What Are We Teaching Our Kids About The President, Anyway?


As the author of several books called Girlfriend’s Guides covering the motherhood experience from pregnancy up through teenagers (the teen book is still being written at this point) and as the mother of four kids, I’m sickened by the miasma of suspicion and cynicism that is infected so many parents regarding President Obama. I’m not going to begin a diatribe here about the profound and critical need to reform health care (which as the mother of a son diagnosed with cancer two years ago, I have some bitter feelings about,) but let’s instead begin with his back-to-school speech.

When I heard that the same parents who fail to go to Open House Night to meet the teachers who spend every day teaching our kids decided that watching the President of the United States address them was something they could not allow, I staggered. I kept reading about it to find some sense to why people were approaching a student-directed speech to their kids (with the contents available on line to parents the night before, for God’s sake!)

The reasons ran from the paranoid to the ridiculous. Some parents actually thought President Obama was going to push his “left-wing liberal ideals” into their darlings’ little noggin head. Has any of these people ever actually watched their children’s teachers in action? Teachers with the most diverse and extravagant ideas hold our kids’ attention in class every day. My own kids have been taught by Castro supporters, pot smokers, former military officers and 24 year-olds who barely know the difference between Central and South America. So far, they are as well and as inadequately educated as most American kids. 

Even if the very worst imaginable thing were to have transpired during the speech, if the President rallied all students to go on a hunger strike until the health care legislation were passed, it would be a valuable teaching moment in my book. My teenagers have no idea how insurance works or why they will ever need it, let alone how Congress really passes a bill (don’t get me started on the phasing out of Civics and Government in school curricula!) And the starving part, well, obesity IS our number one health concern right now… 

And that’s assuming the kids would be paying attention! On the first day or one of the first days back at school, you think your own child is sitting attentively and swallowing the full content of the speech? Most of them are texting or still finding their locker out in the halls. 

The other prevailing concern I gather was a line from the workbook that was available with the speech that invited students to write to the President explaining how they could serve him. One parent interviewed on TV actually said it wasn’t fair that her child should be doing the President’s work for him. Huh? Every school in the country promotes being of service as a core value and yet serving the country doesn’t count? Oh yes, I’m terribly concerned that my children’s writing to the President with suggestions or to vow to do something for America might dip into their Facebook time. Who are these people?

So the speech to the students occurred and was, in fact, so much a non-issue as to be almost valueless, at least regarding my kids and their friends. Yeah, yeah, stay in school, do your homework, value education and so on and so on. I don’t know if President Obama cut or adjusted his original speech to placate every nincompoop in the country, besides that very nervy request that they help him in any way, but it was as bland as oatmeal. I was ready to move on and get over my dark fears.

Then the President gave his speech to us “grown-ups” and my heart sank again.
When Congressman Joe Wilson yelled out and called our President a liar, it shocked me like a gun going off. It was so violent an intrusion and reaction. It reminded me of the guy who threw his shoe at President Bush and got hustled off to prison. That disregard for the highest office in the country was shown by one of our own elected officials in our most sacred governing house. To me, it should have been a Secret Service moment.

All of us complain about young people not being taught to have respect for things greater, older or more accomplished than they are, and now we have to see an grown elected official acting like the surliest teenager in school.

Worse, though, seems to be the personal assault on Barack Obama. Is this where insidious racism is creeping in, from the rat holes of our country? Why is there such cynicism? Is it truly the policies or is it the man? I pray for this country and its President and especially for this man, who, against all the best reasons to fear this job, actually ran for it and won–and I mean he REALLY won. Now that is a teaching moment.

Vicki Iovine – Girlfriends' Guides