Note: This column appears in the 9/17 issue of The Glendale Star and the 9/18 issue of the Peoria Times
Last Tuesday, Barack Obama, the President of the United States of America, spoke openly and publicly to the nation’s schoolchildren.
The Deer Valley and Peoria Unified school districts, in a wonderful display of caving to the illogical paranoia of a select few, ensured that not every child would see it.
It was national news heading up to the speech that parents were concerned that Obama would use this as an opportunity to push his political agenda. Ya’ know, to clamor for that elusive 13-year old vote in the 2012 election, and to impose socialist values upon children who may not otherwise be able to define socialism. Much of the fear stemmed from the phrase “help the president,” which some people believed continued: “…convince everyone of this healthcare plan, and that abortion isn't so bad.” I had hoped this particular area of the country would see through the paranoia, and be smarter than to suppress such a positive and culturally relevant event.
My hopes were dashed when the school districts -– amidst an apparent “flurry” of phone calls from concerned parents -- allowed kids to “opt out” of watching the nationally televised speech. In one fell swoop, the abilities of every teacher in this area were elevated above that of our president; their agendas deemed less dangerous. I can only assume that every scared parent knows each one of their child's teachers very, very well.
What started as an address to the nation’s youth at the outset of another school year quickly regressed into something that required a permission to slip to see, as if each class was going on a field trip to see "Debbie Does Dallas." The stipulations placed on each student to watch the speech were downright comical. But my favorite came from the Deer Valley school district, which planned on showing the speech only in high schools, only within the American History and American Government classes, and “only if the speech is relevant to the curriculum that’s being taught.” I struggle to realize how a national speech to schoolchildren by the current and first African-American President in this nation’s great history does not automatically fall into the category of either American government or history. And I wonder if Glendale high schools did not immediately turn off the TV when Obama neglected to begin his speech with a recap of Custer’s Last Stand.
Students were given the opportunity to participate in an alternate activity if their parents had deemed a speech that they had not yet heard to be inappropriate. In a decade or so, when the subject of “where were you when the President spoke to us?” comes up, I feel for the young adults whose response will be: I was coloring. Why, what happened?
Where was I when the President spoke directly to my generation? I cannot say, because it never happened. Not that I can remember at least. I feel like it would have been cool though, and had there been any strange circumstance in which the President had said something that conflicted with my faith or value system, it would have allowed for an open dialogue with my teachers and parents. Oh well. When I was in high school, we got to watch the OJ verdict. So that was cool. We also once watched "Frosty the Snowman" in class on the day before Christmas vacation. I was 16.
Despite the restrictions of Glendale and Peoria schools, the speech happened anyway. President Obama urged the nation’s youth to take pride and ownership in their education, even when outside circumstances make school more difficult. I wonder though how much pride a Glendale or Peoria student takes from an educational system with no backbone.
Then again, if you play the speech backwards, the second letter of every fourth sentence spells out “socialism rules.” So maybe there was cause for concern after all.
Barack Obama: Experience his presidency on your own time, kids. Today we learn about real life issues, otherwise known as "fractions."