On October 1, 1991, President George H.W. Bush told students at Alice Deal Junior High School and millions of students watching live from their classrooms across the country that, “Education matters, and what you do today, and what you don’t do can change your future.” He went on to add, “Progress starts when we ask more of ourselves, our schools and, yes, you, our students.” Apparently, this message no longer resonates with the Republican Party George H.W. Bush once knew as there is much consternation amongst conservatives who are demanding that their schools do not tune in for President Barack Obama’s national address to students next week. The American educational system can now include “common sense,” “patriotism,” and “civics” with “sexual education” and “evolution” in the folder stamped OPTIONAL. What is the basis of accusations that Obama will brainwash America’s youth with socialist ideology? Or that his speech will be a platform by which he will justify healthcare reform, the stimulus package, or government intervention in the auto industry? How has the extreme rightwing lost its mind?
Currently, six states including Illinois will not be airing the President’s message. In an effort to assuage concerned parents the White House will be posting the speech the day prior online for review, and the Department of Education has already issued revised lesson plan suggestions that no longer encourage students to write a letter to themselves about how they can help the President but a letter in which they create short and long term goals. Despite these efforts, the controversy continues to consume school districts across the country and the evening news. The motivation for this reaction is similar to that of healthcare reform. There is a growing irrational conservative ideology that is spreading like wildfire across all parts of this country, which is motivated by fear: fear of change, fear of a Democratic President, fear of a black President, fear of globalization and fear of fear itself.
This fear consumes people into a state where they are obviously not thinking rationally. American Presidents have spoken with school children throughout our nation’s history. These children cannot vote. They would not even understand the complexities of healthcare reform and will not become effective advocates for the President. Most adults in this country cannot even debate the merits of the Congressional healthcare bill or even explain the theoretical framework of American capitalism. Further, these right extremists need to take a civics lesson for their own benefit. Barack Obama is President of the United States of America, not the President of the Democratic Party. Republican President George W. Bush signed off on TARP that bailed out banks and insurance companies as well as made an $18 billion investment in the auto industry; both parties have spent public money much the same way. Further, this country has a system of checks and balances so intricate that one could spend their entire life devoted to its study and all of this expressed in a document that is twelve pages. A speech to the children of this nation is not going to create a mindless army of young people, eyes blurred, marching on Washington for a public option.
The President’s address to the school children of this nation is nothing more than telling the children of this country that they matter. A message that gets drowned out by endless bickering at town halls, mindless political pundits chattering at American dinner tables, the familiar sounds of video games, or by the deafening silence some kids hear when they are completely ignored by their parents. Values voters talk incessantly about values, but cannot stand it when someone lives up to them. Let President Obama address the youth of this nation and challenge them as all Presidents, Republican and Democrat, have done before. Our youth deserve and need the attention.
When I was six years old, George H.W. Bush was elected President. I remember running down the stairs in our house cheering and my brother who was seven crying because Dukakis lost. I did not know who either man was much less their platforms. Four years later I wrote in my school journal that I wanted Bill Clinton elected President in 1992 because he built homes for people after hurricane Andrew hit Florida and a month or two after that I wrote that I thought Ross Perot the best candidate because my father liked him. The point is that we as adults are entrusted with the development of the next generation of Americans. The current inflammatory partisanship is not healthy for us and is something that we cannot pass on; this cannot be our legacy.
“Let me leave you with a simple message: Every time you walk through that classroom door, make it your mission to get a good education. Don’t do it just because your parents, or even the President, tells you. Do it for yourselves. Do it for your future. And while you’re at it, help a little brother or sister to learn, or maybe even Mom or Dad. Let me know how you’re doing. Write me a letter — and I’m serious about this one — write me a letter about ways you can help us achieve our goals. I think you know the address.” –President George H.W. Bush’s concluding remarks to school children across America, October 1991.