The controversy surrounding President Obamaâ€™s speech to schoolchildren on Tuesday provides a good lesson in the difference between constructive public discourse and debate that serves no purpose.
Ultimately, the speech was made available in text format ahead of time, and the speech itself proved to be a non-political discussion focusing on inspiring children to take responsibility for their own education.
The fears that many people hadâ€”that the speech was designed to indoctrinate children with a particular political philosophyâ€”proved unfounded, yet those who had concerns about their children watching the speech in school and taking part in the post-speech teachable moment should not be discounted.
Those on both sides of the controversy should take a step back, take a deep breath, and look at the situation logically and think through a number of questions before one side begins attacking the other side.
â€¢ Is it a bad thing for the President of the United States to try and inspire schoolchildren?
â€¢ Is it a bad thing for parents and schools to want to screen the speech prior to showing it to their children and students?
â€¢ Is it necessary to immediately assume all communications from any politician are political in nature, but at the same time is it OK, and even healthy, to remain skeptical of all politicians?
Locally, the Kaneland administration faced two problems in reaching a decision whether or not to broadcast the speech. The primary reason was the logistical and technological issues raised by trying to ensure that every student had access to the speech at the same time. The secondary reason was that the majority of feedback from parents indicated they were philosophically against the idea of the district broadcasting the speech live to all students.
So what Kaneland did was elect not to broadcast the speech, but make it available for teachers and parents in order to share parts or all of it with their students or children in the best manner that they see fit.
This seems like a reasonable decision; it is far more reasonable than to require that it be viewed by all students, as well as the opposite side, which would be to not allow teachers to use the speech in the classroom should it coincide with the studentsâ€™ studies.
These types of decisions are best made at the most local level possible. In this case, that is between parents and their families, and between families and their childrenâ€™s teachers.
Many parents may feel it is perfectly appropriate and worthwhile to use the speech during a school unit focusing on civics or communication that involves middle or high schoolers, but may not feel it is appropriate or worthwhile for their 5-year-old to listen to instead of story time.
Regardless of what anyone else thinks, it is what each parent feels is appropriate and worthwhile for their child that is most important. Even if Kaneland had the logistical and technological means to broadcast the speech simultaneously to every student at Kaneland, the decision not to broadcast the speech live but make it available to individual families and teachers would still be reasonable.