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SEPTEMBER 7, 2009 10:17AM

Dear Mr. Principal: It's About Critical Thinking. (Updated)

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Our local school system is grappling with the "Obama speech problem," suggesting that perhaps they'll require permission slips for elementary students and leave middle and high school decisions up to the individual teachers. Amidst the droves of crazies in my town who are already storming around demanding that their precious children be protected from the Big Bad President, I wrote this letter to my son's middle school principal:

 ______________________________________________

Dear Mr. Rxxxx:

According to the official literature of Strongsville City Schools, [my son’s school's] mission, in addition to committing to academic excellence, purports to espouse a climate “built on the cornerstone of mutual respect.” It is in that spirit that I ask you to honor President Obama’s request to play his speech for your students this Tuesday, knowing that it will engender discussion not only about the content of his message—encouragement to value personal responsibility and education—but the controversy surrounding it.

The history of education in this country suggests a long-fought struggle over the goals of schooling: Are teachers meant to impart a given body of knowledge, or to nurture critical thinking? I have come to believe that their job entails a little bit of both. Sure, facts are stubborn things, but they can be interpreted myriad ways and through disparate lenses. Please let our middle schoolers know you respect both them and our country’s president by letting them hear his ideas, put them into the context of what they have already learned about the world, and come to their own conclusion.

I am not interested in sending my son to obedience school, where the expectation is knee-jerk compliance toward community or even my own values. Your job is to move him toward an evaluation of the facts on the ground and the application of the principles of autonomy and reason, an endeavor that would be impossible without the primary evidence of the speech itself. Please do the right thing.

Lainey XXXX

(Mother of XXX, 7th grade)

PS: Hiding behind the kind of legal proceduralism that would require parental signatures for such a self-evidently upstanding occasion as a president speaking to the children of his country is cowardly and, worse, an abdication of your duty to foster independent thinking. The very act of suggesting something untoward about the speech or the man is itself prejudicial. Your teachers should show the speech live, and you should support them wholeheartedly. Not a single parent, teacher, administrator, or child need agree with the president’s politics for this to be the clear decision of an enlightened school administrator.

PPS I would like to hear from you about how you plan to proceed on this matter.

______________________________________________

UPDATE:

It occurs to me that my post and others dealing with the Obama school speech issue are not addressing the particular point that my conservative friends insist is the heart of the matter: that a lesson plan accompanying the press release about the speech included this suggestion: The students should "Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals."

At a recent gathering a good friend of mine became emotionally wrought—her anger and frustration were palpable—whenever I  mentioned the inanity of keeping a sitting president from talking to school children about the importance of education. Through gritted teeth and an apparent heroic effort at restraint, she maintained, “It’s not about that. It’s about the letter.” She absolutely insisted that no such objection would have occurred had that lesson plan not been included. It’s important to note, by the way, that she and others seemed to have no idea what the lesson plan actually said and that it had been retracted. Most importantly, they didn't seem to know that it was one among many suggested lesson plans, and I wish I'd emphasized that. There were many, many questions and suggestions in those admittedly lame lesson plans, perhaps 40 or 50 when you counted the K-12 ones all together. It’s the cherry picking of that one that reveals something about the cherry picker. It’s naive to imagine that the absence of that single suggestion would have alleviated all this angst.

I made the mistake of musing about racism, suggesting that while I hated to throw that reductivism around lightly and had deliberately avoided it during the primary and national election campaigns, I couldn’t find a better explanation for the outsized reaction to the man himself and his so-far moderate policies, most of which aren’t even on paper yet. Unfortunately (and understandably, really), my friend heard me call her a racist and stopped engaging, other than to insist, yet again, that it was about that letter, which served to massage a “cult of personality,” a FOX-donated bumper sticker phrase if there ever was one.

When my friend wanted to know, “Why is it racism? Why can’t it just be that we don’t like the man?” I should have said that cherry picking to find a flaw can be done on anyone. Examining why a minor thread of arrogance or ineptness results in major outrage and teeth gnashing is the valuable and necessary question. I’m still not sure I’m comfortable using the word racism. I’m trying it out, but I have to admit that if Hilary were in his role right now I think we’d be seeing similarly disproportionate rage, albeit of a slightly different variety. We’d all be toying with the word sexism, I suppose. In the end, maybe it’s just extreme tribalism, the kind of partisanship that takes no prisoners.

