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Brutish and Brainless
Obama School Speech Cranks

The Big Babies are at it again. This time it’s over President Obama’s planned speech to schoolchildren on Tuesday. Parents are complaining about the president indoctrinating their children, principals and teachers are complaining about him taking up class time, talk-show hosts are complaining about Obama not doing this often enough so they’d have more ado about nothing to bash him over the head with. Are you flopping kidding me? Is this what it’s coming to—Obama sneezing and right-wingers declaring a swine flu emergency in response?


Floridian parents are particularly swinish about the speech. No surprise there. Floridians think education is learning to calculate a tax cut. Elderly Floridians are too selfish to care about anything more than keeping government off of their Medicare (being Floridians, their awareness of Medicare being a government program is deficient). Younger Floridians wouldn’t know a child’s future from a 14-year-old’s pregnancy. I’m generalizing of course. The state isn’t overrun by the backward, the back-assed and the Baptist. But close: look at the state’s budget for education, among the lowest, per capita, in the nation. Look at the drop-out rate. Close to tops in the nation. And in a nice bit of relational data, Florida also happens to have the second-largest proportion of uninsured people in the country after Pecos country ( Texas).

This from the Orlando Sentinel:

“Seminole County parent Steffani Martino, whose daughter is a student at Lyman High in Longwood, said she might have her teenager skip school Tuesday. “I don’t side with anything Obama agrees with,” Martino said. “I don’t trust him.” She and her husband teach their daughter their values and beliefs on current issues. “I don’t believe the school or President Obama has a right to do that,” she added.”

These are the parents, these are the people—I shudder to so slander the word people—who are objecting to Obama taking up fifteen minutes’ time on Tuesday to kick off the school year. But this is what the shout-show culture of Hannities and Limbaughs and O'Reillies and Becks was bound to do to discourse: devolve it into segmented, nugget-size raving fit for the brute and the brainless. Bigotry, in this case, is the added bonus (viz., those signs that say “go home to Kenya ”).

I’ll admit: a president speaking to the nation’s schoolchildren is smarmy. It’s vulgar. It’s somewhere between cultish and pretentious. But in the scheme of things, and considering that this president actually knows his English, his history and his poise—three qualities most English teachers can’t guarantee their students—it’s better than every other time-wasting “activity” schools impose on children with hammer-headed regularity.

Not a week passes without classes being interrupted for one inane assembly or another. I don’t mean the usual time-wasting indoctrinations about drugs or alcohol or not dropping out or not falling in with the wrong crowd or the most voracious genitals. All that brackish noise has become the surveillance-camera rhetoric of every public and private institution in the country, for children and grownups. It’s the price we pay for living in a puritanical society that deludes itself into thinking that moralizing behavior could possibly improve it (it does the opposite).

I mean the bogus “presentations” by “esteemed members of the community” posing as educational assemblies that fill cafeterias and auditoriums more reliably than subtropical cockroach migrations. Depending on your principal’s ideological leanings, you’ll get pastors and preachers posing as moral mentors, Chamber of Commerce types posing as career advisors, law enforcement goons posing as law enforcement pals, warmongers and veterans posing as foreign policy mavens, and of course school-grown productions pushing rabid nationalism and chest-beating triumphalism as a form of patriotism (on your 9/11 and Veterans Day occasions and the like). All this always interrupting the school day for about three or four times the 15 minutes Obama plans to speak, and for fifteen times less the value.

Have I mentioned the stupidest things of all—the morning “news” piped in by satellite from Channel One or CNN for kids or even schools’ own epic announcements by principals who love to hear themselves talk? Obama’s speech will have the advantage of being piped in to each classroom, and teachers, whose judgment alone deserves respect in all this (most teachers knowing more than most parents, principals and lawmakers combined what’s good for children, unfortunately), will decide at their own discretion whether to use the off button or not.

But spare me the ideological idiocy. If parents are worried about what Obama’s fifteen minutes might do to their child, they’ve got their head where their colonoscopy should be regarding the effects on their child of the other four and a half hours of what’s left of the part-time school day. Day after interrupted day. Too bad Obama is addressing the wrong set of children on Tuesday.

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