Friday, September 4, 2009

What people should be furious about, with Obama's education webcast

More controversy involving the president and his outspoken critics. The president will be making a web-based address to students next week, urging students to work hard and stay in school. And on cue, his Republican opponents are aghast at his "blatant use of indoctrinating students with his socialist ideology." Forcing students to listen to a message without an appropriate check, say House Minority leader John Boehner, is allowing students to only see one side of the story.

Not lost in this are three basic facts. One, it is optional. Not forced. Two, the content is not political. He won't be speaking about taxes or health care or the war in Afghanistan. He'll be asking students to work hard and set goals. John Boehner wouldn't say anything different about hard work and goal setting. And third, this is a politically-motivated controversy. It's not about the mere spreading of ideology; it is the specific ideology that people mistakenly think he'll spread. Case in point is when George HW Bush did the same, and met some resistance from democratic opponents. If the president was spreading his capitalist ideology, there wouldn't be a resistance from Republicans (there might be one from the Democrats, however).

Many people (for example, this one and this one) are jumping on these politicizing opponents, and I agree with them. But there are two things not being mentioned. Here's what no one... or at least no one with a loud enough voice... is saying:

We should be outraged at fluff. That is not to say that Obama's message will be fluff, but it is set up to be just that. I grew up during the "Just Say No" campaign as well as Channel One. Substance-deficient messages dumbed down to trivial soundbites. I believe the message of hard-work and goal-setting is a positive message, but it means nothing if there is just repetition of a mantra. The accompanying lesson plans that are the cause of controversy are the best someone can do from a distance. It takes local teachers to lead critical discussions about the message and lead to deeper change. But that never happened for me. When I was growing up, Channel One was a time-filler, never leading to a critical conversation afterwards. As soon as it was done, the teacher would turn off the TV and say, "Okay, turn your books open to page 42."

Fluff isn't going to indoctrine anyone. Unfortunately, it won't educate anyone either. It will be ignored.

• We should be outraged that kids are expected to be easily indoctrinated. We are a nation bombarded with advertising and messaging all the time. We don't give students enough credit; they are not zombies sucking up everything as gospel truth. They are naturally more skeptical than their parents were. That's our changing society, where you can't trust anyone (even the president). Let's treat them with some respect for their abilities instead of "sheltering them".

Under the circumstances, this would be a great chance to model constructive civic discussion. A great chance to have students analyze "the truth". Here, we have the president who is emphasizing the importance of visiting with our nation's students, and we have politicized the discussion. Which means when there is a Republican president, they too will not be able to speak with students without it becoming political.

For now, I guess I'll be outraged by myself.

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