooling

By now, most of us have probably heard about the controversy over Pres. Obama's plan to deliver a recorded video presentation of himself and celebrities to schools, as well as curriculum.

I've heard some people make the argument that this is something that is totally innocuous. The argument is that the president is simply encouraging students to stay in school and to take care of the environment. The argument further maintains that if there is no harm in a president addressing a single school at a single time like commencement, then there is no harm in the president addressing all schools at this single time.

To be fair, I don't believe that there is a malevolent intent behind this planned address. However, there are many things involved which convince me that the president's address is a bad precedent, and something which should not have been planned.

I shall attempt to illustrate this by first looking at the mainstream media's reaction to this event, which has generally been to make the argument that this is totally innocuous. Let us now imagine that Sen. McCain had won the 2008 presidential election and was now the one planning to address all the schools in the nation, along with various celebrities. We would reasonably expect all mainstream media reports on the issue to contain the adjective "Orwellian," as well as the adjective "secretive," and almost certainly the adjective "unprecedented."

We don't even need a hypothetical alternate reality in order to imagine the problems that could result, since we could simply ask what will happen when the schools are addressed by a president who is neither Pres. Obama nor Sen. McCain, with whom we might personally disagree even more?

It is a true statement that politically charged figures, and even politicians, do often visit individual schools to give speeches, yet even then it is often a very politically charged affair. These days, even a relatively unknown speaker, on either side of the aisle, is nearly guaranteed to garner at least a few people hoisting signs with pithy sayings.

In addition, these politically charged figures generally have to be invited, and are only attending one school at a time. Pres. Obama's plan was for the distribution of this presentation to all schools on a given day. In addition, his administration has an influence upon the Department of Education which has great influence over all schools, and it is the executive branch of the government which compels education of some sort to be performed, and for many children this means compulsory attendance at a public school. What speaker, on either side of the aisle, has before had the power to compel all children in all public schools to hear his message? Whether anyone has had this power before or not, it is not a power that should be granted now.

I am not claiming that Pres. Obama intends to abuse this power, only that it is far too likely that this power will at some point be abused, and perhaps sooner than we think. After all, children are in public school for a great deal of the year. If it's all right to address them all at the beginning of school, to encouarge them to do a good job, then why not address them all at the end of school, to congratulate them on a job well done? And, come to think on it, a lot of important things happen during the year, that would be of interest to our children, our nation's future. Why not encourage them to civic involvement by having the president inform them all of events of the day, and provide the president's perspective on the crises facing our land, and suggest ways that the children might help solve these problems?

Once we do break down the invisible wall that few of us, not even I, realized existed between our government and our government-run schools, how will we prevent government-run schools from becoming re-education camps instead of places where young, free citizens learn to become young, responsible, and independent free citizens?

I am also disturbed by the president-centered tone of the presentation and curriculum: the celebrity promising to support Pres. Obama, the retracted curriculum question asking how children can support the president. Is not our government a representative government, in which Congress and the President and the Courts represent us, the people, and are they not the ones supporting us in our duties to keep a just peace within our borders? Pledges and allegiance should be given to no one man, nor even one office. For hundreds of years, our presidents and members of the armed forces have pledged themselves to uphold the Constitution, so that instead of supporting any one ideology, any one party, any one government functionary, any one man, they will instead support the people of America's right to choose their own leaders, even and especially when there is disagreement about who the leaders should be.

My final complaint with the presentation is the particular pledges that the celebrities made. They are politically correct commonplaces, bland, forgettable, and unmeasurable except in trivialities, such as consumption of bottled water. If we are trying to challenge the leaders of tomorrow, why not give them some pledges with real teeth in them? Why not suggest that they seek to counter their culture's prejudices and see through their culture's blind spots? Of course, as Pres. Theodore Roosevelt said far better, it's easy to criticize, but hard to do. Therefore, I shall offer my own suggestions as to pledges that might have been more challenging than what was included in the presentation:

 

If our children are our future, then let us not present them with a one-sided future, where the government, whatever it happens to be at the time, can have compulsory access to our children. Let us present them with a world of vigorous and fair debate, where both sides have a chance to be heard and taken seriously. Let us start teaching our children the purpose and pitfalls of politics, before whomever is in power does it for us.

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