My five-year-old twins won’t view President Obama’s education address in their kindergarten classroom on September 8 because school administrators in our Texas district have deemed that it would “interrupt instructional time.”
Instead, the district will stream the video online. Families can then opt in–or out–of the national dialogue.
This safe compromise was likely made to soothe conservative voices here who worry the President’s short speech would aim to indoctrinate their youngsters into the Democratic party–or worse–a “socialist way” of thinking. And while I haven’t yet seen the speech as I write this, I can tell you from my professional experience covering local, state and national education issues as a newspaper reporter for more than 10 years that few presidential addresses of this type given in the classroom release bombshells. My prediction is that Obama’s speech will be fairly neutral in tone and offer nice photo ops for the press corps.
As a parent of three, however, it is greatly refreshing to see the public’s interest in the content our children are exposed to in our nation’s public schools–I only wish we as a group would pay more attention to the subtle types of indoctrination that happens every day.
For example, last week–on the second day of kindergarten–my twins bopped home from our tony community’s premier elementary school with camouflage-colored dog tags hanging around their necks from metal chains. While my kids thought nothing of this, I brought context to such symbols. Dog tags, after all, are an indelible symbol of warfare. In fact, such dog tags are manufactured to be thin and small so they can be sewn into the mouths of dead soldiers and thus help those in field mortuaries identify the fallen. By sending home such a symbol, my public school is sending a subtle message that they not only approve of warfare–but wholeheartedly endorse it. Moreover, they’re telling my young children to be proud foot soldiers.
On the fourth day of kindergarten, my children returned home with fliers listing half a dozen fast-food restaurants that will return a portion of our bill to our public school in an effort to raise funds for educational endeavors. “Mom,” said my daughter Elizabeth, “we have to go eat pizza tonight to help our school!” As it turns out, we can spend every night this week–and every night for the remaining school year according to these fliers–at fast-food joints raising money for our school. Of course, nutritionists–many who work for the state’s department of health–would tell us that to take the advice of our premier elementary school would be to risk the health of my family. My children would become obese, contract diabetes and ruin their hearts. Yet, the subtle message from the public school is ‘Do your duty and help out your school.’
On the sixth day of school, instructional time in our kindergarten was handed over to two uniform-clad high school football players who signed autographs in promotion of their first big home game. They also read two books to the children, but this last detail was forgotten by my kids who reported only the shimmering uniforms and the deep, impressive voices of the handsome players. It is likely, too, that they subconsciously picked up on the school’s subtle message that sports are of the utmost importance here in Texas, that male athletes should be revered above others, that strength of body trumps strength of spirit or mind.
This is why, even as a longtime card-carrying member of the Democratic party and big Obama supporter, I’m thrilled to have passionate conversations about indoctrination. But let’s not limit the discussion to the President’s 10-minute speech. As parents, we need to be aware of and address the subtle everyday messages our public schools are giving our kids.
I only wish our school district would give us the option of streaming some of these other messages via video.
Julie Blair is a Dallas-area freelance journalist who graduated from both public and private institutions. She continues to support her local public schools with her most precious commodities–her three children.