Contrary to all reason and common sense, several Presidents of the United States have sought to address schoolchildren at the commencement of the school year. President Obama is today just the latest to have eagerly seized on such an opportunity.
The President was overzealous in his initial plans to enlist members of his audience as personal aides in promoting his agenda by inviting students to write about how they might “help the President.” The resulting furor, attributed by the media to his detractors, Republicans, and conservatives, was largely regarded as “no big deal” by Obama supporters, Democrats, liberals, and of course, most of the media. Obama’s revised, prepared remarks were toned down considerably with the final version focused on encouraging personal responsibility among individual students.
There are many appropriate words to describe the entire spectacle, but one of them is, without a doubt in my mind, “sick”. The US public school system is ailing and has been criticized from many quarters for years, with the current President among its recent critics. Instead of addressing the root of the problem however, Americans have been presented with another politically-motivated publicity stunt.
Fundamentally, there are several reasons why the President of the United States should have nothing to do with addressing schoolchildren en masse, three of which are considered here.
First, education is a parental responsibility. It is part of child rearing. Children need to learn to read and to think for themselves. Learning mathematics and language composition skills is an aid in advancing the ability to think independently. The common complaint among the consumers of the products of public school systems (employers primarily), particularly in the US, is that graduates are ridiculously weak in these fundamentals. Before learning the jobs they are hired to perform, they have to first learn how to learn.
Aside from the colossal failure of public education on that score, it has cost the parents and other taxpayers increasingly large sums to sustain the increasingly inefficient and underperforming system. That the President should step up to promote an “improved” operation of this farcical institution is itself absurd.
Secondly, the act of the US President taking such a role promotes the growing cult of the presidency. Obama’s speech made numerous references to him personally and included one as well for the First Lady. Over one-half of the paragraphs used “I” in making points. The US Presidency is increasingly a royal one, with nearly three dozen “czars” serving at the pleasure of the President, a royal court as it were. Much has been written about this tendency of the Executive to centralize power, the opposite extreme of what was intended by the Founders in seeking independence from King George III.
The President of the United States is a citizen executive with an administrative function, and is elected to serve the citizens in that capacity. That’s the principle that has been circumvented over the years since 1776 and it is dangerous in the extreme. Concentration of power will ultimately lead to tyranny. The ideologically stunted media, instead of raising such issues for public consideration, has become a public relations advocacy for the President’s program.
Finally, the ridiculous event of today serves only to highlight how far the US social system has deteriorated. Few presidents have sought as much as Obama to take more personal responsibility away from individual members of society in areas of healthcare, automobile manufacturing, banking, insurance, energy production, and of course, education. It is embarrassingly ironic to ask kids at school to take personal responsibility for anything in this context, even as any practical incentive to perform has been taken away from them and now rests in the hopes and dreams of the Imperial President. The education system has been controlled to such a degree at the central government level that generations of practical “illiterates” exist. The parents of today’s kids don’t know any better as they are products of the same mind-numbing system. The teachers don’t for the same reasons. The administrators don’t. The teacher unions have another focus altogether, as apparently does the US President, aided and abetted it seems, by a largely tolerant, compliant and enabling media.
I recently heard Thomas Sowell, the economist and social commentator, responding to a question on radio from Walter Williams. The latter is another well-regarded academic, who asked Sowell about this issue of a US president addressing the children. Although it was on radio, I could visualize him shaking his head sagely as he responded with bewilderment and annoyance. His words were to the effect, “Why is it that all of these aspiring tyrants want to get at the schoolchildren?” The answer of course is to be found in the attempt to indoctrinate, to get at them while they are young, impressionable and compliant. The relationship between the individual and the State is a delicate one to balance. It is the unaware, the unthinking, and the dependent that are fostered by such efforts to indoctrinate. As adults they often end up serving the needs of the State by default. Combined with the growing concentration of power in the Executive Branch the situation is, I repeat, dangerous in the extreme.
©Copyright 2009 Edward Podritske