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I Somehow Can’t See Thomas Jefferson Asking This

This just strikes me as odd:

Why is it important that we listen to the president and other elected officials, like the mayor, senators, members of congress, or the governor? Why is what they say important?

Seems Jefferson and his administration would be more along the lines of, “Why is it important that our elected officials listen to us?” I’m fairly certain our third president would have sported one of those “Question Authority” bumper stickers on his carriage. He surely wouldn’t hang with the crowd that wants folks to just shut up and let the experts handle things, would he?

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?

Now don’t get me wrong. I think it is perfectly acceptable for a president to inspire people to do right, and in the context of school children that means study hard, treat your teachers and classmates with respect, don’t cheat, stay away from drugs, etc. I don’t have a sliver of an objection to any of that.

The thing is, I still remember the video of those children serenading then-Senator Obama (there was another one I can’t seem to find; I think it took place somewhere in California) and still think it looks an awful lot like something more closely associated with parts of the world I’m grateful not to live in. I also remember “the church you can’t see,” the Obama votive candles, the lamb of God T-shirts, the light-worker business, etc. In my own city, one elementary school staged an Obama victory rally after the election, with all the little sweethearts marching down city streets with signs and posters chanting “Yes, we can!”—at a cost to the taxpayers of some $700 for police to shut down traffic. At another local elementary school, I’ve heard they performed an Obama rap song that endorsed portions of his political platform. And in that context, my mental images of a popular, charismatic leader making a direct address to the nation’s children—after having discussed in class the importance of listening to civil authorities—are not, shall we say, encouraging.

What would you like to tell the president?

Thank you, Mr. President, for taking the time to address my daughter, Rebecca. She’s a great kid and a sharp student, and I’m sure she’ll do our country proud. But when you talk to her on Tuesday, please remind her that, in a democracy, dissent is the highest form of patriotism (your Secretary of State once said that), and that it is far more important for her to listen to her parents, teachers, and religious leaders than any elected official.

On second thought, Mr. President, thanks but no thanks. The more I think about this upcoming address, the less comfortable I am with it. It’s nothing against you personally, but some of your supporters don’t seem to understand that malleable young minds should not be used as tools for advancing a political agenda. And some of your detractors will not be as circumspect as I in expressing their reservations. I fear the whole thing will prove to be a recipe for hard feelings all around—and you need to be a uniter, not a divider.

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5 Comments

  1. Who protested before or after Reagan and GHW Bush addressed the school kids? But I do agree, a school should not organize a pro-anybody rally. Individual teachers have often expressed personal views to their students, they they should be careful about doing that. But it is extremely common for politicians on both sides to speak at schools all over the US, and those are rarely billed as neutral events. I think that the anti’s on this are somehow in the conspiracy theory camp. In this case, if the Pres is going to promote at stay in school, study hard, don’t do drugs agenda and the parents, churches and commentators are going to promote a don’t listen to authority agenda, then it looks to me like the world is coming to an end even faster than I thought. REally, if the kids aren’t supposed to listen to those in authority or power, where does that leave the parents?

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  2. You’re quite right, PS. President Reagan gave a four-minute video address following the Challenger accident in 1986. The first President Bush made a fifteen-minute anti-drug address in 1989. I don’t have the slightest objection to such addresses, regardless of the letter after the president’s name. I fully expect that is the kind of inspiring, nonpartisan address President Obama will deliver—even though there does not seem to be a national crisis that would warrant it, like the whole class having watched a space shuttle explode in their classrooms the day before.

    It still makes me nervous, however, when the Department of Education prepares a study guide encouraging students to take notes on the President’s speech and discuss it afterward. All in all, I’d much rather they be studying math, science, and reading for that hour. As I suggested in my post, it really makes me nervous to think how this speech will be received in some classrooms around my city. It’s not anything personal against the president; it’s the track record of overt partisanship of some of his supporters with a captive audience of schoolkids.

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  3. I don’t think Obama is planning on brainwashing children. Every president in my lifetime has addressed schools and no one thought it was controversial until now. When GW Bush, whom I considered a war criminal, went to address my elementary school children, no one asked me my opinion. My child was told to be respectful of the office of the president, no matter the opinion of him personally by her parents.

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  4. Michael, I’m sure you can read, both in my post and in my response to PS’s comment, that I am not offended by the concept of a US president addressing school children to deliver an inspiring, encouraging word of a nonpartisan nature. I’m also convinced that President Obama is smart enough to know that something like, “Boys and girls, go home and tell your parents to get behind my health care plan” would be an unmitigated disaster. He would be a fool to go there, and he’s no fool. I remain, however, concerned about the level of “hero worship”—sometimes even on the taxpayer’s dime—that seems to attach to this particular president. I’m Anabaptist enough to worry about investing that much adulation in any human being, and I’m “Winkian” enough to understand how the very trappings of office and authority can take on a life of their own with unfortunate results. Very truly, if it weren’t for the shenanigans at a couple of public schools here in Macon, I doubt I’d have gone to the trouble to track down that Dept. of Education document, and I’m certain that opening section about “listening to elected officials” wouldn’t have hit me as it did. Hope that helps explain where I’m coming from. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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  5. Darrell,
    Every charismatic president should create worries of hero-worship. And I am Anabaptist enough to worry about that, too. But the hatred Obama inspires is bizarre, too.
    I trust my children to question. If they question me, I doubt that one speech could brainwash them. I took my oldest, Molly, to hear Obama speak when he was just a senator and not even a candidate for president. There’s a bit of hero-worship involved in any political rally. That’s why having politicians speak at churches is so dangerous. Churches have to be communities fostering a sense of identity separate from that of the nation-state or political party, etc.

    Personally, I think there’s enough dissatisfaction with Obama on the Left (including by me) and hatred on the right to make the danger of hero worship much less. No one is calling this administration a “Camelot II.” (Of course, if he’s assassinated, all bets are off. That’s what changed JFK from an ordinary, if gifted, politician to a sainted martyr.)

    By the way, am I the only one who has noted that “compassionate conservatism” has disappeared and been replaced with cruel, rightwing hatred that thinks “compassion” is a swear word?

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