So we really are talking around each other, my friend and I. When she thinks I'm missing the major point, that I and other liberals who claim to be confused by the mayhem are really disingenuously ignoring the real issue--that letter demanding that the narcissistic Obama's ego be massaged—we are in fact thinking that it's she who is missing the real point—What made them go looking for that silly lesson suggestion in the first place?

 

 

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Very nice, Lainey. I've suggested on another post that concerned parents might check school records to find visitors who have spoken in classrooms in the past; it used to be the case, for example, that police officers might visit to talk to children about respect for the law. Will this be the new standard--permission slips from parents for their children to listen to anyone aside from their teachers? I don't think school officials have thought this through.
Good job Lainey. This line "The very act of suggesting something untoward about the speech or the man is itself prejudicial." succinctly expresses my feelings about these people who object to our children watching a motivational speech by the President of our country. The outright lack of respect is also disgraceful. Arrggghhhh!
Hey Rob, that sounds like a good idea. But you know what? I wouldn't be surprised to find a whole system of permission slips for speakers. I've done some considerable research into the history of education, and the historian I've come to respect most is a guy named David Blacker, whose take on the self-protective bureaucracy of schools really resonates with me. From one of my papers, about what Blacker calls "liberal proceduralism," a hollow sort of administrative focus devoid of any substantive seeking of truth, lacking the spirit of inquiry espoused by Enlightenment thinkers:

Blacker suggests that while schools have rejected not only sectarian religious beliefs but almost all religious references, neither have they become a haven for the intellect, a place that allows for the free operation of the mind. Instead he sees a kind of “proceduralism run amok,” “an ever-thickening forest of fine-print legal notices, waivers, footnoted compilations of bylaws,” meant clearly as self-protection of the institution rather than for the purpose of promoting any kind of Enlightenment ideals of autonomy and reason. Although he acknowledges that the liberal values of fair play and equality are readily apparent in the operation and commitment of schools today, organized around due process, they are often not more than, above all, an “efficacious strategy for ‘going along to get along.’”

As both a parent and school professional, I find his words profoundly true.
I applaud you for writing this letter and I hope others copy your example and point out how disrespectful it is for schools to behave in the way many seem to be behaving (ironically, the schools are acting sort of unruly about the whole thing).

best luck and I hope we'll find out how things go.
Oh. I didn't realize--that's sad. Is this a peculiarity of the American school system, or is it more general?
I appreciate your approach; I took a slightly different tack:
http://open.salon.com/blog/cejaxon/2009/09/07/protecting_elementary_school_kids_from_the_president

Maybe we could try to come up with a database of such complaints to refer our school administrators to, so they couldn't kid themselves about whether they have protected from "seeming" political -- whether they have wanted to or not, they are making a political decision & siding with dubious elements in our society.

Btw, in my district, the note about the schools' response was posted by the superintendent, not the individual principal, & given the response I got from my daughter's principal, I gather he objected to the superintendent's edict -- among other things, he hoped things would get more sane & we could broadcast next year's speech. So it might not be your principal's fault.
Hi Kelly! Yes, I had to throw that in somewhere because truly what upset me most were the casual references in the newspaper (where they spelled out how each district was going to handle the issue) to signatures and whether students were "mature" and could "handle it," and I kept thinking: This is what they do for R-rated movies or maybe educationally sound but graphic and disturbing images like in a Holocaust exhibit or something.
Bravo....Please share the reply with us.....

Rated....
Hi dolores--I'll be sure to let you know what happens.

cejaxon--In our district, the superintendent decided to let teachers decide on their own. I have heard along the grapevine that they are furious about that because they are already hearing from inflamed parents on both sides and don't know what to do. This is what I meant in my discussion with Rob. They don't seem to be worried about the kids' intellectual growth as much as finding the ground that relieves them most from attack. While I understand and sympathize with their dilemma, they must fall on the side of reason. It takes courage, and that's hard. Thanks for your comment!
great letter, great post. I am glad I live in liberal, normal New Paltz, NY, where they will just play the damn thing. Most kids will be a little bored, some will want to see what the fuss is about.

And I am grateful to all who fight this epidemic of fearful brainclay that oozes into public discussion, blocking common sense, drying out and ossifying real thinking.
Thanks, Ron. I will. :)
Well, that's a phrase I might steal, if you don't mind, Greg! I refer to "fearful brainclay." Says it all. My psychologist friend and neighbor says it is indeed fear that drives these people to a temporary loss of sanity. Something about the limbic system?
I love you get a response. I LOVED what Rob had to say and think he or you should write a post about that.... well done fellow Ohioan!
Good letter - it will be interesting to see how this plays out . . .
Hi cartouche and owl--thanks for stopping. Yes, we'll see.

