Mr. President Goes Back to School: A Controversial Issue? by Adam Baldwin 8 Sep 2009 post a comment Share This: Today, President Obama delivers his speech to American students after several days of controversy due to its companion U.S. Department of Education (ED) Lesson Plan. Count me among those who find a U.S. President delivering a speech to students--especially one encouraging them towards academic responsibility and excellence as a means to productive adult citizenship--among the more innocuous, and potentially beneficial activities of the Office. Appreciating yesterday’s early release of President Obama’s speech and having now read it in context, I would heartily maintain that opinion, were it not for the ED’s controversial lesson plan. FYI: Part I, Sec. 1905 of the ED’s General Provisions: ELEMENTARY & SECONDARY EDUCATION states: PROHIBITION AGAINST FEDERAL MANDATES, DIRECTION, OR CONTROL: Nothing in this title shall be construed to authorize an officer or employee of the Federal Government to mandate, direct, or control a State, local educational agency, or school’s specific instructional content, academic achievement standards and assessments, curriculum, or program of instruction. That raises some questions: Is what the White House and ED submitted to teachers merely a suggestion for a lesson plan, or is it considered a mandated part of the curriculum? If it is mandated at the school level, will districts potentially lose any NCLB funding if the lesson plan is not completed? If not, can schools still mandate students to participate in the lesson plan? If so, at what cost--in both classroom hours and subsequent elimination of otherwise state-mandated curriculum--will be the result of the ED's lesson plan? Is the lesson plan in any way controversial? (A rhetorical question.) If a district unilaterally deems it uncontroversial, will the district automatically be exempting itself from any laws requiring equal time for varying viewpoints? Are Districts legally and/or ethically required to establish and enforce standardized criteria on how teachers shall base their decision to show the speech and implement the lesson plan? Will written consent be required from parents prior to any future screenings of the president's address and/or participation in the lesson plan? If teachers do show the speech and use the lesson plan, how will the teachers present them in a consistent, district-wide manner? Obviously, controversy stems from the message, not the messenger. Ideological and political partisanship and "cult of personality" persuasions aside, once duly elected, who the President is is not controversial in and of itself. Nevertheless, what a President says may indeed be controversial, especially when addressed to a captive audience of ideologically and politically naïve youths. The trouble with all this arose because the materials in the ED’s lesson plan are an integral part of the president’s message, and the fact that it has already been necessarily revised (post-dissemination) proves it was in fact controversial. That the ED and its recipient, undoubting education professionals do not seem to appreciate this distinction (and parents' natural concerns) perhaps illustrates how the quest for intellectual conformity in public education--not to mention this particular predetermination to accept a federal government lesson plan–exemplifies a pervasive and discriminatory injustice that runs contrary to all pretense to freedom of conscience, speech and thought in modern academia. Debates are fairly presented when opposing views are inherently present in the debate. Therefore, congratulations and thanks, Mr. President. Your speech and its ED lesson plan have inspired ‘schoochildren’ [sic] and our body politic to further, fairly and openly address controversial subject matters and debate them in the arena of ideas. Or, as Jonah Goldberg once profoundly wrote: “Unity Is Overrated: What's so bad about partisanship?” But, if there is one thing that is certainly uncontroversial in the president’s speech today, it is his close to our Nation’s students: “God bless you, and God bless America.” May God bless you Mr. President.