Thursday, September 10, 2009

School's Back

"Today one of our spelling words was duo," my son began telling us over dinner (baked trout, zucchini soufflé, and Greek salad).

"Dual?" I asked.

"No - du-o.  So we tried to come up with some famous duos."

We chewed our salad expectantly, waiting to hear which duos he might mention.  Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, perhaps?  

"People had a lot of ideas. Mary Kate and Ashley.  Mario and Luigi. Lewis and Clark."

We stopped munching for a second and looked at him.

"Oh, and of course Calvin and Hobbes," he finished, popping a lettuce leaf into his mouth.

Ah, fourth grade.  The halcyon days.  


These were my favorite passages from President Obama's back-to-school speech:

"Every single one of you has something you're good at.  Every single one of you has something to offer.  And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is.  That's the opportunity an education can provide...What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country..."

"At the end of the day, the circumstances of your life - what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you've got going on at home - that's no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude.  That's no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school.  That's no excuse for not trying.  Where you are right now doesn't have to determine where you'll end up.  No one's written your destiny for you.  Here in America, you write your own destiny."

"That's why today, I'm calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education - and to do everything you can to meet them.  Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book...Maybe you'll decided to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn."

and the part I loved most of all:

"You can't let your failures define you - you have to let them teach you...Don't be afraid to ask questions.  Don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it.  I do that every day.  Asking for help isn't a sign of weakness, it's a sign of strength...And even when you're struggling, even when you're discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you - don't ever give up on yourself."

Amen, Mr. President.  I hope our young people and their parents had the wisdom and respect to be open-minded enough to listen to this patently NON-ideological, NON-self-aggrandizing, very important, very worthwhile message delivered in a speech that, as advertised, and contrary to the paranoid predictions and vociferous preconceived notions of a frenzied, irrational, prejudiced, lie-fomenting right wing, stayed right on topic about the value of education.


Kim said...

The speech part of it didn't bother me so much b/c they gave parents the choice, and the draft of the speech was available to read ahead of time. The way some of the original questions were worded on the curriculum that teachers could use, did alarm me...and I could see how people would misinterpret what Obama was trying to do. Some of the original questions were poorly written or else someone would not have went back and reworded them. As far as the knee-jerk partisan reactions to all that was going on...yeah...a bunch of it was ludicrous. However, there were some of us that watched thoughtfully. I think the biggest peeve of mine, as a parent, is when someone that I do not know talks to my child or gives unsolicited advice that I did not give the "ok" for. I think it was the "idea" of him giving the speech to kids and the not knowing all of what the speech was going to entail that made people scared. Then, there are people who have disliked Obama from the beginning just like there were many people who disliked Bush in the beginning. People didn't want someone they disliked talking to their children. It may have gotten totally out of hand, but I think the matter of choice was the matter at hand for we the sane people. In the end that wasn't even an issue though and the speech was good. I just think the name calling on both sides is silly...both sides were ready to kill eachother before communication or understanding really took place.

T. said...

Here's my take from what I saw on discussions in the media, the blogosphere, and my personal facebook account:

I think it was dishonest and ridiculous to attack this speech with all the lies and propaganda used prior to its delivery.

No one hurled comparably SEDITIOUS gargage at Bush and Reagan when THEY spoke to school children and gave THEM "advice." I agree with a lot of the advice Bush gave - eat with your families, don't do drugs, stay in school, etc. I have no problem hearing that from ANY president.

It is a president's DUTY as a LEADER, in fact, to call on people to do right by their country. This is NOT "unsolicited advice;" it's what any GOOD leader should be doing.

People can try to claim otherwise, but I think there's still an awful lot of racism in this country, and I think the knee-jerking you mention stems from that, conscious or unconscious.

Isabelle said...

I'm very puzzled about how extreme some people's reactions can be about Obama...
Some seem to forget that he is the President of the United States and act as if he were a terrible dictator!
I have to agree about racism here (admited or not), because I can't see any other valid explanation.

Kim said...

Actually, Bush did receive a lot of heat about his speech. If I recall correctly, I believe there may have been a hearing afterwards discussing the money it took to deliver that speech as well. The democrats also said (also, interestingly enough...a few Republicans) that Bush was giving his speech to push his political progaganda. Sound familiar? I do believe that racism is definitely a part of the mix that caused this stirring. However, there were A LOT of people who had qualms with him delivering a speech for entirely different reasons. I do agree that it is important for a leader to address the nation's future (the kids). This type of situation would probably happen no matter who the leader is. I am one of those skeptics and it is b/c I am more right-wing than left-wing. It's also b/c Obama is very liberal....more liberal than I'm comfortable with. I am very wary of what I allow to enter the eyes and ears of my children. In this case, there was nothing to worry about in the end.

T. said...

Of course not. He may be very liberal, but he loves this country and its children, and I do believe he wants and intends the very best for both.

The only people who expected to have to worry so much were those who were working themselves up into a mob-like hate-fest in the culture of fear and hate perpetrated by the extreme and close-minded right-wing - thankfully, a way of thinking I would never associate with you, Dalilah.

Instead, from your writings and emails, which I've appreciated immensely, I associate you with qualities such as an incisive intellect, a willingness to consider a balanced perspective, and an ability to express disagreement with both honesty and respect.

Isabelle said...

@Dalilah: you write "Obama is very liberal....more liberal than I'm comfortable with".

Could you explain to me (I'm French and not very at ease with the liberal/conservative ideas) what very liberal means and why you're not comfortable with it?

Kim said...