At first I was annoyed that students would have to hear that this is controversial at all. But now I see it as an opportunity to discuss the actual controversy. A good teacher would ask, after the speech and discussion about its content: "Now I wonder why some parents didn't want you to see this?" Perhaps notions of fear or racism or godforbid policy would come up. And this is a bad thing? Maybe some kid, mirroring his parent, would say, "Because we don't want socialism." To which said good teacher could respond: "What is socialism, exactly? Let's look it up." After which Teacher could say, "Now, who knows what is in the health care reform bills? Oh, nobody? Well, let's look up some of the suggestions."

But none of this stuff will be on their standardized tests, so forget it. As you were.
cindy ross, wow. I would have had a hard time refuting the logic of that woman for the same reason you did, where to start.
My psychologist friend and neighbor says it is indeed fear that drives these people to a temporary loss of sanity. Something about the limbic system? - Lainey

Your friend didn't by any chance mention wtf these people are so afraid of ...

Excellent letter.
Excellent, excellent letter, Lainey -- If you're writing from Ohio, I wonder why your state was not listed with the original gang of 6? Makes me wonder how many other states are censoring the President.

"...the historian I've come to respect most is a guy named David Blacker, whose take on the self-protective bureaucracy of schools really resonates with me. From one of my papers, about what Blacker calls "liberal proceduralism," a hollow sort of administrative focus devoid of any substantive seeking of truth, lacking the spirit of inquiry espoused by Enlightenment thinkers:

"Blacker suggests that while schools have rejected not only sectarian religious beliefs but almost all religious references, neither have they become a haven for the intellect, a place that allows for the free operation of the mind. Instead he sees a kind of “proceduralism run amok,” “an ever-thickening forest of fine-print legal notices, waivers, footnoted compilations of bylaws,” meant clearly as self-protection of the institution rather than for the purpose of promoting any kind of Enlightenment ideals of autonomy and reason. Although he acknowledges that the liberal values of fair play and equality are readily apparent in the operation and commitment of schools today, organized around due process, they are often not more than, above all, an “efficacious strategy for ‘going along to get along.’”

What a perfect description of public schools...
Hey JK--Canada is looking better and better these days. There's just this one big lake I need to swim across if I need some immediate refuge. :)

Cindy: Yeah, and both Hitler and Obama have noses too. OMG, so did Stalin! (The idea that Obama, a black man for goodness sakes, is somehow the manifestation of both fascism and communism is just mind-bending).
Your update is more on target than your original post. Give a stay in school speech and that alone would have not brought forward any controversy. It was always about the lesson plan, particularly the questions that focused on getting Pre-K to 6th grade to ask what they should do to help the President.

To put yourself in your neighbor's shoes, all you have to do is imagine George W Bush sending out a lesson plan that asks kids to think about how to help him accomplish his goals. I guarantee that there would have been pushback from GWB's political opponents.

As it is, given that the White House has revised the lesson plan, it is clear they know they messed up.

I did post on this topic somewhat seriously, somewhat humorously a couple of days ago. LINK
Hi nerd cred, it's funny you should ask that. My neighbor deliberately backed away from that point, putting her hands up and saying, "They're reacting out of fear and I don't even want to know what is at the root of it."

Blue Roses--Thanks so much, and I'm going over to your post b/c I think you wrote about the same topic. In the meantime, the Gang of Six thing: Are you wondering about Voinovich who was in some other centrist gang a few years back? He's not on the finance committee so I think that's why he isn't part of the recent Gang of Six. I do have some hope for Voinovich, who is a moderate Republican. He's not running for re-election, which is even better. He can actually vote his conscience, and I think he's got some mental health issues in his family. I'm betting he's got a nuanced view on health care. I think I may go look it up.
I'm appalled at the number of school districts who are giving into these inane complaints. You are right to call your principal out about his response to the mayhem. It IS about critical thinking! Shouldn't students be allowed to form their own opinions? And what's the current craziness about requiring permission slips to hear the president speak? Is listening to the words of a black man in a position of power now in need of the same parental controls as viewing graphic images of the holocaust?

