September 7, 2009

Back to School with President Obama

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In a sign of the times, there is uproar over President Obama’s decision to speak to schoolchildren and convey a message of studying hard and staying in school. Parents have appeared on the cable news stations crying out in anger at the idea that President Obama would dare speak to the nation’s children. First and foremost, Barack Obama is the President of the United States, a fact that eludes many U.S. children. He is the leader of the free world and is held to a higher standard and in higher regard than other politicians. Second, that the President wishes to dedicate time towards reaching out to schoolchildren is mutually beneficial and exposes students to the idea of nation and community.

It is no secret that America’s public schools perform worse than its international counterparts. The current high school graduation rate stands at 88 percent. These facts are important not only for moral reasons, but for national security ones as well. During the Cold War, improving the nation’s schools was viewed as a bulwark against Communism, and President Eisenhower was well aware of this. It is important for President Obama to acknowledge education as a central issue on his domestic policy agenda.

In light of the benign nature of President Obama’s comments to schoolchildren, it is a good thing that students listen to their President speak. In a 2007 Pew poll, only 41% of surveyed Americans knew what position Robert Gates held (Secretary of Defense) and only 74% of participants knew who the Speaker of the House was. These numbers are unsurprisingly worse for the 18-29 age group. Maybe an address by the President of the United States telling kids to work hard is not such a bad thing. The parents who are prohibiting their children from listening to President Obama must also be preventing their kids from watching the news or reading newspapers. Hopefully they are blocking their kid’s Internet access because it is not all that difficult to find clips of President Obama speaking. I’m guessing there some inconsistencies.

What are the costs of President Obama making this address? It is plausible that the President will sweep some children off their feet and motivate them to join a league of left-wing, progressive radicals. Is this really much worse than parents preventing their children from listening to our nation’s leaders and reading the news? If the President of the United States personally addresses U.S. students, maybe some of them will be inspired to be public leaders or stay in school.