(The following is my column for this week's Newton County News.)
During my first year as a teacher in the Diamond R-4 School District, I decided to give my students a taste of something in which virtually none of them had any interest- politics.
The 2000 presidential race was in its early stages and a debate was held with eight men who were seeking the Republican nomination, including the eventual winner, George W. Bush and the 2008 nominee, John McCain.
Despite the grumbling and complaining from my classes, the students watched the debate, and in spite of their protests, they found themselves caught up in what the candidates were saying.
One girl was particularly excited by the candidacy of Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, something which I couldn’t figure out until I discovered that at one time she had lived in Utah and he was he senator.
When the class discussed the debate, the students asked intelligent questions, poked holes in some of the candidates’ ideas, and then wrote papers that showed considerable insight.
These were seventh and eighth grade students who had the intelligence and common sense to figure out what the candidates were trying to sell and then make decisions on their own, based on what they knew and what they had learned from their parents.
I have never thought twice about showing a politician’s speech or a debate in my classroom, though it is not something I do on a regular basis.
That is why I was caught off guard by the nonsense surrounding President Obama’s speech to the nation’s students on Tuesday.
Parents, driven by obsessed far right talk show hosts and people who are convinced that Obama is a code name for Satan actually held their children out of school in some places because they were afraid their children would be brainwashed into supporting Obama’s political viewpoints.
Many of them said things like “I don’t want anyone telling my kids anything about politics except me.” From what I have seen over the years, children’s beliefs do come from their parents and there was not one chance in a million that Barack Obama was going to convert a dutiful Republican child into a Democratic robot.
But that did not stop the complaining and the self-righteous indignation. The nonsense did not stop even after the White House released the text of the president’s speech Monday afternoon.
After that, there were cries of “Let’s see his original speech. He changed it after he got into trouble.”
I did not show President Obama’s speech to my class, though it had nothing to do with parental objections. The speech came at a bad time in the day and was more geared for students who are just returning to class after summer vacation. My students have been here for three weeks.
If I had shown the speech, and there is always a possibility I might, the students will be allowed to thoroughly discuss it afterward, and all viewpoints will be respected.
Sadly, many parents, blinded by their dislike of the current president, fail to give their children enough credit for being independent thinkers and having common sense.
Even elementary students know that someone who is telling them to stay in school and work hard is not brainwashing them.
Telling them to stay away from school so they won’t be told to stay in school- is that a lesson we should be teaching our children?