White House Lesson

Monday, September 7, 2009

LET'S HOPE that the nation's schoolchildren aren't paying too much attention to the sad spectacle surrounding President Obama's plans to address them Tuesday. If they are, the lesson they are likely to take away is that adults will stoop to any level to gain political advantage -- and that talk about serving the interests of children is just that.

On Tuesday, the president plans to go on national television for a noontime address intended, according to the Education Department, to "challenge students to work hard, set educational goals and take responsibility for their learning." One would think that this message about the importance of education -- by a president making it a priority -- would be universally welcomed. Instead, the planned speech has drawn denunciations from conservatives. School districts around the country are refusing to air the broadcast, and some parents are even threatening to keep their children out of school that day.

Particularly egregious have been comments, like those of the Florida Republican Party, accusing the president of wanting to spread a socialist agenda, at taxpayer expense. Who knew that doing homework and setting goals was part of "The Communist Manifesto"? But, Democrats aren't exactly blameless, either. They were the ones who criticized President George H.W. Bush for making a similar address in 1991. They accused Republicans of using children as political pawns and questioned the use of federal dollars to stage the event.

It also was a goof for education officials to suggest as part of the original menu for classroom activities that elementary students write letters to themselves "about what they can do to help the president." That has been changed in the wake of the controversy to writing letters "about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals." A complete list of resources and suggested lesson plans appears on the Education Department's Web site, and there is nothing objectionable thereof. Moreover, the White House's promise to post the full text of the speech online Monday should be further reassurance that the president's interests are educational, not political.

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