I will not live long enough for any of this to make sense to me. Thanks for your voice of reason.
McGarrett50 writes: Give a stay in school speech and that alone would have not brought forward any controversy. It was always about the lesson plan, particularly the questions that focused on getting Pre-K to 6th grade to ask what they should do to help the President.

I flat-out don't believe this. Republicans are so unhinged right now they'd have found something, anything, to object to. I'll offer two bits of support for this view. First, few if any of the people I've read lately objecting to the lesson plans have actually seemed to read them. (See here for an OS example; conservatives are not covering themselves with glory, much less intelligence, on this topic.) If anyone were to read the plans, they'd find that the post-speech lesson plan consists of a set of suggestions: Teachers could extend learning by having students... whatever. "Could" does not mean "must", and we might expect a lot of teachers simply to ignore the suggestions, without penalty, if they don't fit with the curriculum.

Second, when President George H. W. Bush talked to students nationwide, he said this: "Let me know how you're doing. Write me a letter -- and I'm serious about this one -- write me a letter about ways you can help us achieve our goals. I think you know the address." Are conservatives such subtle thinkers that they distinguish between Bush asking students for letters to him about ways students can help to achieve "our" (his administration's? the country's?) goals, and Obama asking students for letters to themselves about what they can do to help the President (i.e. the leader of the country)? Give me a f'ing break.

It's not about the lesson plan.
Hey McGarrett, You really demonstrate my point better even than I did in my update. It's like we're talking in circles, given the different focus of each side. The reason the left is ignoring that lesson plan is because they think it's just a convenient and transparent smoke screen for a misguided personal hatred of the man. Most of us simply do not believe your protestation that there wouldn't have been a fuss without that particular lesson plan. How do you respond to the fact that there were more than several questions? It was buried in a list of inane-beyond-words lesson suggestions. As an educator, my outrage is in the entire caboodle of stupidity that came out of the Dept. of Ed, not that one question.

As for putting on your moccasins, so to speak, I am appreciative of that sentiment and regularly practice it. The cult of personality thing rings home a little bit b/c I'm sensitive to the presence of someone like Kim Jong Il around town in NK. But I'm not sure you or most people realize how often the president is in the classrooms of America. In the last 8 years as a substitute teacher I taught several lessons around George Bush as President, including pictures, speeches, and events described in TIME FOR KIDS, a ubiquitous presence in every American classroom. Furthermore, I've used GWB as the current example of the executive branch when I taught government. I was always neutral and played the professional. My son remembers when his public school showed GWB speaking at the church after 9/11 and a different son remembers distinctly being asked to "help the president" collect up money for the Afghan children--Remember that? GWB was in classrooms in person around the country all the time. I really don't think the response we're seeing about Obama is even close to proportional to that.
I'm willing to bet that if he gave the speech (anyone read it, btw? Very good, very hard to imagine how it could be controversial http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/09/07/obama-speech-to-schoolchi_n_278763.html) & hadn't offered lesson plans, THAT would have been the alleged cause for controversy.

Look, who stirred up all these folks anyway? My schoolboard was apparently inundated with complaints by Thursday & I hadn't even heard of the "controversy" until Sat. Don't tell me that that many folks read the Dept. of Education's websites so religiously. When the very conservative Oakland [county MI] Press interviewed fair goers on this topic, they couldn't find a single parent who objected, nor even the principal of a conservative private school. I question how many of those who complained to the schoolboard were even parents -- I signed my name & specified the schools my children attended & cc'd principals who knew me personally -- bet some number of the others were astroturf who didn't.
I think the whole "cult of personality" slam is really just code for, "He's popular! People like him! Kids like him! What can we do???? I know... we'll compare him to Stalin! Hitler! Kim Jung Il!"

I keep listening to friends here who buy into this stuff, and what I'm hearing, over and over, is fear.
I'm willing to bet that if he gave the speech (anyone read it, btw? Very good, very hard to imagine how it could be controversial http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/09/07/obama-speech-to-schoolchi_n_278763.html) & hadn't offered lesson plans, THAT would have been the alleged cause for controversy.

Look, who stirred up all these folks anyway? My schoolboard was apparently inundated with complaints by Thursday & I hadn't even heard of the "controversy" until Sat. Don't tell me that that many folks read the Dept. of Education's websites so religiously. When the very conservative Oakland [county MI] Press interviewed fair goers on this topic, they couldn't find a single parent who objected, nor even the principal of a conservative private school. I question how many of those who complained to the schoolboard were even parents -- I signed my name & specified the schools my children attended & cc'd principals who knew me personally -- bet some number of the others were astroturf who didn't.
Well, Rob, since you "flat-out don't believe this" then I won't waste your time exposing you to a differing view.

