The president and the pupils

This year, it appears, every classroom in School District 51 will show President Barack Obama’s televised address to America’s school children, thanks to a decision by the District 51 school board.

Good for the board. Every child in the district should view what the president has to say, not because he is Barack Obama, but because he is the president.

As School Board President Harry Butler appropriately put it: “Regardless of what people’s views are, he’s the president of the United States and we should honor the office.”

We should also teach our youngsters why the president is important in our representative democracy, how the office fits into the three-tiered system of governance, and why citizens of the Untied States — unlike so many people around the globe — are free to disagree with and speak out publicly against our elected leaders, including the president.

A presidential speech directly to students is a wonderful opportunity to discuss such issues, as well as the president’s message about the importance of education.

But that opportunity was lost to a number of students last year because their parents, along with multitudes around the nation, objected to having their youngsters listen to the president’s speech. They feared Obama would use it as an opportunity to indoctrinate their children in his political philosophy.

That fear developed in part due to some poorly worded promotional materials sent by the U.S. Department of Education to school districts in advance of the speech. One item said the president would ask students to help him deal with the nation’s problems.

Parental fears were fanned by Internet sites and some talk-show hosts. However, Obama’s actual address to students was anything but a political screed. He urged students to study hard and stay in school.

Because of last year’s controversy, District 51 this year sent letters to parents, notifying them of the upcoming address, and giving them the choice of having their children opt out of viewing the address.

We understand the district’s motivation in offering the opt-out. But it is astonishing, that in the 21st century, some parents are so fearful of the nation’s duly elected leader that they can’t bear the thought of having their children exposed to the president’s words.


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