Obama Education Speech: A Teachable Moment?

As hue and cries go, the one over President Barack Obama’s educational speech to students was pretty much off the outrage meter.  “Indoctrination” references hadn’t been uttered so often since Joe McCarthy was conducting witch hunts.


Closer to home, this state’s Republican Chairman, Jim Greer, certainly succeeded if his intention were to gain national attention to match his national party ambitions. He was never on so many national TV talk shows as he was after publicly espousing concern that Barack Obama’s education speech might also advance the president’s “socialist agenda.” One that necessarily included, for example, “forced abortions.” This pathetic piffle gives pander a bad name.


More to the point, Greer also succeeded if his intention were to make a colossal ass out of himself. Someone should have aborted his talking points.


As a former secondary teacher, I can say that I appreciated all the encouragement and reinforcement available when it came to motivating students, especially at the beginning of the school year. And if the occupant of the world’s most powerful office deigned to talk directly to students, I’d say, so to speak, “bring it.” You can always use that kind of leverage. Plus, students can’t be reminded too many times of why they matter and who cares about them. To some, not many do.


And this goes whether the president happens to be Thespian-in-Chief Ronald Reagan making a polished, avuncular presentation or the inarticulate George W. Bush giving a breezy pep talk. Or the oratorical, ready-for-prime time Barack Obama.


And, no, I wouldn’t have expected a “government is the problem” message from Reagan any more than a “mission accomplished” foreign-policy theme from Bush. Or a health care-reform undercurrent from Obama. It speaks volumes when some don’t trust the president’s educational talk to their kids. You’d think it was Jim Greer addressing them.


As for the speech, per se, it could have been labeled the “Everybody’s Values Doctrine.” Hopefully, that doesn’t sound like indoctrination – or a rationale for “opting out.”


It was heavy on personal responsibility. There’s “no excuse” for “not trying,” underscored the president. It wasn’t Big Brother. It could have been Bill Cosby.


“Don’t ever give up on yourself,” Obama emphasized. It could have been Jim Valvano.


We all have something to contribute, the president stressed. “What’s your contribution going to be?” he asked. “What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in 20 or 50 or 100 years say about what all of you did for this country?” It could have been John F. Kennedy.


It could yet be a teachable moment. The lesson plan is ready.

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