The current flap over President Obama's speech to students (9.8.09) provides a rather dramatic example of how divided the nation is in 2009. School districts across the country (including many in Wisconsin) began to "hear" from people on the right who feared that the President was going to use this situation to "indoctrinate" students to a certain way of thinking. In my 30 years of teaching classes in history and politics I cannot recall a similar situation, although the example of George H.W. Bush doing this has been raised. We're in a different media in 2009 than we were in the early 1990s and I suspect the GHW Bush example is not a great comparison. The shrill nature of political discourse in America, of course, is nothing new but the media environment -- well, that's another story. Since the Presidency of Jimmy Carter, I have been telling students that the President is the leader of our government and "our" President, whether you agree with him (or her) or not. In light of that, this person deserves our respect due to the office they hold.
A couple of quick questions on this. First, since nearly everything the President says can be interpreted as "political" on some level, does this mean that we no longer can play the State of the Union Message in our classrooms? What speeches will be acceptable? Second, what better place is there to expose our emerging citizens to political dialogue than in our classrooms under the direction of teachers who have professional training in the subject area?
Here is a link to the President's speech. Read if you dare!