In four days, President Obama will address the nation's youth in a much publicized speech geared toward the K - 12 public education system (see more details here). Last month, the President said in an interview with a student,"I'm going to be making a big speech to young people all across the country about the importance of staying in school; how we want to improve our education system and why it's so important for the country. So I hope everybody tunes in." It sounds vague and harmless enough; however, critics have blasted the program as brainwashing of American children. This may sound a bit extreme when the President is claiming to merely emphasize the importance of education; however, the criticism is not entirely unwarranted. Indeed, children are somewhat of a captive audience in public schools, and politics, as well as religion, have been sensitive areas in regards to the public education context. Generally, teachers in public schools attempt to avoid expressing political or religious views, in order to maintain a neutral learning environment. Religious neutrality in particular is mandated by the Establishment Clause of the Constitution to some extent. The content of the speech has not been revealed in its entirety. White House spokesman Tony Vietor said that the President will ask students "to work hard, stay in school and dramatically reduce the dropout rate," and indicated that the speech would not involve politics or policy. However, regardless of the content of the speech, it is undeniable that the President is a person of political significance and sway. The use of public education as a tool to propagate his message does not seem appropriate regardless of the message. He could be telling children to eat chocolate chip cookies and it would still be unseeming. Public education is funded by taxpayers, and as primary education is mandated by law, many who cannot afford private education are required to send their children to public schools. Thus, it seems inappropriate for government agents or political figures to use the system as a means of influence, whatever the message may be. A "Menu of Classroom Activities" provided by the U.S. Department of education sheds some light on the context in which this speech is given. The menu is a list of questions that teachers may ask before or after the speech. While it is important to foster critical thinking and listening skills in public education, many of the questions are highly presumptive and suggestive. Some of the questions suggested are listed below: What is the President trying to tell me? What is the president asking me to do? What specific job is he asking me to do? Are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us? See here for more questions and to view the entire Menu of Activities. Although the content of the speech has not been revealed in its entirety, many of these questions assume the correctness of the message and imply that all students should be an agent of the President. The ultimate purpose of education should be to teach students to think for themselves, not to agree with a political figure. This is not something entirely new; President George H.W. Bush also addressed children on television in 1991. On the other hand, the fact that it has happened before does not justify it. Bush's speech was similarly about the importance of education. In one exchange with a student during a question and answer session, Bush talked about the "dramatic progress" in the fight against narcotics and about how bad drugs are. At the time, this message probably similarly sounded harmless. Who likes drugs? What's wrong with education? On the other hand - almost 20 years later, the War on Drugs has proven to be a colossal failure and an embarrassment to the American government. It has increasingly involved violent police operations against non-violent offenders and has been a shameful waste of taxpayer money, so you just never know. Although it is mainly Conservatives complaining about Obama's speech on September 8th, it would be interesting to find out whether they made such a hullabaloo about Bush's speech in 1991. This all demonstrates the problem with politics - many people's views are not taken seriously (and probably rightly so) because they only support or oppose things based on party platforms, not based on principle. Source: Examiner WHAT DO YOU THINK!?, KIKWETE & Students? whats your verdict!?, B.