Education & Academia

Obama as ‘Dear Leader’

Failing miserably in his quest to convince America’s grown-ups of the virtues of government-run health care, President Obama has set his sights on a much more captive audience: the millions of children embarking on another year in America’s often dismal government-run schools.

The White House says the president’s address to students next Tuesday is supposed to “inspire” and challenge them to “work hard, set educational goals and take responsibility for their learning.”  

Obama’s speech, to be broadcast live on the White House’s website, will be by the administration’s own admission an unprecedented event.  As Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, stated in a directive to teachers and administrators: 

“This is the first time an American president has spoken directly to the nation’s school children about persisting and succeeding in school. We encourage you to use this historic moment to help your students get focused and begin the school year strong. I encourage you, your teachers, and students to join me in watching the President deliver this address on Tuesday, September 8, 2009.”

Most disturbing is that the White House has collaborated with the Department of Education to distribute a study guide to accompany the speech.  The guide is chalk full of writing assignments for students, including an instruction for students to write a letter to themselves about what they can do to help President Obama.  

For kids in grades seven through twelve, the study guide suggests teachers prepare by excerpting quotes from Obama’s speeches on education for their students to contemplate questions like “Why does President Obama want to speak with us today?” As well as “How will he inspire us?” And “How will he challenge us?”

Faced with intense protest of the heavy-handed propaganda-laden event, the White House has now backed off some of its earlier plans. But what worries many parents is its willingness to violate the parent-child relationship for political purposes.

The Obama administration’s latest stunt is another indication of its authoritarian impulse. Last month, the White House instructed citizens to inform it of “fishy” information about the president’s healthcare reform proposals (a brazen attempt to smother free speech for which the administration is now being sued). Last week, Obama appointed to a high position in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) a man who has spoken out in admiration of Hugo Chavez and his assault on a free press in Venezuela.  

Obama’s arrogant forcing of himself onto impressionable children seems eerily similar to the forced worship that children in authoritarian regimes must offer up to their "dear leaders."

Time and time again Barack Obama has violated the unspoken rules of American political leadership and exploited the power of the White House in pursuit of his own goals.  Why is it that this administration has such a difficult time understanding that in a democratic republic most areas of life ought to be free from the long arm of government?  

Whether it is proposing health care reforms that place government bureaucrats between you and your doctor or recruiting students to do the president’s bidding, the administration displays instincts more reminiscent of Latin American “strong men” than for a nation defined by robust liberty and personal freedom.

Obama’s address, according to the White House, is an effort to inspire scholastic achievement.  But the study guide looks more like an effort to recruit Democratic supporters.  

As a former Undersecretary of Education, I have seen firsthand the results of the Left’s long record of politicizing the classroom. Public school textbooks are dripping with anti-Semitic and anti-Christian bias. And in recent years concerted efforts by Muslim pressure groups have produced textbooks that convey white-washed historical accounts of Islam.  Meanwhile, kids in states that have adopted same sex marriage are being read story books extolling the joys of homosexual “love.”

It’s not only the textbooks that are the problem.  Last year, a San Francisco teacher took her first grade students on a field trip to city hall to attend her gay “marriage.”  

The politicization of the classroom helps explain why government-run education is hemorrhaging students to private schools and homeschooling. One and a half million American children are now taught in the home, and homeschooling has been growing at 7 percent a year for the last decade, according to estimates from the Department of Education.

Another reason so many students are fleeing public education is that each year our students’ academic performance falls further behind that of students in other countries. According to estimates from 2007, 70 percent of American 8th graders cannot read at grade level, and most will never catch up.  More than one million students drop out of high school every year.

The most damning indictment of our government-run system was made by the president himself when he decided to send his two daughters not to the local D.C. public school but to Sidwell Friends School, a pricey and prestigious private school.  

Sadly, no other D.C. kids will get the same opportunity as the Obama girls.  In May, President Obama and congressional liberals terminated a voucher program that offered poor District of Columbia children funding to attend a private or parochial school in their area.  The superintendent-in-chief’s opposition to school choice is not surprising given how much he owes the teachers’ unions, which spent millions to get him elected.  

Next Tuesday is the first day of school for many children. But Barack Obama’s latest stunt underscores what everyone already knows: nothing important is ever taught on the first day of school.

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