Wanted: An education in civility

Remember what happened about this time last year, when a large number of fearful parents and nervous school administrators – egged on by rabid rightwing pontificators were predicting the end of Western civilization?

Well, maybe the furor wasn’t quite that bad, but it was bad enough when President Obama decided to use the Internet to address school kids across the country. Many school districts refused to let students watch the speech – at least live – and others required parental permission.

After all the buildup about the president’s alleged designs to bend the minds of his impressionable young audience, his speech (comparatively) was a dud. All he did was encourage students to study and work hard – good, sound advice but hardly the rhetoric of a political Pied Piper.

Now, Obama is planning a second address to students tomorrow (Tuesday, Sept. 14). So far, this speech hasn’t attracted much attention, although some schools again will require permission slips from parents before students are allowed to watch it.

Teachers should have the ultimate decision for determining whether their students – those with signed permission slips, anyway – should watch the presidential address during their class periods. Does it fit with the lesson plan? Does the teacher believe it has educational value, etc?

I agree that parents also should be part of the decision, but I have trouble imagining why any reasonable parent would forbid his or her child from listening to the president of the United States make a speech geared to students. Parents would have encouraged the opportunity during my childhood, had there been an Internet then. But last year’s uproar and the fact that school officials still feel obliged to require permission slips are more indicators of the increased, unhealthy polarization of our country.

Some parents also were upset last year at a White House suggestion that students write essays about “what they can do to help the president.”

I don’t know if any students will be writing essays this year, but the best thing young people can do to help the president – and the entire country – is to convince their parents and other adults to return some civility to the political process. Those would be essays worth reading.

Here is an Austin AmericanStatesman story about how some Central Texas school districts plan to handle access to the president’s speech tomorrow:



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