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It’s Not About Time

I really don’t understand the uproar over President Obama’s address to school kids on Tuesday.

Oh, I know exactly why the people behind this latest in a long line of manufactured outrages are stirring up all the crap.

They’re simply interested in making enough political noise to detract from any kind of serious debate over the real problems facing the country.

What I don’t get are the people who are buying this crap. Especially the parents who are so incredibly insecure in their parenting skills that they plan to have their kids skip school to avoid hearing Obama speak.

I guess they believe that one short speech by an inspiring communicator on a somewhat innocuous topic will irreparably alter anything and everything they teach their kids at home.

Is it possible that Bill Maher is right… this is a stupid country? Or at least that, in the words of reporter John Harwood, “in a country of three hundred million people there are a lot of stupid people”?

But then there are those who nobly say they aren’t objecting to showing the address to students on ideological grounds, but instead because it will take time away from formal classroom activities.

Like Jay Mathews in his Class Struggle column.

The speech will take up class time. American children need every available minute for learning. They are not getting it, and watching the president’s speech won’t help.

I know Tuesday will be in many cases the first day of school, where there are traditionally many interruptions. That is part of my point. We have come to accept breaks in the learning day—assemblies, morning announcements, home room periods, parties, early dismissal for sports, even TV news shows. The teachers who have influenced me are convinced they are a waste of time. Why aren’t teachers allowed to start teaching as soon as students arrive, that first day and all days after?

A twenty minute address to students on the topic of studying and doing well in school is taking up too much class time?

This is a wonderful opportunity to engage kids in a genuine discussion of the issues raised by the president, even about the artificial controversy surrounding the speech.

That lesson would be far more valuable than anything – ANYTHING – teachers might have planned for that day.

Mathews writes off all kinds of “traditional” interruptions to the formal learning process that are woven through the school year in most schools by saying we have “come to accept” them while arguing that this teachable moment coming in from the real world should be rejected.

However, if he really wants to discuss the issues surrounding the use of time in American schools, let’s start with our traditional calendar based on a world that no longer exists.

The fact that we shut down school every June (at a cost of days, if not weeks) and then open it up again in September is an incredible waste of time, not to mention human energy, resources and money.

Instead of banning a speech by the president of the United States in the name of preserving the sanctity of classroom time, let’s work on one of the real problems with American education.


  1. sam

    Well, lets step outside the framework of class time/no class and look at the content of what will be said. I imagine it will be more of the same NAACP ‘no excuses’/Fathers Day speech/Bill Cosbyesque ‘blame the youth’ junk. Imagine the real issues facing our youth were brought into light and challenged in a way that understood the systemic nature of the problems…
    Like when Carl Dix responded to Obama’s NAACP speech
    Imagine the terms were framed by Bob Avakian’s “youth deserve a better future” speech. Then we’d be gettin somewhere!

  2. Jay Mathews

    Good point, but we have to start somewhere. 20 minutes here. 20 minutes there. it all adds up.

  3. Tim

    Ok, let’s start with showing this 20 minute talk to students and following it with an honest discussion of the president’s policies. In exchange, we can cancel the football assembly/pep rally that will likely be held on Friday in most high schools. Seems like a fair trade.

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