Disconcerted Parents Complain About a President’s Pep-Talk to the School Children of America


Confronted as we are with the spectacle of U.S. parents who are up-in-arms about the “threat” that Pres. Barack Obama poses something for them to “fear” (as I heard on Ed Shultz’s radio talk show) in wanting to address the young learners in the schools nationwide, we cast about trying to find some way to express our dismay at such behavior. The responses I hear are nearly always attempts to find the most imaginative names to call the “nut job” complainers. Names I will not repeat here, although my first inclination was also to hang on “those people” the worst appellations I could think of. In that ad hominem game I would lose. Why? Because my brain immediately jumps to the realization that name-calling attacks do nothing to get at the grist of the matter.

Ask, rather, why are people acting in a way I consider outside the expected role of good citizenship, which is to enter the issues of the way we treat people who are perceived as different from us, to hear, to empathize and understand, to avoid pre-judgment, to engage in the public dialogue, to consider seriously the functions of citizenship. Teach the children THAT!

The desire to shield children from any controversial situation or topic is to raise them like mushrooms: feed them garbage and keep them in the dark until they will become dutiful fungi.

He wrote The Sane Society. Erich Fromm: “There can be a society which is not sane. …The state of health of each society can be judged.” (p.21) “…[T]he fact that millions of people share the same vices does not make these vices virtues, the fact that they share so many errors does not make the errors to be truths, and the fact that millions of people share the same forms of mental pathology does not make these people sane.” (p. 23)

Fromm goes on to review the socialization of children (making them ready to participate in society, not become Socialists). Human beings have an “almost infinite malleability”. Those parents in Minnesota, Illinois and elsewhere are in danger of passing on to their children a ”socially patterned defect”. The school children will not know it as a defect because the child shares it with everyone around him. The child’s defect may have been raised to a virtue by his culture.

Fromm speaks of the necessity of humans to unite with other living beings, “an imperative need on the fulfillment of which man’s sanity depends.” A union with a person, a group, an institution transcends separateness, becoming part of something bigger than himself, union with somebody or something outside himself. Sharing. Communion which permits the full unfolding of one’s own inner activity, the experience of love.

Should not a school inside a socially patterned defective culture function to help children survive the insanity of the society surrounding the school?

Is communion with the President of the United States and the senators and the representatives of the state and federal governments not a duty of citizenship? Is Barack Obama not the President of all the people? Can we never put aside political partisanship? For the good of the children? Should not we behave as if all parents have the political and social maturity to forbear any personal prejudices in order to foster the political and social maturity of their offspring? In the military, we were told we salute the uniform and the authority of the man inside it, not necessarily the man himself.

What the President wants to do is bring the President of the United States, a force for government authority which is bigger than most all other forces they are ever likely to encounter, into the classroom, for them only to identify with in the common touch. Government and intelligence and nature always prove to be those superior forces which enter our lives everyday in both large and small ways. We will have significant relations with those three forces. With the genius intelligence of technology, the natural forces of tornadoes and earthquakes and wildfires, and the federal government in the President of the U.S., we come in touch with the world at large. Huge forces to be addressed. Even for the education of children. The huge forces surround them. They must experience them. The intelligence of the computer and the cell phone. The vagaries of nature in the wind, ice storms, car accidents, and sinister, stalking personalities. The political power of the teacher and the principal. Children must and will transcend their separateness and unite respectfully with that world.

Parents are trying to shield their children from the parents’ fears, a misguided form of love. The parents are communicating fear to their children, and the children will take on a cultural defect from the insanity of the society around them, which interdicts their first-hand experience of forces with which they must have some communion. Their love of country and respect for its officers will be thwarted, and sent up a blind alley of defective cultural adaptation. (“The sins of th fathers…” And that’s the way it is.)

I do not know and cannot imagine what the parents “fear”, which was the word used by one superintendent in Minnesota. The President’s race has been suggested. His “liberal” doctrine has been suggested. Those certainly arise from parental racism and political conservatism.

Can a child be allowed and encouraged to learn from an influence differing from that of the parent? We all know about peer pressures.

Can a child ever be expected to make up his or her own mind?

Should a child ever be given the opportunity to express his or her own opinion by the teacher or parent, in an advance inoculation against certain content spoken by the President, based upon a preview made by the principal and the teachers?

Can the children be expected to think for themselves?

Should Pres. Obama be censored?

Could the children hear the President’s talk and then be asked what their opinion is?

Or should they be told what to think?>

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3 Comments

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