Thursday, September 3, 2009

Those lesson plans

As you probably know, what has a lot of people steamed about the Obama speech was not the speech itself (presidents have addressed schoolchildren before, of course) but the accompanying lesson plans distributed by the Department of Education. The lesson plans have already undergone some changes, with sections asking children what they could do to "help the president" being rewritten to focus instead on the children's own goals.

But I'd like to focus on this one section, titled "Before the Speech," which reads as follows:
Before the Speech
• Teachers can build background knowledge about the President of the United States and his
speech by reading books about presidents and Barack Obama. Teachers could motivate students
by asking the following questions:
Who is the President of the United States?
What do you think it takes to be president?
To whom do you think the president is going to be speaking?
Why do you think he wants to speak to you?
What do you think he will say to you?
• Teachers can ask students to imagine that they are delivering a speech to all of the students in
the United States.
If you were the president, what would you tell students?
What can students do to help in our schools?
Teachers can chart ideas about what students would say.
• Why is it important that we listen to the president and other elected officials, like the mayor,
senators, members of congress, or the governor? Why is what they say important?
I could be wrong, of course, but I can't imagine that this sort of thing preceded Ronald Reagan's address to schoolchildren. Were children given books about Reagan to read? Were there, in fact, any books about Reagan suitable for schoolchildren to read during his actual presidency?

There are books about Barack Obama for children to read. Yes, children's books about the president have already been written and published, during the first year of Obama's presidency. Here are a few of them:

Barack Obama: Son of Promise, Child of Hope


Barack Obama: Our 44th President

Barack Obama (People We Should Know)

Obama's Pajamas

Yes, We Can! A Salute to Children from President Obama's Victory Speech

Barack Obama 101: My First Presidential-board-book

Yes We Can: A Biography of President Barack Obama (Kindle Edition)

Pantsuits, Funny Ears and a Purple Lei: A tribute to President Barack Obama & Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

There are more out there than these titles; I just listed some of the ones that came up on an search. Now, a similar search for books for children about G.W. Bush does turn up a few of the "People of History" sort of titles, but clearly there's a level of adoration and respect for Barack Obama that wasn't present, at least in the publishing industry, for our previous president--so anyone who claims that this list of books is perfectly normal is kidding themselves.

To be honest, I don't even really like the books about President Bush, aside from the most rudimentary ones. A child might legitimately be asked in school to provide a few biographical details about a sitting president, but if we're going to judge a president's impact on our country and world we really ought to have the decency to wait until his term or terms are over to do so. Pushing children to read multiple titles about a sitting president just reinforces one of the worst things about America today: our cult of instant celebrity, our sense that some people are worthy of adulation just for showing up, not for accomplishing anything of note. Is it noteworthy that Obama was elected president? Sure. A simple biography culminating in that event is fine for schoolchildren. But a plethora of titles presenting children with an uncritical look at Obama's goals, or worse, full of the "hope and change" hype and empty of substance? That's not educational--that's merely hagiographical, and out of place in a school classroom.

So we can dismiss as "nuts" or "crazy" those people who are objecting to Obama's speech to schoolchildren and its accompanying politicized lesson plans, which have only been changed because people were paying attention. Let the president speak to schoolchildren as much as he wants, I say; if anything, it will interrupt the normal dreary school routine of angst, gossip, backbiting, fighting, bullying, and inappropriate and surreptitious texting, which is occasionally postponed for a little math or social studies, while simultaneously preventing the president from pursuing the ruinously expensive health care reform plan he's been selling for months now. But let's keep the lesson plans out of it; in the grand tradition of schoolchildren everywhere, the kids in our schools should be as free to ignore the president as they ignore every other adult figure brought in to talk to them; and they should also be free to ignore the subtle and not-so-subtle pressure of the lesson plans.

What if, after all, some honest and intelligent sixth-grader were to answer some of the questions this way:

To whom do you think the president is going to be speaking?
To voters, while pretending to speak to schoolkids like me.
Why do you think he wants to speak to you?
Because his support numbers are tanking and his health care plan is in trouble; this is a Presidential version of a "Hail Mary" pass. Ooops, I should have said, a "Hail somebody I can't mention in public school" pass.
What do you think he will say to you?
Don't know, but there will be talking points. And the word "hope." And probably something I'll be tested on later.

Do you think the purpose of the lesson plans is to tolerate and condone answers like these? I highly doubt it.


pam said...

Dear Erin,
I saw the original lesson plans & really thought that the Adoration had been recast with Mr. Obama as all three Wise Men!
Re the "listen to ...conress members" obviously the new generation will be taught to be better followers then their contentious Grannys.
Thanks for the update on the newer lesson plans. Pam JMJ AMDG

Anonymous said...

I think I've figured out this blog, now, and appreciate the originator/author's attempt to spark some dissension, or at least give pause to lemming-like hooplas. For really, in our country, as well as most societies with instant access to prevailing events, the tides turn this way and that, with crowds of citizenry in the sway, sometimes seeming in the thrall of 'groupthink'.

One of the most powerful themes in the current arena is NOW; as in now is the time, now is what is happening, and now (in a reactionary response) is what we are feeling/thinking/acting, to which we must respond. This concept cncompasses diametrically opposing ideas i.e. things we can do at this juxtapositional time such as organizing efforts to do something providential about issues for whose time has come, versus a 'wait and see' (and be confident whatever will turn out as expected with those in most opportune financial power making whatever minor changes to temporarily pacify those without)' or thinking positively with urgency to make appropriately beneficial and moral decisions against a plan of 'just don't do anything to upset my applecart', and the idea of placating special interests versus ensuring welfare of all those without access (voice).

It's not all an insidious mendacious plot!


Marilee said...

Pam, where did you see the original lesson plans? I would like to see them, too.