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Reconsidering Obama's ed speech? Sort of

Obama's speech to America's students is creating an incredible amount of controversy, far more than I would have expected. In fact, my post yesterday was met with quite a flame war that kept ZDNet moderators on their toes. I'm relatively liberal, but I'm hardly an extremist, so I figured this was worth a bit of consideration and extra research.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor on

Obama's speech to America's students is creating an incredible amount of controversy, far more than I would have expected. In fact, my post yesterday was met with quite a flame war that kept ZDNet moderators on their toes. I'm relatively liberal, but I'm hardly an extremist, so I figured this was worth a bit of consideration and extra research.

Many people didn't have a problem with the President addressing school children. Quite a few presidents, from both sides of the political spectrum, have and it hardly sends a bad message for leadership in the country to reach out to students, especially if it can happen in a motivational, non-partisan, apolitical way. Overall, the previewed content of the speech sounds quite benign. If anyone wants to encourage my kids to do well in school, work hard, and respect each other, they are more than welcome to do so.

Better yet, I stick by my assertion that the use of technology (streaming from the White House website) makes this speech accessible in a variety of venues and actually allows greater freedom for schools in choosing whether or not to show it. While it's being streamed live, students will be able to view it online later after parents, administrators, or teachers have been able to review it. It can also be shown in parts or in isolated, appropriate settings. For example, as a district, we have no plans to show the speech to a large audience, but individual social studies teachers could show it or use parts of it via computers in their classrooms if they choose to do so.

However, a look at the accompanying lesson plans even gave me pause (here's are links to PDFs of the pre-K through 6 lesson and the 7-12 lesson). Most of the lessons could have been put together by any self-respecting teacher, appropriate to any speech delivered by the average motivational speaker. Who is the audience? What is the thesis of the speech? What are the main ideas? Organize the speech into a web. Good questions, although perhaps best left to the teachers showing the speech to formulate.

The questions that are more blatantly pro-Obama, pro-administration, though, would definitely have me reconsider using them in class. How does the President inspire you? What resonated with you from Obama's speech? Why is it important that we listen to the president and other elected officials, like the mayor,  senators, members of congress, or the governor? These don't promote the sort of open, thoughtful discourse that made my social studies classes so much fun (and so useful in developing my own political views) in school.

I still don't think that the speech itself is much of an issue and I'm encouraged by the use of technology, both to deliver a message and to give students, staff, districts, and parents easier discretion in its delivery. We employ teachers, though, to do just that: to teach our students to national academic standards but also to local social standards. Much of this controversy could have been avoided by simply allowing teachers to use the speech as they wanted in class without proscribing lessons to go with it.

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