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Friday, September 4, 2009

When a President Speaks: 6 Reasons to Object to Objectors

I remember President Kennedy urging us kids to be physically fit, and the national president's fitness program that went with it. Anybody else out there earn a Presidential Fitness Award while they were in school? In fact, the program has followed us into adulthood.

Another president is planning to give a speech to school children urging fitness of another kind, educational fitness.

During this special address, 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.

Why the furor?

Because of the breathtaking opposition.

Unbelievable. Maybe there is no grand tradition, but presidents have addressed remarks to schoolchildren from time to time. Ronald Reagan in 1986, George H.W. Bush in 1991, George W. Bush in 2001.

My problems with all this hullabaloo:

First, the objections are premature. It is silly to object to figments of the imagination. Wait till the president actually says something objectionable in the speech before objecting to it.

Second, the objections break the Golden Rule. In the nutshell, the right is worried that the president may voice a tenet or two of liberalism. I have trouble believing they would object to a Republican president voicing a tenet or two of conservatism. I am not letting the left off easy; they will violate the Good-for-Goose-Good-for-Gander principle when it suits them as often as the right does. As Shakespeare might say, “A pox on both their houses.”

Third, the objections are largely ad hominem. The objections are not criticizing the speech on its merits (probably because the speech has yet to be broadcast). Ad hominem is one of the defining marks of lack of critical thinking. What a lousy role model to set before our kids.

Fourth, the objections are misplaced. Edweek reports that White House efforts to quell the furor have been ineffective.

But the planned 15- to 20-minute noontime speech—and, especially, a menu of classroom activities (for younger and older students) suggested by the White House in connection with it—continued to draw denunciations...

Especially?! I looked at the “menu of classroom activities.” The White House's companion lesson ideas for elementary students and secondary students have no leading questions and emphasize strategies for comprehension. The secondary lesson plans ask students to create a specific action plan for meeting their goals. Maybe it is about time we adults directly ask students what they want, and then find specific ways to help them, instead of creating burdens for students in the name of reform.

Fifth, the objections are politically-motivated disturbance in the guise of concern for our children.

Finally, sixth, and perhaps most importantly, whatever happened to free speech?

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech (bold added) , or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

What have we come to when a subset of the public maintain foul language is protected speech, and a subset of the public agitate to pre-censure the freedom of the President of the United States to encourage students to study hard and stay in school? Even stranger is that both subsets very likely contain many of the same members.

The White House has a video of the President's speech here.

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