I´ve long entertained friends with the story about the historic day our small-town elementary school almost got to see the president of the United States.
Like a lot of small towns nobody cares about, my hometown of Union City, Ind. (population: 3,622), adopted an exaggerated civic nickname to try to inflate its importance. It called itself âHub Cityâ because all the railroad tracks in the world crossed there.
Word got out that
at a certain time on a particular day, a train carrying President Harry
Truman would pass right through town. Our elementary school principal
organized the entire school to line up by class to walk to the train
depot to see the president.
The train wasnât scheduled to stop, mind you. But our teachers thought there was a very good chance that the president would order the train to stop immediately when he saw our expectant throng. He would probably get out and make a speech or something.
We all walked to the depot in orderly rows. At the
appointed hour, the presidential train sped through. Some maintenance guy on the caboose waved. We waved back. Then, we all walked back to school.
really does show how times have changed. As far as I could tell growing
up, the members of my immediate family were pretty much the only
Democrats in that conservative, little Indiana town. Yet, the slightest
possibility of glimpsing a Democratic president stirred excitement and
Fast-forward to the present day, when schoolchildren have far more reason than we ever did to be excited about a historic presidency. Not only is President Barack Obama the first African American to be elected president, but he also is an inspirational leader who personifies for young people the possibility of overcoming obstacles and achieving your dreams through education and hard work.
Yet, unbelievably, when the president of the United States
scheduled a televised speech to deliver that important message directly
to Americaâs schoolchildren, an organized right-wing political attack
succeeded in frightening some weak-kneed school administrators into
banning the speech.
Elmbrook School District, in the conservative western suburbs of Milwaukee, has now been joined by school districts in Waukesha, Wauwatosa, West Allis-West Milwaukee, Grafton and West Bend in refusing to allow their children to hear a live message from President Obama urging them to succeed in school.
Presidents who were far less likely to inspire young peopleâthe first President George Bush and the geriatric Ronald Reaganâboth delivered televised stay-inschool messages to the nationâs schools without parental protest.
We even allowed President George W. Bush in person into a second-grade class in Florida to read âThe Pet Goatâ on Sept. 11, 2001, when he should have been responding to the 9/11 attacks.
So, clearly, there is something about this particular president that extremely conservative, suburban parents donât want in their schools. Hmmm. Wonder what that could be?
The organized objections against the presidential school address on right-wing talk radio have been nothing less than a hate campaign.
âThe thing that concerned me most about it was it seemed like a direct channel from the president of the United States into the classroom, to my child,â said a Texas parent. âI donât want our schools turned over to some socialist movement.â
Actually, Obama did not become president through some socialist movement. He was elected by a large majority of the American people in a democratic election.
Political extremists, who apparently donât believe in democracy, ridiculously suggest there is something controversial about this particular president speaking to American schoolchildren. And cowardly school administrators reinforce that impression by making a work-hard, stay-in-school message âoptional.â
Mark Steyn, a right-wing extremist from Canada appearing on Rush Limbaughâs radio show, said Obama was trying to indoctrinate children into his own âcult of personality,â just like Saddam Hussein and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.
Chris Stigall, a right-wing talk-show host in Kansas City, even compared Obama to a sexual predator. âI wouldnât let my next-door neighbor talk to my kid alone,â Stigall said. âIâm sure as hell not letting Barack Obama talk to him alone.â
Administrators in the schools that have banned the presidential speech are intelligent enough to know the organized protests are absurd. But the schoolsâ own gutless reactions to the ridiculous protests teach terrible lessons to children.
One is that, in a democracy, the loudest bullies win no matter how extreme a fringe they represent or how nonsensical their arguments are.
The other lesson is even more poisonous to civil discourse: If you or your parents disagree with someone, you should never listen to anything that person has to say. Listening to opposing arguments might make you question the soundness of your own beliefs.
Schools that cave to right-wing protests are really teaching children ignorance and intolerance.