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Uncommon sense

President Obama announced that he would give a speech on education to America’s schoolchildren on September 8th. The idea immediately drew fire. Conservative pundits decried the speech, and many parents refused to allow their children to go to school on the day of the speech. Many districts—Rockwall included—adopted an opt-in policy in which parents could request that their students see the speech. These districts did not, however, broadcast the speech in classrooms.
I submit that the President has the right and duty to address the American people, young and old alike, and that he deserves our respect and attention when he does so. Particularly in times of difficulty, communication between the governor and the governed is vital in maintaining national unity, security, and strength. Now more than ever we must maintain these qualities.
It seems clear that this effort will not be a one-stop shop. But surely the President’s education speech is an important part of the larger effort. And, ultimately, it’s not a great sacrifice—just 18 minutes of our attention as students. And as many times as we’ve heard it, we really are the future. Today’s students are tomorrow’s credit card holders and homeowners. A call to personal responsibility in classes like Economy and Algebra is not only acceptable; it’s necessary.
A refusal to oblige the President’s request for our attention is a dangerous disrespect to the Office. The message being sent to students is that the President really isn’t that important. It’s no wonder the percentage of voters this generation has plummeted. We’ve refused twenty minutes for our Commander-in-Chief. This refusal is at best ignorant.
But what’s worse, some have even accused the President’s speech of subversion and indoctrination. This is a particularly ill-informed criticism. Monday the 7th—that’s a day before Obama gave his speech—the White House released the full speech he was to give. And as it turns out, it’s not at all inflammatory or politically-charged or indoctrinating. It’s tough to take beef with claims like, “What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country.” Those who warned of autocracy and brainwashing have no leg to stand on (except a personal dislike of the President’s politics).
Believe it or not, there are even more ridiculous claims out there. For example, there’s been a considerable amount of buzz surrounding a first-grade teacher who supposedly brainwashed her students with a steady, rhythmic chant of Obama’s name. This has lead many to assert that teachers across America are essentially colluding with the White House to create a generation of socialist zombies. It sounds silly, but this nonsense is common (this hokum is really not all that far from the stories Glenn Beck runs.)
The sad thing is nonsense like this is probably in the minority—not common at all. I could be wrong here, but it seems there’s a silent majority of reasonable, sensible people—or at the very least, people who voted for this president. I have to believe this is due in large part to apathy. Take, for example, our own neck of the woods. Here at RHS, the speech wasn’t shown in classrooms—but it’s not really the school’s fault. Public institutions have to respond to public opinion—and, overwhelmingly, our public opinion has been shaped by the opposition. It’s our duty to change that public opinion—the student-citizens who wanted to see the speech. The days surrounding the speech, many students and teachers lamented not getting to see the speech—many classes even engaged in discussion about it. There was plenty of talk. But what had we done?
If as many people had acted as had talked about the speech, it seems likely we would’ve watched it. I’m not suggesting we go on hunger strike or even picket our schools. But maybe talking to our parents, having them talk to administrators, could’ve made a difference. It’s called a referendum—when a policy is changed by a great show of public concern. It’s a powerful feature of democracy. But it only works if you make your opinions known.
So, I think, the old aphorism is an appropriate way to end this editorial: be the change you want to see. Many of us would’ve liked to see the address, and many more wish for a more liberal flow of information in general. So make it happen. Make common sense common again.
A footnote: Obama’s speech was not unprecedented. Former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush made similar speeches to students during their respective tenures, which were with little exception embraced by the public and the media.



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