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September 8, 2009
Alternative Discussion Questions for Barack Obama's School Address
Some real questions for students to ponder:
1) The Obama administration mixed calls to responsibility and public service with discussion guides encouraging students to discuss how to "help the President". They withdrew this wording after widespread protest. Hollywood friends of the Administration previously released a celebrity video mixing similar pledges to public service with pledges to be "a servant to our president".
a) Would you be willing to emulate the celebrity who pledged to be a "servant to our president"? How does this compare to the American idea of the President as servant of the people?
b) Do you consider these celebrities to be well-educated and informed in American civics?
c) Do you think the Obama administration has encouraged or discouraged the idea of pledging to serve a President? How does this compare with our pledge of allegiance to the Republic?
2) Washington D.C. had a school choice program to allow poor students to choose a private school if their assigned public school was failing educationally. President Obama sought to close the program to new students, but like many Washington elites he chose to send his daughters to an expensive private school attended by the children of rich and powerful people.
a) Should politicians and their families be required to live under the same laws and conditions they impose on everyone else?
b) What is the effect on American democracy of having a hereditary elite class that exempt themselves from the educational, tax, and healthcare programs they impose on others?
c) Would it help or hurt American democracy and society to have the freedom of school choice to enable poor kids to mix with rich kids?
d) Elucidate a position for or against the following argument: "School choice programs promote green goals by attracting families with students to live in the city instead of moving to the suburbs for schools, thus reducing pollution from commuter traffic."
3) The 10th Amendment to the Constitution specifies that the powers not delegated to the U.S. government are reserved to the states and the people. Under this system of federalism the primary authority for education is at the state and local level through elected school boards. The Obama administration chose to bypass these elected authorities and directly contact school principals to promote his speech.
a) Do you think this was respectful of state and local education authority and federalism?
b) Would you favor nationalizing education through the federal government, or do you prefer local control of schools? Which do you think provides the best defense of academic freedom and liberty?
4) American democratic tradition and law draw a distinction between political parties (which are private institutions) and the elected offices of the Executive and the Legislature (which are public institutions). This prevents the tyranny of one party controlling the assets of the government to destroy political opposition. President Obama has appropriated billions of our tax dollars for groups that mix social programs with partisan politics. One such group (ACORN) has been convicted of election fraud. He also urged federal art grant recipients to promote his political agenda.
a) Do you believe it violates the First Amendment to force taxpayers to contribute to political parties they do not support?
b) Do you think the Obama administration is trying to blur the line between private political parties and public institutions?
c) What happens to democracy if one party takes control of government resources to promote itself and prevent others from being heard?
d) What will happen to democracy and the country if political dissenters come to believe that elections are fraudulent?
e) Examine the Obama election campaign symbol (a private campaign symbol) and compare it to the symbol of the "stimulus program" (i.e. the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act", a public program).
i) Do you see similarities between these symbols?
ii) If so, do you think this was intentional or accidental?
iii) What political parties in 20th-century history mixed party symbolism with public/government symbolism? What was their attitude toward constitutional democracy?
iv) What was the outcome for nations where one party became the state?
The "stimulus" symbol - a public program:
The Obama symbol - a private political campaign:
Eric Richter is father of two middle-schoolers who are well-immunized with American civics and happy to share their opinions with fellow students.