While I may not have a dog in this fight (my toddler is in “pre-preschool”), after reading all the hullabaloo, I can’t help but have an opinion. Not on whether the President should or should not speak to school children in the classroom about education, but about why people should find it so surprising that it has caused such controversy. When has education and the government’s role ever not been a hot topic?
It wasn’t so long ago (1991) that George H. W. Bush was receiving the same exact criticism for wanting to talk to students about studying hard, avoiding drugs and turning in troublemakers. Then House Majority Leader, Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) said, “The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students.” Sound familiar?
The government’s only role in the educational system should be to make sure that every child has access to the best education possible. Just as we accept that there is separation of church and state, it is also accepted that there should be separation of classroom and state. So when parents were able to see some of the lesson plans that the Department of Education had prepared for school children that included asking the children “what they can do to help the president,” and “how might he inspire them?” as well as a brief history about President Obama, there became cause for concern that a line was being crossed.
These questions may seem rather innocuous, designed merely to get the students involved and excited about being addressed by the president and what he has to say to them, but, for parents who don’t support the president (read agenda) and openly discuss these issues at home with their children, might their kids be confused by the conflicting messages? The school seems to support the president and be saying that I should too, but my parents don’t. Please don’t confuse respect for the office with supporting the president. All Americans should respect the office, but support is a matter of free will, and should never be compelled.
The donkey in the room here is President Obama’s rapidly dropping poll numbers (approval ratings now below 50%) and what they represent. As distrust for President G. W. Bush and the war on terror grew, his poll numbers dropped. As distrust for President H. W. Bush grew after his reversal on his pledge for no new taxes, his poll numbers dropped. Reagan: Iran-Contra. Carter: Iran hostage crisis. Nixon: Watergate. Could a growing distrust of this president, in the midst of an extremely polarized political climate over health care reform, explain some parents’ skepticism?
After receiving numerous complaints, the White House has changed or removed all discussion about President Obama or a child’s implied support thereof from the lesson plans, and focused the discussion completely on the student and how he/she can make the most of their education. I for one, applaud them for listening and reacting so quickly. And, if she were of school age, I would have no problem sending Reagan to school that day to hear the President’s speech and take part in the discussion since it’s revision. But, is it now too late to regain other parents’ possibly diminished trust in the plan?