Did we miss the boat?

boatsbrianforbes37flickr The nation’s President delivered a very motivational message to a group of obviously excited students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, yet many of our nation’s students missed this message intended for them.

As I was listening to it, I thought of Kennedy’s speech which inspired us to go to the moon, and how his speech led young people  into being more involved in science, volunteerism, and politics; in fact, even inspiring a future president.

Obama’s speech today, no matter your politics, was an eloquent “pep talk” to the nation’s students, encouraging them to take responsibility for their own learning. Yet across the nation, parents and school districts alike denied them the opportunity to participate–and I wonder in what way is that encouraging students to be responsible?

Do we not trust students (and their teachers) to analyze, discuss, and think about what they hear? And do we not want students to be inspired and motivated by leaders (whether they be principals, guest speakers, or Presidents?)

“Every single one of you has something that you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. . .And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is.”

Isn’t that a message we want our students to hear?

And when do we as educators stand up for the school as a marketplace of ideas, and at least make these ideas “available” to our students?

In Ray Bradbury’s novel, Farenheit 451, (a book commonly taught in high schools), books are burned to prevent the spread of ideas. Because ideas might make people think.

When we as a culture are afraid to examine the ideas of an opposing viewpoint, when we encourage our children to block out/screen out opposing viewpoints, when we pressure our schools to block out/screen out opposing viewpoints, at what point does this become a form of censorship?

The quote of the day on my blog today, ironically, is by Indira Gandhi. It reads: “You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.”

How do we teach our students to be part of the great melting pot of our country if we don’t allow ideas in? And what is our role as educators in that?

Some things I believe we can do, now that the speech is over:

1. Air the speech as well as the speeches to students given by Reagan and George H.W. Bush. Ask students to compare and contrast rhetorical styles, the setting for the speech, response of students in the audience, etc.

2. Use Wordle.net to have students create Wordle visuals of presidential speeches to examine their emphasis and content so they can compare and contrast.

3. Examine the media frenzy over the recent speech. Help students filter out fact/fiction in print reporting /internet reporting over the speech. Have students look at the reporting before the speech (by checking newspaper archives, databases for last couple of weeks, letters to the editor, etc.) and then have them check out the post-speech reporting in the next day or two in those same sources.

4. Have them analyze the speech for examples of good rhetorical techniques (using a personal story, word choice, call to action, etc.) Compare these used to other motivational speeches.

5. Use the Newseum website to examine headlines around the country for their reporting on the speech and compare/contrast the reporting. (But quick, before the headlines disappear!)

The point is, as educators, we have many tools/methods for teaching our students that ideas aren’t dangerous–that speeches aren’t dangerous–and that we can use our powers of analysis to dissect the content and learn from it.

And then, just maybe, we won’t have missed the boat completely!

photo credit: Flickr, BrianForbes37

6 thoughts on “Did we miss the boat?

  1. This post is not only a highly articulate voice of reason, but it also gives practical ways to turn this unfortunate situation into a teachable moment. I plan to share this with our teachers. Many thanks!

  2. Just wanted to say ditto to what others have commented here. With Banned Books Week coming up, the whole furor over the President’s speech presents us with the perfect example of how the narrow mindedness of some can rob others of their rights.

  3. All I have to say is… wow. This is a post that all future teachers and current ones need to read. I say “future teachers” because I am one of them. It could be so easy for teachers to expect their students to have the same thoughts and opinion that he or she holds. Instead of embracing diversity of ideas, stressing healthy conflict resolution, and making personal judgments of ideas after carful, well-thought out consideration, students are being shown the world is black or white, right or wrong. We all know this is not the case.
    Great post! Thank you.
    Kaiya West, University of Nebraska-Kearney

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