President Obama will be speaking directly to our children and youth on September 8,  The U.S. Department of Education announced:

On September 8, 2009, history will be made. Will you be a part of it?

At 12:00 p.m., Eastern Time (ET), President Barack Obama will deliver a national address to the students of America. (Please note that this is a change from the originally scheduled time.) During this special address, the president will speak directly to the nation’s children and youth about persisting and succeeding in school. The president will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning.

It’s historic in the fact that it’s never been done before by any other President.  Now I don’t think it’s bad to listen to a Presidential speech in the context of a social studies class, history class, or political science class, etc.  I’m not sure students need a pep talk from the President to buckle down.  I’m also not sure why it’s necessary for elementary students to listen.

This seems to be some sort of default mechanism that President Obama has.  My health care reform plan is sinking… give a speech.  Our public schools aren’t doing very well… give a speech.  Sort of reminds me of when I got in trouble with my dad, out would come the lecture (and they worked incredibly well Dad!).

A few things I’m wondering…

  1. How will school districts decide whether or not to participate?
  2. Why the White House feels it is necessary to do this? 
  3. Will they release a transcript of the speech before hand?
  4. How many will use the lesson plans that accompany?

Yes they have lesson/activity plans for secondary and elementary aged students.  This concerns me… because of what it lacks – giving kids (and teachers) permission to view the speech with a critical lens.  Take for example a set of questions given in the secondary activity plans:

Why does President Obama want to speak with us today? How will he inspire us?
How will he challenge us?
What might he say?
Do you remember any other historic moments when the president spoke to the nation?
What was the impact?

It’s making the assumption that President Obama will be inspiring and challenging.  Also asking kids how many speeches he gave that would be considered “historic” seems pretty arrogant to me.  I mean what if a liberal teacher asks their class that question about “historic” speeches and one students says, “his primetime press conference on healthcare,”  not really a speech per se, but roll with me.  One student answers the “impact” question saying, “his poll ratings went down.”  How will that teacher respond?

Perhaps a more educational question would be this instead of focusing on the Obama Presidency ask, “What would be some examples of historic moments when Presidents spoke to the nation?”  And then ask the impact question… instead we have a “all hail Obama” thing going here.

Another example from the secondary activity ideas are questions given to be part of a guided discussion:

• What resonated with you from President Obama’s speech? What lines or phrases do you remember?
• Whom is President Obama addressing? How do you know? Describe his audience.
• We heard President Obama mention the importance of personal responsibility. In your life, who exemplifies this kind of responsibility? How? Give examples.
• How are the individuals in this classroom similar? How is each student different?
• Suppose President Obama were to give another speech about being educationally successful. To whom would he speak? Why? What would the president say?
• What are the three most important words in the speech? Rank them.
• Is President Obama inspiring you to do anything? Is he challenging you to do anything?
• What do you believe are the challenges of your generation?
• How can you be a part of addressing these challenges?

One glaring question is missing… “was there anything in President Obama’s remarks that you disagree with?  If so, why?”  Shouldn’t we be developing critical thinking skills with kids?  Wouldn’t this be a great opportunity for students if they do dissent to be able to articulate why?

I question the educational value of taking school time for this type of speech.  I think it would be of better value for his address to Congress or first State of the Union speech to be watched, dissected and debated – in the appropriate classes.  This seems more like indoctrination than education to me.  What do you think?

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