At noon today, President Barack Obama spoke to America’s school students, encouraging them to work at their own education, not only for themselves as individuals, but for the nation. We have public education because we believe all children and youths deserve opportunity to learn and become the adults education enables them to be, but also because we believe that an educated population is vital to the well-being of a liberal democracy and a forward-moving society.
I differ from President Obama in his apparent understandings of what is needed to improve public education for the nation’s children and youth. I wish he had kept Linda Darling Hammond and left Arne Duncan in Chicago. I continue to hope he will start listening to educators more than to business people and will dump No Child Left Behind with the invalid and detrimental correlation of standardized test scores with good teaching and real learning. But I also continue to believe he has the good of the nation and its children in mind, not merely the benefit of the testing/publishing companies and the entrepreneurs who want to privatize public education for their profit. I don’t yet believe he really wants to turn teachers into scripted drones and destroy the teaching profession. And I hope and pray my trust in him is not folly.
Even so, his message to middle and high school students was sound and inspiring. The pre-speech hubbub, however, was alarming as well as sickening, and I’m at a loss to explain the apparent fear and rage without suggesting racism. Are many Americans so upset at having a black president that they can’t stand it? Do they really think the only logical explanation for his victory in the election is that he somehow brainwashed large numbers of people? Is racist fear the driving force behind the “take America back” slogan? Is his presidency to them a pseudo-apocalyptic nightmare that threatens their whole world? I hope not because, if so, then worse trouble is coming from the frightened and enraged segments of our population, and politicians who seize every chance to slander Barack Obama and paint him as an alien to score political points, no matter how silly or wild the accusations (death panels, for instance), need to think hard about what they are doing to this nation they supposedly love and serve and about what horrific consequences could come from their actions. Or do they share the racist revulsion to an African-American president, even if they don’t really believe the nonsense they say about him?
Barack Obama’s speech stands on its own merits. Lower elementary school teachers will, of course, need to translate the speech for their students to hear his message at their level of language and understanding. But the idea of working hard in school and learning for their country as well as for themselves can be communicated to them and even made fun for the younger ones to learn and understand. As they can help their families at home, so they can help their country, as we all can by working together. Keep that thought. Maybe we can even provide a reasonable level of health care for all in our land, if we will work together and share the load.