« Energy, Cost Savings, and Curriculum | Main | A Portrait of Singapore's Education System »

On Politicians and School Visits


President Obama is being criticized by Republicans for making a nationally broadcast speech at a school, which his critics allege is an attempt to “indoctrinate” students into his political philosophy.


I can’t help wondering if teachers and students in Iowa are watching all this with some curiosity and amusement.

Maybe the reaction in my native state is similar to what’s occurring among hard-core partisans around the country. I know that Iowa has an unusually outsized influence over presidential elections, but when I was growing up, the presence of national political figures at schools was a pretty routine thing. At my high school, I heard former President George H.W. Bush speak during my senior year, if memory serves me. (The school seemed to be swarming with Secret Service agents, some of whom we speculated were dressed up as students during the speech. These are the sorts of things teenagers obsess about.) Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat, spoke there, too, for my high school graduation on June 3, 1990. (Thanks to Grinnell Senior High School for looking it up.) At the time, Harkin was locked in a tough re-election fight against Republican Tom Tauke, whom he eventually defeated. I can’t remember any objections to these visits from parents, students, or other members of the community from either party.


While I can't recall any presidential candidates stopping by my school during caucus season, an endless number of them stumped through my hometown and surrounding communities. My teachers sometimes encouraged us to go to these campaign events, regardless of the candidate's party tag, for in-class projects or extracurricular activities.

A lot of Iowa schools, in fact, actively seek to have students review and critique presidential candidates’ speeches and platforms as part of their lesson plans, as I reported in a story a few years ago. Back then, I visited the classroom of an enterprising teacher in a Des Moines suburb who had encouraged his students to doggedly court 2004 presidential candidates to make visits to their school. One candidate, Howard Dean, took them up on it. Of course, Obama’s critics seem to be arguing that his speech will have unprecedented reach (that's unclear) and that students were somehow being asked to approach his speech uncritically. It’s hard for me to imagine many teachers (or many parents, for that matter) encouraging that, especially given the state of political dialogue in this country today.

So I’ll broaden this discussion beyond Iowa’s borders. What memories do you have of a national political figure visiting your school? And under what circumstances? Graduation ceremony? Was it during a campaign? Was any mention made of his or her policies—and if not, then what did the politician have to say?

Photo of President Barack Obama at a Washington, D.C. charter school in February, by Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images-File. Undated photo of George H.W. Bush, above.


The far right is out to get Obama on anything he does and to divide this Country.Time to shine a light on these extremists.There is a related post at http://iamsoannoyed.com/?page_id=588

Every time we have a school building opening or major renovation every politican possible shows up for the ribbon cutting. They make speeches, congratulate everyone involved, tell the students to work hard and smile a lot for the photo opportunities. Everybody goes home happy.

I give about 100 non-partisan political presentations in rural, urban and suburban high schools every year and have been doing so since 1999. Occasionally a teacher will tell me that they only "have real politicians" speak to their students. My standard comeback is that is fine if you want a one sided view, but I never go into a presentation telling students what to think, only to encourage them to think.

Getting young people to understand that politics is not about one liners or just campaigns, but about connecting past to present and participating in our process for a better future. I can't imagine that President Obama will use his opportunity to promote his personal political views. I imagine he will use this opportunity to inspire students to study and learn in school to be the very best they can be. Our students, schools, our communities and country depend on our students! Thanks.

I remember a televised or pre-recorded speech from Ronald Reagan that I watched in school in the early '80s (I think). Don't remember much of a furor. My parents certainly didn't feel the need to protect me from the unspeakable horror....

George W. Bush visited my Metairie, LA high school in early 2000, during his first Presidential Campaign. Almost all seniors attended, and although I was a freshman, I was involved in Student Government and various other organizations, so I was asked to attend.

It was a very tense but interesting assembly, and I'm glad that I was able to attend. Personally, that event motivated me to think more critically about politics, controversial issues, and to evaluate my opinions and beliefs more heavily.

His visit, in some ways, left me very unsettled, and established the foundation for a deep sense of disapproval for his Administration. Although, my opposition to the war in Iraq and the LAST straw--being abandoned (as a person, a New Orleanian, and an American) after Hurricane Katrina--influenced my views on Bush much more than his visit in 2000.

In any case, I was allowed to form my own opinions. My parents were never notified regarding his visit nor were they asked whether they approved of my attendance, and THAT'S OKAY! There was no outrage, no uproar, and no controversy.

The fact that the very Parish School System in which I was educated is now allowing parents to "opt-out" of allowing their children discuss current events and to experience the excitement of having THEIR President speak DIRECTLY to THEM, asking for their GENUINE INPUT, is utterly heart-breaking, disappointing, and downright embarrassing for me.

I don't object to President Obama traveling to a school that struggles with a high drop-out rate to speak to the student body about staying in school because then the message fits the audience. I support him sharing his personal message about the hard work and sacrifice it took to achieve educational goals. After all, he is in a position of credibility to speak on what one can attain with an education. What I object to is the notion that his speech should be streamed live into the classroom across the nation regardless of whether it suits the time or place, and the accompanying suggested curriculum.

Since when it it appropriate for a politician who, in addition to speaking to students, also provides classroom activities? Such hubris. Teachers are certainly more skilled in how to adapt the content of a speech in a way that is appropriate for their classroom! Providing the curriculum without the accompanying text of the speech is even more ridiculous. I'd never support creating student work without a textbook or other source of content. (I understand that the text of the speech will now be provided the day before the speech is to be given. Better, but still not much time to prepare a suitable lesson.) After reading both sets of curricula, I found them to be sorely lacking in relevant tasks for any grade.

Besides, if the President wants to send a message to the nation about the importance of education, how about including parents in the mix? Parents are the first line of support for students, and if our educational system has broken down, it's partly because our family structure is falling apart. Don't bypass the parents, Mr. President. Appeal to the ones who are closest to the situation and have the most ability to actually make education a priority every day. Kids need daily good examples, not a fifteen minute speech and a posterboard project.

While teaching history in a NH high school, visits to the school, and sometimes classroom, by candidates during the long Primary campaign were a regular part of social studies. These were partisan, campaigning appearances. This is called civic education. I had the privilege of having both Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan talk to my classes, live with Q&A. In the off years, we filled in with state-level candidates. This is how kids get hooked on politics, and activated as voters.

Comments are now closed for this post.


Most Viewed on Education Week



Recent Comments