When his public approval ratings are plummeting, what's a president to do? One possible answer: address a captive audience of millions of highly impressionable young minds, and follow it up with educational "lessons" that induce a positive image of the president.
That is what is happening today with President Obama's unprecedented address to the nation's schoolchildren. Preaching personal responsibility and perseverance--positive qualities, to be sure--the speech nonetheless contradicts them by disrupting the school day.
The blitzkrieg approach to the national message caught parents and school officials unaware. Some districts are leaving the choice whether to air the speech to individual schools. Others are allowing parents to opt their kids into alternative activities. Still others, including the Tempe Elementary School District, are offering no opt-outs at all. My son's charter school, Benchmark School, is telling parents if they want their kids to see the speech, they should TiVo it: math and reading will be taught during the school day instead.
While many view the speech as a useful civics lesson, others such as Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne aren't so sure. Horne helpfully posted the lesson plans put out by the U.S. Department of Education to precede and follow Obama's speech. Discussion points include:
"Why does President Obama want to speak with us today? How will he inspire us?"
"What resonated with you from President Obama's speech?"
"Why is it important that we listen to the President?""What do you think it takes to be President?"
"What other historic moments do you remember when the President spoke to the nation?"
Civics or indoctrination? For once, a Latin phrase I learned in law school comes in handy: res ipsa loquitor--the thing speaks for itself.
Clint Bolick is director of the Goldwater Institute Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation.
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