Grading President Obama’s Class on Civic Education: A Lesson in American Civic Education.“Yes, I’m going to have something to say to the school children tomorrow,” a defiant President Obama yells out at the Labor Day Gathering in Cincinnati, Ohio today (9-7-09).
And like a well-trained teacher, the President has already forwarded his speech to school teachers, administrators, curriculum review boards, parents, and yes, to the entire country to have it graded—even before it is to be delivered!
When the extreme paranoia from some sections of our common citizenry washes over, if ever, and we recollect our senses, the question will be, “What was the furor really all about?” Was it about those lesson plans that quickly got reworded? How dare the President ask young vibrant innocent minds how they can HELP him, the President of the United States?
Thanks, CNN, for playing clips of George Bush, Sr., asking young students exactly the same thing: “Write me a letter and tell me how you can help us achieve our goals.” OK, let’s quibble over the use of the terms “president,” rather than “our.”
Many people have pointed to racism as the one factor underlying the controversy. Others have pointed to those lesson plans as the problem behind the controversy. There has to be a cultist agenda in asking students to write a letter telling Mr. Obama what he’s done well, what he could do better, etc. No matter what terms and rewording the Dept. of Education comes up with, to me, it’s the same thing: Asking for feedback. Teachers who ask for some feedback, and it usually comes back in good and bad ratings, are usually the best teachers. The more of us that can humble ourselves enough to ask our children, neighbors, friends, pastors, and teachers for feedback on our behavior and performance, the more civil the society we will create. Of course, it can be argued that President Obama was never going to read the students’ responses. All the more reason I could not understand why these parents were getting outraged. If anything, it would have been an empowering exercise in writing and reflection for the students.
In any case, feedback is one thing many developing and struggling democracies are in dire need of. You go to some countries where you may not say anything negative about a leader and you will appreciate all over again the freedom of speech we have here. So in essence, we should not respond with anger that people questioned the speech. Jim Greer, Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, has every right to raise a question. What we cannot excuse are close-mindedness and baseless accusations that the President was going to unleash his “socialist ideology” and indoctrinate America’s future leaders!
In the long run, President Obama gets an “A” for the text of the speech that we have all read online because it’s as good as it comes. The Department of Education gets a B+ for not standing by the lesson plans that were produced by its scholars, not by Obama. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, should have had them explain from an educator’s viewpoint the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that the plans were meant to elicit from our students: goal setting, accountability, personal reflection, and most of all, good citizenship.
Jim Greer gets a “D” for his irrational and unsubstantiated statements. It wasn’t really about parental choice either. Are these parents not American citizens? After listening to him tonight and hearing no apologies for provoking more ignorance and fear within his party, I downgrade him to an “F.” Thank God for Mrs. Laura Bush, always a class act, for speaking up on the side of sanity.
The rest of us Americans, together with our school children, have constituted the classroom in which President Obama will have his one day as the “guest presenter” in our nation’s classrooms, thanks to technology, innovation, and yes, an intellectually-minded president. Educators bring in parents and community leaders into their classrooms all the time to talk to their students. It makes for more relevant and meaningful learning.
However, I leave the grading to each family. For those students who stay in school, let your parents, teachers, and guardians know what you gained from listening to President Obama. Your grades will range from A-C. For those students (and parents) who “boycott” the speech, your grade is already pre-determined: “W” for Withdrawn. You’ll have to take this civics class another time; it’s a core course for every American citizen to respect our democracy, respect the president, value our freedom to think and engage critically as educated and informed citizens. Fear, false accusations, and misinformation should have no place in our civic and democratic society. End of Class.