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Inexpressibly Lame

President Obama will deliver a webcast speech to the nation’s students on September 8, the first day back at school for many kids. The Secretary of Education describes the event:

The President will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning. He will also call for a shared responsibility and commitment on the part of students, parents and educators to ensure that every child in every school receives the best education possible so they can compete in the global economy for good jobs and live rewarding and productive lives as American citizens. …
This is the first time an American president has spoken directly to the nation’s school children about persisting and succeeding in school. We encourage you to use this historic moment to help your students get focused and begin the school year strong.

Some conservatives, like Hugh Hewitt, are up in arms about the speech. Hugh argues “that the president has no business injecting himself into every classroom or suggesting to teachers that they help students figure out how they can help the president.” The speech doesn’t really seem that sinister to me. But it does strike me as incredibly, inexpressibly lame–President Obama at his geekiest.
Which is, actually, the mode in which I like him best. But I guarantee that America’s school children won’t see it that way. To appreciate fully how lame this event is going to be you have to read the menu of classroom activities that teachers are asked to lead in conjunction with the speech. The linked activities are for grades 7-12; there is another set for elementary school kids. Here are some excerpts:

Before the speech:
* Quick Write or Think/Pair/Share (Students spend a few minutes Thinking and writing about the question; Paired with another student to discuss, then Sharing their ideas with the class as a whole). What do we associate with the words responsibility, persistence, and goals? How would we define each term? A teacher might create a web of student ideas for each of the words. …
* Short readings. Notable quotes excerpted (and posted in large print on board) from President Obama’s speeches about education. Teacher might ask students to think alone, compare ideas with a partner, and share their collaborations with the class (Think/Pair/Share) about the following: What are our interpretations of these excerpts? Based on these excerpts, what can we infer the President believes is important to be successful educationally?
During the speech:
* Listening with a purpose: personal responsibility, goals, persistence. Teachers might ask pairs of students to create a word bank from the web of any one of the terms (personal responsibility, goals, or persistence) at the top of a double‐column style notes page. On the right‐hand side, students could take notes while President Obama talks about personal responsibility, or goals, or persistence, trying to capture direct quotations. At the end of the speech, students could then write the corresponding terms from the word bank in the left hand column, to increase retention and deepen their understanding of an important aspect of the speech.
After the speech Guided Discussion:
* What resonated with you from President Obama’s speech? What lines/phrases do you remember? …
* What are the three most important words in the speech? Rank them. What title would you give this speech? What’s the thesis? …
* What do you believe are the challenges of your generation?
* How can you be a part of addressing these challenges?

Try to put yourself in the place of a high school student confronted with this ordeal. It’s worse than all of the lame “special events” I experienced in my school career, combined. It makes the grainy black and white filmstrip of lung cancer surgery that we had to watch back in the early 1960s–Don’t smoke!–look like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The only possible reaction by any self-respecting American adolescent is rebellion. An hour of this stuff, and President Obama will be the least cool person on the planet. No, in the galaxy.
President Obama’s only hope is a denial of service attack on the White House web site by high school hackers who would rather slit their wrists than Think/Pair/Share on the topics of responsibility, persistence and goals, or participate in a Guided Discussion of the challenges of their generation.

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