Lainey, again, I have not seen/heard anyone argue that no mention or appearance of sitting Presidents should be made in school. As you point out, to teach about American government, you almost have to mention who current political leaders are.

One difference here is that the communication is initiated by the White House. Vigilocanis (sic) has posted that when GHW Bush did this in 1991, Democrats criticized him.

Second, to your GWB example, I think there is a difference between a President asking students to give a dollar to help children in a war zone and a President asking students to help him personally.

Lastly, if the original lesson plan was innocuous, then they would not have needed to change it. It certainly appears they had one intention before they got called on it and then changed their tactic after getting caught.
Hi Lisa--I know. "Let's see, we need some parental signatures for failing test grades, the class trip to the Holocaust museum, the Fun Friday R-rated movie, and, OH YEAH, the president speaking on CSPAN." It's really demoralizing.

Thanks for your input again, Rob. I agree completely.

cejaxon--hi again--the simple answer to your question: Glenn Beck. He is the one name mentioned by the friends standing in my kitchen two nights ago. "Glenn Beck said..."
McGarrett, you are making a huge assumption about why the 'lesson plan' was changed. When I was a teacher, I changed my plans frequently, not because they were bad or wrong, but just because the reflected better what I really intended to do, or because I was a little more clear in my thinking, or because I realized that I couldn't adequately do what I had originally planned to do.

People do this all the time. Plans change because there is a need to change them. There's nothing nefarious about it. It's just a fact of the planning process.
Hi McGarrett, thanks for coming back.

1. I actually said the same thing as Rob, just a little nicer, when I said Most of us simply do not believe your protestation that there wouldn't have been a fuss without that particular lesson plan. I don't mean to suggest that you or others are lying; I mean to say that I genuinely believe you (and they) would be grabbing for whatever hand grip (think rock climbing) will get you up that mountain but that you don't see all those other hand grips out there and think that just this one you've latched on to is and should be the obvious focus and route up. Golly that was strained. Sorry.

2. Neither am I hearing anyone make the case that presidents in general shouldn't visit classrooms. But I am hearing people making specific arguments about Obama visiting the classroom (virtually), and they don't all center around that lesson plan. The Plain Dealer quotes some as saying they don't want that socialist indoctrinating their kids and other uninformed nonsense with no mention whatsoever of that particular lesson plan, which, again, was quickly retracted.

3. Which brings me to your point about the WH acknowledging its "inartful" wording and taking that one stupid question back. You portray this negatively or as though it indicates hypocrisy, but I ask you, Who is calling that original lesson plan innocuous? I have made it clear that I think it was stupid in every way. Even if my larger point is that the bulk of the lesson plans were a minor mistake (similar to innocuous), it's certainly traditional for politicians to retract things that they think are innocuous or misinterpreted just to mitigate political damage. The WH may see it as innocuous in the educational way but harmful in the political way.

4. If you read all the lesson plans, knowing where and precisely how the extracted one fit in (I did all that), it's clear that the question didn't relate to helping Obama personally. I read it more as "helping the President keep us in school" kind of thing. You know, helping the President by prioritizing education. It is the only way that question made sense given the additional goal-keeping requirement. It's really not substantially different from the Afghanistan thing.

5. You're right that Dems objected to Bush I's speech. If I remember correctly, it was on funding grounds, like "Who's going to pay for it?" Stupid then, too, I agree.
Excellent. I am a public school teacher, and we need people like you supporting us. Thank you!
I changed my *submitted* lesson plans on a regular, almost daily basis. Why? Because students veered the discussion toward topics that had me teaching off of the seat of my pants for that day. It's called "Extending" the lesson.
Hi Annette! What you say about the cult of personality is interesting. One certainly couldn't imagine it ever being applied to McCain! Maybe you're right and it amounts to nothing more than jealousy about the coolness of the president. All of which makes me wonder if Republicans had a similar thought whenever Democrats accused them of wanting to have a beer with George Bush. As flawed as he was, George W. Bush was "cooler" than both Al Gore and John Kerry. And I mean cool in the way that kids mean cool, of course. It's hard to describe or quantify, and I don't think GWB had a lot of it; just that it didn't take a lot to beat Kerry or Gore in that department.
This, the update, makes the best thing you ever posted, and the deepest glimpse yet into who you are, Lainey. I am impressed with it as writing, how you urge these ideas to the fore while ignoring whether any one phrase is more or less about You.

