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Submitted by Kevin Wuzzardo on Mon, 09/07/2009 - 5:55pm.
By now you surely know of the controversy surrounding President Obama's speech Tuesday to school kids across the country. It has caused many parents to complain about not wanting their children to hear what he has to say, fearful of the politics that might crop up.
"I don't support gay marriage. I don't support abortion," one parent told NBC News. "There's a lot of issues that he's in favor of that I'm not, and I don't want that shoved down my kid's throat at school."
Yeah. Because savvy politicians with an army of handlers often use highly-publicized speeches to kindergarteners to promote their support of gay marriage and abortion. Are you kidding me? Regardless of what you think of the president, and I have often criticized him and his administration in this blog, you have to realize that this is just the latest bit of partisan polarization and ignorance. It was a knee-jerk reaction fueled by the folks on the margins as usual. The speech was never meant to be political. I find it highly unlikely that Mr. Obama and his staff were going to stick in a line that said something like, "Stay in school kids, and tell your mom and dad that if they don't support health care reform, you'll likely die a slow painful death." Don't believe me? Read the speech for yourself. You'll probably find it's very similar to the last presidential speech to students, given by George H.W. Bush in 1991. Back then it was the folks on the left margin who criticized an otherwise innocuous speech, which, like Mr. Obama's, was full of words aimed at motivating kids to focus on their education and saying no to drugs. Three years before President Bush's classroom visit, Ronald Reagan did throw politics into a speech to students with a criticism of taxes. It surely was not the right forum for such a thing. Of course, in the days before the power of cable news networks and fiery talk radio hosts, probably no one noticed.
Some people point the criticism of Mr. Obama's speech to plans for related educational materials that included students coming up with ideas of how they "can help the president." Oh, no. Not that. The problem is not asking students to help the president. It's that their overpoliticized parents can't stop preaching rhetoric long enough to realize helping the president also means helping the country. During his inaugural speech, John Kennedy implored his fellow Americans to "ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." It sparked one of the greatest periods of public service in our history, and it doesn't matter that Kennedy was a Democrat or even a Kennedy. The speech worked, because it inspired people.
Look, I think parents should have a say in what their children are exposed to at school, and if you truly find something troubling or offensive with the speech, by all means, keep your kid out of it. That is your right as a parent, and one you should take very seriously. But to preemptively bar your children from a few minutes of a back-to-school pep talk from their president (yes, their president, yours and mine -- it's how the Constitution sets it up) without first knowing what he's going to say, well, that's just irresponsible. The same goes for schools and school districts that have decided not to make the speech available to their students under some blanket decision. I'll bet many of these same schools and parents have no problem bringing in some sports figure to make a stay-in-school speech to the kids. In fact, some of those moms and dads probably get a little jealous of the children being in the presence of their own heroes. The White House does need to take some blame for this. It should have made the text of the speech available well ahead of time to give parents plenty of time to review it, but it didn't. Another PR mistake by an administration that keeps tripping over its own feet.
The bottom line is that it's never a good idea to close anyone off from the public discourse, especially your kids. My parents taught me and my sister to be inquisitive, to search for answers and to make our own decisions in life based on what we found through our experiences. The newspaper on the breakfast table, the discussion around the dinner table and the newscast on the TV were ways for us to know what was going on in the world. They gave us the opportunity to gather the information and form our own opinions. At some point you should give your children a chance to do the same.
By: Kevin Wuzzardo