Friday, September 4, 2009

What's Right for My Kids: No Obama "Teaching Materials"

I spent a good part of the afternoon on the phone with our school district's superintendent, discussing with him exactly why I don't want my children to be exposed to the "guided discussions" and "teaching materials" distributed and suggested for use by the Department of Education in correlation with President Obama's address to school children on Tuesday, September 8.

For our district, the decision of whether to show the speech and use the suggested materials will be made by individual teachers, not district policy. The principals of each school will have the authority to provide alternative activities and assignments for students who, by parental request, may be excused from participating in viewing the speech and the classroom activities suggested by the Department of Education.

I did not contact our superintendent until I had reviewed the "Menu of Classroom Activities" for grades PreK-6 and grades 7-12, as well as the information provided by the Department of Education regarding the president's intended address. Somehow, I thought if I reviewed the information, my initial sense of alarm would subside.

I was mistaken.

In spite of revision by the Department of Education, the Menu of Classroom Activities remains troubling to me. The original version called for students to ask themselves and write about questions like, "What can I do to help the president?" I, for one, do not believe that my children need to "help the president." Rather, they need to focus on developing strong morals and problem-solving skills. They need to develop their own principles and ethics. They need to develop a sense of personal accountability.

Even the revised versions contain questions for kids like, "Why is it important that we listen to the president and other elected officials...?" and "What is the president asking me to do?" After-speech instruction for elementary school children includes discussion on questions like:
  • 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?
Pre-speech preparation instructions for junior high and high school students ask teachers to "post in large print around the classroom notable quotes excerpted from President Obama’s speeches on education." Using these excerpts, teachers can "ask students to think about the following:"
  • What are our interpretations of these excerpts?
  • Based on these excerpts, what can we infer that the president believes is important in order to be educationally successful?
Teachers are further suggested to ask questions such as:
  • How will he (President Obama) inspire us?
  • How will he challenge us?
  • Do you remember any other historic moments when the president spoke to the nation?
  • What was the impact?
What's my beef with the intended airing and instruction? Do I think there's something wrong with the president speaking to children, telling them to stay in school, and that education is important? No. In fact, I think that the president should be a positive role model for children and education.

My problem is this: Too many of the recommendations distributed to school principals in anticipation of the president's "historic" speech (can it really be historic, when it hasn't happened yet?) put the focus on Barack Obama, and not on the importance of education.

Teachers who follow the suggested curriculum and select excerpted quotes from President Obama's previous speeches about education deprive their students of exposure to quotes from other great minds and leaders about the same subject. How about:
  • The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. - Alvin Toffler

  • All who have meditated on the art of governing mankind have been convinced that the fate of empires depends on the education of youth. - Aristotle

  • The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think, than what to think - rather to improve our minds, so as to enable us to think for ourselves, than to load the memory with thoughts of other men. - Bill Beattie

  • It has always seemed strange to me that in our endless discussions about education so little stress is laid on the pleasure of becoming an educated person, the enormous interest it adds to life. To be able to be caught up into the world of thought -- that is to be educated. - Edith Hamilton

Plus, some of my absolute favorites, given the environment of today's political climate:
  • A child educated only at school is an uneducated child. - George Santayana

  • Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. - George Santayana

  • Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person's character lies in their own hands. - Anne Frank

Even more concerning are the suggested discussion questions, which are largely Obama-glorifying. Rather than asking if students remember any other "historic moments" when President Obama gave a speech, why not challenge them to remember historic speeches by any leader, political or otherwise? Abraham Lincoln. Martin Luther King, Jr. The presidential address following 9/11/01. Even Maya Angelou gave a memorable recitation of her poem at Bill Clinton's inauguration... Are these moments to be forgotten, replaced by our limited "history" of great speeches by our current president? These type of questions are narrow in scope, and alarmingly leading.

Rather than ask, "What do you think the president wants us to do?" and "Are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us?" why not ask "Why is education important?" and "What can we do to be successful in our educations?"

Rather than, "How will he inspire us?" (which I adamantly reject as anything but communicating to our children that they MUST BE and are EXPECTED TO BE inspired by the president) and "How will he challenge us?" why not ask, "Who or what inspires you?" and "How can you use that inspiration to challenge yourself?"

The Department of Education admits that the lesson plans were "hatched" during meetings between the White House and the Department of Education. In my mind, the president does not have the right to "educate" my children to glorify him. My children are taught at home to respect the office of the President of the United States of America. They are taught at church not to worship false idols. The lesson plans focus as much on deifying and promoting Obama as they do on encouraging children to set goals for their own education.

That, Mr. Principal, is why my children will not be partaking in this White House-hatched "education" experience. We will view the speech at home and have unbiased discussion about its importance or triviality.

Thank you for understanding.


Opus #6 said...

He needs to keep his hands off MY KIDS.

CherylAnn said...

As usual, a very well-written post. :-) I love it when parents challenge our educators. While I see your point could agree with you completely if you replaced "Obama" with "Flag" and his speech with the Pledge of Allegiance (I also prefer to teach respect for the flag and the pledge at home), I don't agree that focusing on Obama quotes deprives us of focusing on other quotes. They are just more quotes to add to all the good ones you included. Bill Beattie's is one of my favorites! Keep up the good work! I love that you keep us thinking!

EdioParaUSA said...

Thanks Gonzo Citizen & Mom!

It's great to hear of the local autonomy in your school district.

It's sickening to learn how far off the left ledge of lunancy, the
DOE has gone for "Great Leader" BO!

Thanks so much Jimmy Carter, for
the useless Dept. of Education.
We the People shall disestablish
the DOE someday. But first, we must save the Republic from Obama!

WELL DONE, Christina-Marie Wright!
I shall circulate this blog widely,
througout the several states, as
well as Eroupe and Asia. ~ Edio

The Gonzo Mama said...

@Opus#6 - I think you know exactly how scared for and protective of my kids I am. The blatant Obama-glorifying is more than alarming.

@CherylAnn - Thanks for reading. Love ya, girlfriend!

@EdioParaUSA - Thanks for sharing this post, and for the email and Facebook support!

Dayngr said...

I agree wholeheartedly. My problem all along has been too much focus on the President. When did the man become more important than the country and the people he was elected to serve. I'm sick of the worship-like attitude and I am disgusted by the posters all showing Obama as the main focus rather than America, the White House etc.

Thanks for putting in writing what so many of us were thinking.

The Gonzo Mama said...

Hi, Dayngr. Thanks for stopping by! I agree with your thought that an emphasis on the office itself and the White House would be more constructive than the Obama focus.

cmmjaime said...

These type of moments make me glad we've chosen to homeschool!

Insightful post!

The Gonzo Mama said...

@cmmjaime - Thanks for stopping by! We may not be too far from homeschooling ourselves, if things keep going in the direction they are.