There are several reasons why I haven't been nearly as outraged by Obama's speech to school kids on Tuesday as many in the blogosphere on the right. First, I've long been on record as supporting more of Obama's education policy than I oppose. Second, I think everyone should agree that the president can and should be a role model to many children. That's not merely because he's the president. He's overcome a lot in his life. There's plenty of life lessons to be learned from his life story. He overcame a childhood full of chaos. He overcame a period of drug use and irresponsibility and he largely made his success on his own. Bill O'Reilly said as much in what should have been a very non controversial article in parade last month. Finally, and most importantly, I wanted to make sure that I didn't reflexively oppose everything that Obama did simply because it was an Obama proposal. I know that four the better part of eight years there were plenty on the other side that gave that treatment to Bush. I don't believe that everything is wrong simply because Obama proposes it.
I certainly don't think that a president addressing kids is a bad thing per se. Nor is it unprecedented. If the speech focuses working hard, setting goals, and overcoming, that's exactly the message we should all applaud from the president. So, anyone that opposes the speech on principle is simply being a partisan. The president can be a role model for kids, and he should be.
That said, there is plenty surrounding the speech that should concern folks. The major cause of concern were some of the questions that were attached to the speech. The most troubling was a question that asked kids how they could help President Obama. Another was a question that asked kids what was most inspiring about Obama's speech. In sales, we call this an assumptive close. By this, I mean that the planners assume that the kids are on board and supportive. As such, they ask questions that are framed in support of the president. That's not only presumptive but it also lacks any critical thinking. Kids shouldn't be manipulated into following along. Instead, they should think critically. It's exactly the wrong thing to teach kids. We should teach kids to support the office of the presidency reflexively but not the president occupying the office. Kids should be taught that dissent, as long as its honest, is good and healthy. Rather than assuming that kids will love the speech, the proper way to have done it is to ask more balanced questions. Much better would have been what is the best and worst part of the speech.
Of course, after the furor, the White House augmented the curriculum and it's now largely acceptable to all. This brings me to the last part of the analysis. The White House has called much of the outrage "silly". This outrage isn't merely coming from pundits with an axe to grind. It's also coming from parents. I saw one on television show in which a parent was offended that all of her complaints were being dismissed. This is not the first time that the administration has downplayed complaints of the voters. This is a stunning pattern. The White House not only dismisses the complaints of opponents but of the voters themselves. That's not only full of arrogance but totally destructive.
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