It is the sense of real deliberative discussion, of un-pompous self-questioning, that escapes so many of us here, when we attempt this. Perhaps one secret is the motivation of your update/self-edit: you want to get this right.

And it's a big thing to get right. The administration is doing a good thing, and made an error. If seeing it that way gives cover to some to back off their edging into racism, to see "our' side give a little, so be it -- and nuance has value yet again. Well-done, very, very well-done.
Hi Stephen and sweetfeet, thanks for stopping by. And Cindy, Rob, and Blue Roses for hanging out here a little bit. You're all right about lesson plans, though. I always did them after the fact. But don't tell anybody. (shhh).
Well thunk out as usual, Lainey.
Thanks, Greg, for the high praise. As if anything coming from you wasn't high. (hee hee--you know what I mean). I do try to get it right. Sometimes I feel alienated living in such conservative territory and want nothing else than to walk down the street of a virtual Open Salon community of friends (or, you know, New York City) and have the same opinion as everybody else. No, actually I mean that I want everybody else to have the same opinion as me. But in the larger picture, I think it's a gift to be forced into the mental gyrations of seeing the other side.

Hi Hells Bells--thank you!
Everyone has already said it, but thanks Lainey for walking the walk here. It isn't easy to challenge the system this way, but each letter of this kind pushes back at the ignorance and prejudice that has sprung up this summer.
Well, Rob, since you "flat-out don't believe this" then I won't waste your time exposing you to a differing view.

It's not about you, McGarrett, it's about untestable counterfactuals, your conservative compatriots, and what looks like institutionalized paranoia in the Republican party. Sure, you may have rational objections to the lesson plans, but elsewhere the lesson plans are being called a kooky worship session and Hitler-lite indoctrination by OSers (ApacheSavage and rwnutjob, respectively) who clearly haven't even read them. Claiming that there'd have been no controversy under some other circumstances requires the assumption that no conservatives are going to react irrationally, and that just doesn't strike me as being possible right now.
Great letter, Lainey. It is not about the lesson plan. Surely much was said on Fox News about the lesson plan teaching socialism. In result, all bets are off as to what they think might be "snuck" into the lesson plan.

People forget that Pres. Obama was also a professor. He has been an educator so thinks and plans like one. God forbid he use his life experience to make himself a better President!

Just a little anecdote: I went with several coworkers and their spouses to hear a local concert by "The Original Drifters". I imagine most of the original Drifters are dead, so what turned up was a middle-of-the-road ensemble of mostly black singers and musicians. For the most part, the crowd was civil.

You would have to have looked around to get the thrust of why the band's bodyguard was nervous:

More than a few good 'ole boys were in the audience and they were not "loving" the fact that they were present for the event. They sat glaring at the band with arms across their chests the entire time. I had not seen all of this as the ones closest to me were directly behind me.

Innocently, I asked if they liked the music. I was told "no" because it came from before their time. One of them shares a birthday with me so I didn't buy that at all. It wasn't the music, it was the color of the band's skin that was annoying them.

I am sure the band felt the seeping hatred as well. They refused to do a last number. That after everyone in front of me appeared to have a great time, clapping and dancing. Oh well, par for the course around here!

I am 100% certain that it isn't about the lesson plan -- it is all about race and fear of having a black man rise above them. After all, if that happens, who can automatically be considered "less" than a relatively unambitious beer-swilling thug of a white man?
good job, Lainey, both in the post and in your thoughtful and civil responses to the comment thread
Lainey,

I agree whole-heartedly with those who praise your letter; it is excellent. I also would stand with you in defiance against those ignorant individuals who make their stand in this matter based solely on unfounded right-wing dogma rather than on informed reason. As for you and your friend “talking around each other”, I don’t think that is exactly the case; it seems more a case of you talking to willfully deaf ears while trying to reason with that friend. But, then, perhaps that is just my cynicism showing.

