Friday, September 4, 2009

President Obama’s Message to Students

Once more, I find myself perfectly flummoxed by the current “outcry, uproar and controversy”. For the three people on the planet who have not yet heard about this, on Tuesday President Obama is planning to make a speech to public school students of our nation, welcoming them to the a new school year and encouraging them to TAKE CHARGE OF THEIR OWN EDUCATION. Work with a mentor to set goals for yourself, work out a plan to reach those goals, and set up some accountability whereby your mentor is checking in with you regularly to help you reach those goals. Also, ASK QUESTIONS about who our leadership is, how they got there, and why what they say is important (see note below). Sounds a lot like Leadership Education to me.

So, it occurred to me that this would be an excellent opportunity for all families, and especially Leadership Education families, to open a discussion with their students/children on a number of important issues. Is education the responsibility of the student, or the teacher? What importance does education hold in an individual’s life, and how does the quality of one’s education influence the quality of one’s life? Is it possible for a student in the public school system to take charge of their own education, or are they doomed to remain on the conveyor belt? How can working with a mentor (parent/teacher) to set goals, work out steps in reaching that goal, and set up accountability improve any student’s quality of education, no matter the environment they find themselves in?

These are the discussion questions that came to my mind as I read through the supplemental materials, and questions I will be raising with my children after we have watched President Obama’s speech together. If my children were older, I would take the opportunity to bring up broader issues. What is the proper role (if any) of government schooling? Does the Federal government have Constitutional authority to involve itself in public education? If local school districts accept Federal funds to cover their operating costs, does that open the door to Federal involvement in other ways, such as NCLB? Should local school boards have complete autonomy in determining curriculum, even though they rely upon and accept State and Federal funding, or can they only claim the right of complete autonomy if they are footing the bill entirely themselves? These are questions that every American citizen should be asking, and assisting our students to find answers to. Isn’t this part of being a citizen of a democratic republic?

But, I guess the charges of “indoctrination” are the most puzzling to me. Indoctrination is a lengthy process accomplished over a period of time by which an individual is repeatedly told there is only ONE way of viewing life or any issue, and deviating from or even questioning that ONE view will result in severe punishment (such as burning in hell for all eternity or being executed by a firing squad). It takes years of meticulous control, carefully-wielded fear, and perfectly crafted isolation from “different” views to indoctrinate a child into any particular world view, to compel a child to believe one way and one way only. And, even then, it is not entirely successful if that child’s spirit is strong enough to fight back against indoctrination once the child comes of age. So, how does ONE speech on ONE day encouraging children to take charge of their own educations constitute “indoctrination”?

Regardless of whether or not you like President Obama, and whether or not you agree with his policies and vision for this country, instead of insulating our students from this ONE speech (or even from the current national debates), why are we not turning this moment (and ensuing moments) into a “teachable moment”? Are parents so terrified of allowing their children to ask questions about the world they inhabit, that they prohibit their children from hearing a view that MIGHT differ from their family’s view? Are they so terrified that their children might actually begin to think for themselves, that they isolate them from the real world, real people, real events, and demand that they ONLY be exposed to views conforming to their family’s world view? Is it okay to raise our children to be mindless drones as long as those drones conform to our own world view? Or do our children deserve the freedom to explore their world, and their own minds, fully and completely, with the loving support and guidance of parents, teachers, mentors, and other adults who love and care for them?

Just wondering…..

*Note: What “they” say is not important because I think they are RIGHT, but because they have such powerful influence over our daily lives. As such, we have an obligation to know and understand WHAT they are saying, and what policies they are seeking to enact, so that we can decide whether or not we agree with them. That’s democracy, folks.

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