The White House found itself on the defensive Friday over what would ordinarily be considered the most uncontroversial of events: a back-to-school speech for children.
The White House said the address, set for Tuesday, and accompanying suggested lesson plans are simply meant to encourage students to study hard and stay in school.
Many conservative parents aren't buying it. They're convinced the president is going to use the opportunity to press a partisan political agenda on impressionable young minds.
I must've missed the part about a "partisan political agenda", as I conveniently read that the purpose of the speech was "to challenge students to set goals, work hard and stay in school." That one would assume the president is lying about this and will actually turn this into a policy speech is somewhat mind-boggling, given the attention this speech has garnered.
Conservative gripes about included lesson plans that initially asked students to write letters to themselves about what they could do to help the president (this language was removed) are similarly perplexing. As eduwonk notes, this activity is within the context of students doing well in school, not about policies or politics. How's a kid going to help him pass health care, anyway?
Some argue that this language of helping a president implicates the role of government in our affairs as necessary, which is philosophically at odds with conservatives. Why is doing well in school connected to helping the President, as opposed to helping ourselves and each other?
Well, because students will feel that their president is setting an ambitious goal and is personally asking each of them to contribute by reaching high for their own personal academic goals. In the context of the speech, this makes a whole lot of sense. Conservatives can pout about how this accepts the mommy role of government, but they can’t argue with the influence and symbolism a president realistically wields as the leader of the free world, no matter how ineffective one deems him/her or government as a whole to be. Asking students to do something for the president gives it that much more importance, even if what they're being asked to do is strictly related to their own personal and academic achievement.