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Proper focus

allaboutme(This post originally appeared on Politico‘s The Arena)

The noise about President Obama’s impending speech to schoolchildren Tuesday is muffling the real issues.  While the President has every right to address any segment of the nation on any subject – and we all have the right to voluntarily listen or not – it’s both the way this thing was rolled out and the predicted content that should be most alarming to people – Republican or Democrat.

First, let’s talk about process, i.e. the rollout.  Rather than simply announce that the president was making a back-to-school speech, the policy/PR/other sundry staffers attached to this wrote and distributed superficial lesson plans as if they knew anything about education to begin with and as if this speech was indeed about the president, not the nation’s education crisis.  Telling teachers they should consider engaging students in a dialogue about how President Obama inspires them is ludicrous, not because some may not agree with him, but because it suggests this speech is after all about HIM.  To then go ahead and attack people for attacking the speech is like smoking and then getting outraged when someone says they smell smoke on you.

The speech massagers were clearly set about getting the president press. While I don’t doubt the president wants to give a great, meaningful speech to kids, his handlers messed up and have thwarted that potential now, not Bill O’Reilly or dozens of other known detractors.  The president’s “men” fell on their swords on this one, and President Obama should take full responsibility for that.

Second, the president’s predicted content which we’ll all now see prior thanks to the defensive posture the White House has had to take on this, should not just be about working hard (that’s what parents, teachers, school people and community leaders all over the country are saying to our kids hourly every day in their journey so far this year). It should be about what he – the president – and policymakers around the country can and should do to make schools work better for all children. He should tell them that while all schools try hard, some schools are just bad and we’re all working to change that. Obama should tell these kids that their academic achievement still ranks below most other industrialized countries, that they should have opportunities to make good choices; that they should urge their parents to get active in changing the way schools do business.

He should give a speech like he gave to the NAACP earlier this year, in which he said that there should be no excuses for failure, that some adults who aren’t doing well should be removed, and that we need to be willing to get rid of what doesn’t work and grow what does.

The president could also use this opportunity to applaud successful reform initiatives, be they public, private or charter-based, and put this notion of perestroika with the teachers unions to rest once and for all.

That would be a meaningful speech, and one only he could get away with at this point in our political history.  So please, to my friends in the media, to the President’s staunchest supporters and to the pundits – let’s not lose sight of just how important a speech like this can be, but keep your eye on the real issues, and whether and how he talks about them. Then cheer him or take him on all you want.

Comments

  1. ExpertWriter says:

    Hi,
    I already have heard and read a lot about Obama’s speech and the hype associated with it. I agree with you that we should rather consider other issues and help the President to find solutions for it.
    your article is really nice, I appreciate you on diverting the minds of people towards the right track.

  2. Barry Garelick says:

    I agree with your statement: “the president’s predicted content … should not just be about working hard (that’s what parents, teachers, school people and community leaders all over the country are saying to our kids hourly every day in their journey so far this year). It should be about what he – the president – and policymakers around the country can and should do to make schools work better for all children.”

    In particular, students subjected to substandard curricula (such as the NSF-EHR sponsored math programs Investigations in Number, Data and Space; Connected Math, Everyday Math, or other comparable programs) and who are not getting outside help are not going to benefit from “working hard” in those classes. If “working hard” means “do what it takes to get through”, then he/she will get through but not be benefitted from the course.

    But the problems of education are such that they are often not solved by students working harder or asking questions, unless both of those things result in some benefit. Unfortunately for many students, they do not.

    I don’t know what the federal government can do to solve such problems, but a good start would be to stop giving grants for programs that initiate or perpetuate bad curricula. Or perhaps pass legislation that extends to general education the due process rights that parents are given for special education.

  3. […] Update 5, 9/8: The speech that went off today, and the lesson plans that accompanied it, were a lot less creepy and controversial than the original release. Who knows how much the uproar had an effect on that? Anyway, I commend to you two thoughtful perspectives on the whole episode: by Jay Greene at Education Next and by coolreformchick at Edspresso. […]

  4. Lisa says:

    I think that this has gotten out of hand, students should be able to listen to the President.

  5. Assigned Reading » Blog Archive » More on Obama’s School Speech says:

    […] coolreformchick at the Edspesso blog: Telling teachers they should consider engaging students in a dialogue about how President […]

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