Dearest T., this is why it is so easy for us to talk, why I love to talk with you and love your blog. We can see things differently but still be civilized. (smiles) Wouldn't it be great if we could all just get along? lol. I love being able to see different points of view. I hate that things tend to be so black and white to people and I hate that people dismiss others even if they're in the grey area just a little. This whole situation makes me think of the blog I wrote recently, "Will it affect eternity?". I still truly think if people would just look at things in a different way, that we could get past the nonsense and start actually getting some things accomplished in this country....the world even.

Kim said...

Hi Isabelle, I'd be happy to explain. It's not that I'm not ok with liberalism...I believe in it. However, I believe there are two different kinds of liberal regarding politics. The kind that I'm against is centralized government control and bureaucracy while remaining liberal in terms of social issues. This is what I'm uncomfortable with and this is the kind of "liberal" that I am talking about in the last comment I gave. Once upon a time, being liberal meant embracing ideas such as capitalism, free trade, and a free market...while morals were still rooted firm in most of society IMO. Now pornography and abortion are at the top of the list of debation of personal freedoms...personal freedoms that I believe hurt our country (amongst other things). I do not judge anyone who feels differently than I do...just wish we could come to a middle ground with things.

SpeducatorLVC said...

Dalilah: Like you, I think there are too many facets to political liberalism/ conservatism to comfortably stick to one label when describing myself. I wish I could say that I'm one of those "get government out of our lives" folk, and I used to be. But I think in order for that kind of system to really work, all of us need to put our money where our mouths are: if a person believes that government should stay small and that charitable/ private entities should help those in need (or the arts, or whatever)...then we have to support those entities with our dollars, talents, and time. Sadly, too many folks talk a good game about what they might do if they had a smaller tax burden, but forget easily when taxes are frozen or rolled back. Our society isn't as altruistic as we'd like to believe...we do need government to step in an make us do the right thing. Sadly, in order to feed the hungry and care for those in need, we must also accept causes we may not support also find funding.

What initially prompted me to post, however, was your first post here regarding Obama's speech to students. I absolutely agree with T. that the heart of all those knee-jerk reactions was racism encapsulated in political partisanship.

Regardless of how anyone voted, it's a simple fact that he IS the President, he IS a well-educated, intelligent man, and he has a lot to offer students from a wide variety of backgrounds. Of course he should speak to our nation's children and set expectations for them. What this government does now lays the foundation for their future world, so he should invite their voices and minds into the conversation.

As far as your "peeve," (and I sincerely mean no disrespect), our children are bombarded EVERY waking moment with messages from people we don't know and don't ok, unless one lives without malls, television, radio, books, or schools.

No matter how small and intimate the school setting, unless you're home-schooling, you can't know all of the teachers your children will have. Or the guest speakers. Without reading every textbook and participating in discussions in your kids' classrooms, you can't know the subtle messages that come across.

Most teachers -- myself among them -- try to keep their own views out of the classroom, but it's not always possible. Simply by wearing a wedding ring or an earring, students make assumptions about what we do and believe, whether we intend it or not.

Moreover, and far more dangerous in my opinion, are the messages our kids get from media and ads. Look at the displays in the malls: what is Abercrombie or Victoria's Secret telling your children about how they should look, what they should want, how they should behave. Songs on the radio, actors on television, all convey scary messages for youngsters: violence is okay, be numb to it. Women should be emaciated and silent. Real men only like brutality and sports, not music or art. We all should want THINGS more than morals, and nothing or no one should stand in the way of our own gratification...

I'm sorry for the rant, but I encourage you to take the same cautious watchfulness when it comes to the messages of our society. Too bad parents and media aren't as worked up about the truly frightening messages our kids get from these sources as about Obama's speech. Perhaps we'd all be grateful for a man who stands before our young people to tell them to take responsibility for their own futures, to work hard, and that the real grown-ups in the world have expectations for them.

T. said...

SpeducatorLVC - I agree with your well-written "rant" entirely.

I'd only venture to add that even with home-schooling you can't control every outside influence that might, as you say, bombard kids with subtle messages. But more potentially insidious, I think, are messages they might get from us parents. Yes, us (speaking for myself too).

For example, when they see us wrinkle our noses at certain things, or roll our eyes, or shake our heads. If we're shaking our heads at things like violence, materialism, and racism, that's one thing; but if we're rolling our eyes at the President of the United States - what does that say? It's okay to disagree, or it's okay to DISRESPECT? There's a fine line...

And there's a flip side. Exposing our kids to ideas different from our own can enlarge their intellect and teach them to think for themselves (though of course, if any parent's ideas about kids' educational priorities differed from the ideas expressed in the President's speech, I'd have some serious concerns about those parents...).

I'm especially cautious about being my kids' teacher when I myself am not sure about a question they've asked, or don't have a fully formed opinion, knowing I could be dead wrong about a lot of things. For this reason, too, other voices can be valuable.

Kim said...

Hi Speducator, I started out by replying to you on here but then I realized how long winded I was being so I made my reply a blog. I apologize ahead of time for being long winded. I'm not a great writer and sometimes I tend to prattle, but hopefully I will get my point across without being too annoyingly wordy. :)
Here it is:

Brian said...

Speducator and T,

You are both spot on about the messages of all kinds that bombard kids 24/7. It would be nice to see all these parents so upset about their kids being subjected to Obama's 'indoctrination', 'socialism', 'fascism' or whatever pay equal attention to the violence and smut purveyed on their video games and regular TV fare, and to the possible 'indoctrination' into their own narrow-minded views.