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Obama speech to school kids strikes raw nerves

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POSTED September 4, 2009 2:38 a.m.

It is being billed as a pitch to get kids to work hard and stay in school. Some say it is Orwellian. Others claim it is cult worship. And then there are those that contend it is political grandstanding on the taxpayer’s dime.

No matter what it’s called, there is no doubt that Tuesday’s speech by President Obama being broadcast with the intent to encourage every public school child in America to listen while in the classroom is going to end up being one whopper of a speech.

It is getting more attention than a typical State of the Union address.

Should Obama stray and turn it into a political soap box or try for what some call “indoctrination of socialist ideas” rest assured the White House will be under siege and not just from those people like to paint as being right wing. If his handlers are stupid enough to let that happen, so be it. Obama is the one who’d have to pay the price.

Having said that, what is wrong with Obama directly talking to classrooms across America via C-Span Tuesday at 9 a.m. our time? First of all, no one is twisting any teacher’s arm to participate.

Even so, districts – including Manteca Unified and Ripon Unified – would be wise to let kids whose parents tell them they object to them watching the president speak go to the library for the duration where they can be exposed to perhaps other equally “dangerous” leaders who espouse ideas different than the status quo like Franklin Delano Roosevelt (a Democrat), Hiram Johnson (a Republican), Barry Goldwater (a Republican), and Daniel Patrick Moynihan (a Democrat)  in books involving American political leaders cut from cloths of different persuasions.

With a little luck Obama might inspire a few kids to make good use of the precious resource that taxpayers are providing– a free education.

One could hope he inspires them like John F. Kennedy did with his presidential physical fitness challenge. Since Obama works out, maybe he can encourage kids to do the same.

If this is a step toward making Obama “our fearless leader” in the same vein as Saddam Hussein or Kim Jong-il, then why isn’t anyone storming the schools to cleanse them of cult worshipping that is definitely more pervasive and is just as dangerous as any attempt perceived to push political indoctrination. Don’t look now but Paris Hilton et al and a whole slew of vulgar rappers are in a race for our kids’ hearts and soul. If one speech from Obama can loosen their grip, then I wouldn’t complain too much.

While I respect the opinions of those who object to the president trying to “speak directly” to kids without parents there to provide context in the event he wanders into political territory, one has to wonder what folks thought when students watched Obama’s inaugural address as many did in classrooms.

I also understand the dangers of teachers straying a bit too far but give your kids some credit.

My seventh grade social science teacher Al Fleming was a marvel at getting kids to take an interest in politics and government in general. He did stray over the line going as far at one point during the 1968 election telling his students they should tell their parents to vote against Richard Nixon and Spiro Agnew because they struck him as crooks. (This, of course, was years before Agnew’s indictment and Watergate.)

Most of the kids in the class saw it for what it was – a partisan pitch that had no business in the classroom ethically or legally. I’m willing to bet kids today are just as savvy.

And in defense of Mr. Fleming, his occasional partisan forays didn’t exactly indoctrinate me. If anything, it made me more skeptical of bold assertions that one view is better than another. Nor did he grade you based on your views. If a test called for taking a position and defending it and you were able to do so even if it obviously went against his political leanings you were able to get a high grade.

Give our teachers – and our kids – some credit. That goes for our president too.

If he’s stupid enough to turn it into a cult speech or political indoctrination then he will pay the price.

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