Without meaning to be pointlessly adversarial, I wonder if you recall writing this over on my blog quite recently:

“I am quite sure that public warfare about myriad dustups like this only serve to entrench the narrowminded even further into their holes, dragging their children with them. I think you might not have the kind of faith in a liberal education that I do if the children are mostly ignored or indoctrinated in a more routine way. Every political episode that feels local brings it home in a personal way and engages kids in that tribalism. I don't feel particularly articulate here, but I can only say again that I feel quite sure that a 10-year-old whose right wing parents are going about their narrow business, which may include mundane indoctrination like bible reading and church going that includes the whole family, that child is likely to ignore much of it and stands a chance in a school system that opens up science and reason. But regular mine fields and war zones with neighbors and friends and teachers might serve to align parents with children and even help them develop "arguments" in favor of their parents' beliefs, which now are fast becoming their own.”

This was in response to the “Brass Evolutions” t-shirt fiasco in a Missouri high school. Your view regarding avoiding “dustups” in that instance seems contradictory to your desire to engage in a dustup regarding this similarly ridiculous, disingenuous, dogmatic response by right-wingers to Obama’s speech. Can you reconcile to two?

RATED
Hi Rick--I was precisely thinking of this speech fiasco when I visited your blog yesterday. I have thought all along that I wish that this speech incident never came up. Do you see what I mean? I think the very existence of this flap is doing more harm than good. People have gotten into their entrenched camps and by fussing about it helped their children develop arguments against "the other side." I think there are many children of conservatives out there today who hate Obama just a little bit more than they did one week ago. I don't think that's a good thing. (I don't think seeing the speech will cause them to hate him, btw, just hearing all the outrage about it beforehand).

I didn't initiate the flap; the White House did, and if I were advising them, I would have perhaps discussed some of the nuance I was trying to say in your thread--that bringing it up might do more harm than good. I'm not sure, though, that I'd have given this particular incident the same score (in the potentially flap-causing department) as the evolution shirts in your post. They are both benign and nonpolitical, and they are both seen by conservatives (apparently) as highly charged. I might have guessed that about the evolution one before the president-speaks-to-schoolchildren one. In both cases, I do my part to make my opinion heard once the ball's rolling.

Thanks for stopping by! :)
Elaine, I love the update. You've covered this with your usual smartness, compassion, depth, and searching for answers. If I had children I would make copies of this post and hand them out to anyone with questions.
I share your preference for these problems to not arise at all. I think it is the “once the ball’s rolling” aspect that matters. The wing-nuts create the dustups, and then too many people appease them by trying to avoid doing what’s right, after the fact. That leads to problems.

I’m not sure that these two issues are “non-political”, as you claim, though. I see them as political.
Lea and Roy--Thank you so much for stopping by and for your kind words.

lalucas: I'd forgotten about the professor connection; you're right that Obama is the perfect model for the importance of education--from every angle. And your story about the band is an eloquent reminder that race is still a pervasive issue in this country.

JK, dolores and Rick--Thanks for coming back. Rick, you're probably right that both the issues are political, in that way that everything kind of is :)
Precious; pointed; perfect (rated)

I like the Hillary analogy a lot - it does make that unsettling race card require a thorough review. I, too, am in deep awe of the spectacle being played out - at the visceral response? I am beginning to believe it is that the very foundation of all the cards "they", being the conservative moralistic base, have held is now starting to receive serious chunks in the armor. Gay marriage, Smithsonian economics (their interpretation), racial progress, potential gun restriction, and so on. Talking to my own "family-by-marriage", you would think that their very way of life is under attack - I mean it. It's like war is being played out on them, hence the very strong reaction by some. When I speak with them and start finding the common ground again, what we both want, the fear becomes a little more rational and they remember Americans are not each other's enemy.

I need a little Kumbaya to keep me going; putting the good "ju ju" out into the universe.

Old Chinese proverb: Best way to move a mountain? One small stone at a time.

I just keep plugging away and thank you for doing the same!
A delightful perspective as always, Kate. I like your optimism. I think many people can't get to that common ground point that you speak of. With me and my kin/neighbors, what works is when we don't talk about politics at all. Or very circumspectly.
I think that some white people are viscerally offended at the idea of black man with that kind of authority. Why else would anyone be opposed to their child imagining what they could do to help the president. Isn't that the same thing as asking what you can do for your country? I agree that we and the conservatives talk past each other.
Great letter, post and comments here. I'm shocked that there is even any question in the schools about this issue. But as Mark Twain said, "First, God created idiots. That was just for practice. Then He created school boards."

I look forward to your updates on this. And let's remember also:

Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
~Margaret Mead