September 04, 2009


DE Libertarian's Steve Newton thinks you're an idiot if, as a parent, you withdraw your kid from class (or school) for the day when President Obama speaks to kids on Sept. 8. While I tend to agree that it would be an overreaction to take your kid out of class/school merely for the speech (I wouldn't use the term "idiot" in this case), as I noted in the comments in Steve's post the bigger concern was over the federal Dept. of Education's proposed lesson plans (since scrubbed from its website) dealing with Obama's address -- some of which forced students into adopting a particular point of view.

But Steve said "his post stands," and added

If Barack Obama's lesson plans are that effective in brainwashing the children of America in thirty minutes plus a bunch of lessons that very few teachers are ever going to do ... then we are all idiots.

Sorry, but this is hyper-partisanship carried to a ludicrous extreme.

But the issue isn't whether "very few teachers" use the plans (again, the controversial ones have since been deleted). The issue is teachers that would use them -- and use them to, as Steve might say, "hyper-partisan" effect. Steve seemed to have an objection to my use of the term "right of conscience" for he later wrote a rambling post about kids being "over-protected." In it he wrote:

Which is why I do not buy any of the faux "freedom of conscience" arguments from people who don't want their kids to be "forced" to watch President Obama on TV. Guess what? School is frankly about coercion all over the place, and the chief lesson once your kids become independent learners is how to find the edges of the system and survive. Coddling them by "protecting" them from strange ideas or bad teachers is, frankly, not helping them at all.

Don't agree? Fine. Take your kids out of every school activity with which you politically disagree; I won't interfere, other than to think you're not doing them any favors.

Since I was the only one to invoke such a term in his previous post, it's pretty obvious to me that Steve had myself in mind when he wrote that. But I didn't object to kids being forced merely to watch Obama on TV; again, I objected to the proposed lesson plans that the Dept. of Education initially had in mind (and which Steve indicated he still didn't care about). I responded in the comments section thusly:

"Faux?" I was trained as a social studies educator (even though I'm in foreign language now) and my cooperating teacher (a big-time conservative) made it more than clear that on all things political teachers should cover both (or as many as feasible) sides of an issue, and NEVER mandate that students be forced to PICK a side. If you are OK with what the federal DoE had in those lesson plans, fine. (I never said anything about merely watching Obama's speech, which I agree would be pretty much benign in nature, politically.) But as a social studies person yourself, I find that horrifying frankly. Amazing that you brush off concern over that as "hyper-partisanship," yet you get all apoplectic about a DNC memo invoking right-wing terrorism (which has also since been scrubbed from its website) which is what -- just more modern "politics as usual." Spare me.

You implication that I condone parents objecting to all things "controversial" is hilarious. So is your implication that I am a "helicopter parent." Try reading what I've written on that subject in my education archives. It would have saved you from being overly self-righteous (and verbose) in this post. All I was saying is that NO student should be forced to take a [political] side by advocating for something that he/she does not believe in. Would you, Steve, take such a cavalier attitude if schools forced students to say the Pledge of Allegiance? Would anyone concerned about that be "hyper-partisan" and/or "not doing their kids any favors" in life, hmm??

Indeed, even though I am (obviously) a right-leaning person politically, it frankly turns my stomach when I ponder myself assigning to students a paper/project for which they MUST adopt a particular point of view that may be [so] contrary to their personal beliefs. (And we're not talking about a college law class where potential lawyers must learn to advocate for a client despite personal views or something similar, OK?) Steve thinks this is just "hyper-partisan" (which, ironically, puts him in the company of the MSM).

UPDATE: Newton has since commented that my "right to conscience" point was not the genesis of his follow-up post, and that he still thinks classroom coercion in certain areas isn't that big a deal. And when he says

Children are amazing resilient and resistant to a lot of this crap, especially when parents are actually involved in their education. When parents are not, the children usually aren't learning much of anything

I largely agree. Personally, were my own daughter assigned a project to write a letter of support to a politician whom she did not agree with, I would not contact the teacher and demand he rescind the assignment. I would tell my daughter to ask the teacher if she could write a letter expressing her concerns over the politician's policies instead of indicating support. If the teacher refused, then I would [politely] contact him/her and ask why. I'd estimate that in 99% of such cases, the situation would be resolved right here. But if was not, at this point I [still] would not contact the school's administration. I'd tell my daughter to go ahead and write the "contrary" letter anyway -- just to see what happens. If the teacher gave the letter a failing grade that resulted in a detrimental overall drop in class average, then I would consider asking for a parent-teacher-[and possibly] administrator conference.

Overall, my view is that when delicate/controversial issues arise in classrooms/schools, parents should be well notified and should have a [reasonable] provision to either have their children do alternative work, or not attend altogether. Good teachers/administrators (and I've been fortunate enough to work with both over my almost 20 years in public ed.) recognize this and make allowances for such.

UPDATE 2: Uber edu-blogger Joanne Jacobs has a post up about the Obama speech/lesson plan controversy.

Posted by Hube at September 4, 2009 09:22 AM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)


1- Can you tell us what you and your school are planning on 9/8?
2- I thought the lesson plan was plainly creepy because it used the term "the president" in just about every sentence. By that, I take it to mean the speech is all about "the president" not the kids.

Posted by: AJ Lynch at September 4, 2009 09:49 AM

AJ: to answer your #1, nothing officially. It's left up to individual teachers if they want to watch the speech. My guess is most won't, mainly b/c they'll be too busy with organizational things (since Sept. 8 will be basically the first "real" day of school).

Which brings to mind the logistical idiocy of Obama's speech ... ;-)

Posted by: Hube at September 4, 2009 09:53 AM

When talk of brainwashing school children comes up, I always think of something my father told me when I was younger.

He told me the only reason he started wearing his seatbelt when driving was because if he didn't put it on when I was in the car as a child, I would remind him to do it until he did. I had presumably picked that up in school. He also told me another friend of his only got into the habit of wearing his seatbelt in order to shut his kid up too.

I know it's anecdotal evidence, but there are stories about children coming home and informing their parents that the family car is destroying the earth and other such liberal tropes. I often wonder if that lesson wasn't learned by some of the liberals in the education bureaucracy: kids can nag their parents into changing their behavior.

Posted by: Paul Smith at September 4, 2009 03:02 PM


Thought you might be interested in this comment by Mike Protack. This doesn't seem accurate. I know, I know, you can't stand us. That said, if you have additional info, email me at the email address I left for this comment.

I asked him for a link...

Posted by: pandora at September 4, 2009 05:14 PM

Pan: I sincerely doubt Protack will respond to your request.

Posted by: Hube at September 4, 2009 05:41 PM

We are not showing it on Sept 8, out of concerns for crashing the district servers. However, all social studies teachers are being required to show it to all classes over the next three day -- though parents have the right to opt the kid out (but will only know if they visit the district website).

I'm debating -- do I show it when I am there, or do I have my sub show it on the day i am at a mandatory district in-service for all 9th grade social studies teachers?

Posted by: Rhymes With Right at September 4, 2009 06:44 PM

social stds. teachers mandated to show it???!!!! That is ludicrous...My district has not even brought it up...but have received about twenty or so calls from parents about the districts intentions with an answer of 'no plans'...I wonder if soc. stds. teachers were required to show Bush's speech some 18 years prior as Hube noted in a later post? Oh, wait, I think I can answer that one...probably not!

Posted by: cardinals fan at September 5, 2009 03:38 PM

Scott Ott had the best take on Obama's speech: will Obama mention that a large factor in his success was private school?

Posted by: Joe R. at September 7, 2009 09:50 AM