Captive audience …?

President Obama is preparing to deliver a speech directed at American school students. The general gist of the speech is to encourage hard work and a good education … at least that is what is being publicized.

Some are concerned that students, especially younger ones, may be forced by teachers to listen to the president, and that the president may also be talking about public policy (or at least his vision of it). To encourage the paranoia, Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, sent out some suggested study material to accompany the speech.

On the one hand …
America has a long proud tradition of separating the rights of localities (including schools) from federal control. Certainly, there have been grey areas for decades, though the biggest intrusion recently by the federal government was (ironically) by the George W. Bush administration (No Child Left Behind). This may have opened the door for the federal government to more greatly intrude on local matters.

Young children can be impressionable. If the president delves into public policy, and if teachers are not careful to properly frame the difference between “you have to listen to an authority figure like the president” and “this is one aspect of a complex discussion”, that possibly, could be problematic.

On the other hand …
American school children, especially older ones, tend to be more intelligent than most people ever give them credit for. Agree or disagree with the president, I don’t suspect that we will see masses of American school children signing up for the Democratic Party afterwards.

Opportunities to engage students in intelligent discussions of public policy, meaning a debate on the merits of the president’s ideas, and the potential problems with it, could payoff greatly.

What would be better?

Let the president not only address American students, but actually discuss policy. However, include a high ranking senator or Congressman who opposes the president politically. Perhaps in the presence of students, the politicians may act less like politicians and more like responsible adults, tune down the BS, and turn up what is accepted as fact, and what is extrapolated from the facts.

Of course, asking any politician to have a fact based discussion of that nature is often asking too much.


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