On Obama’s school speech, Jay Mathews spouts silliness

Influential edu-columnist Jay Mathews of the Washington Post has gone off the deep end of self-seriousness with his latest essay, “Why I Don’t Want the Obama Speech Shown in Other Schools:”

I don’t think the speech is an effort to “spread President Obama’s socialist ideology,” as charged by Jim Greer, chairman of the Florida Republican Party. I don’t think it will turn its young viewers into guinea pigs, as columnist Michelle Malkin said. I do think it poses logistical difficulties, as many schools have complained, but that does not go far enough in identifying the problem.

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?

Wowsers. This is the lamest reason not to watch a special presidential address I have ever heard. Twenty minutes of lost learning time?

The cost-benefit of students spending 20 minutes (at noon) watching the president speaking directly to them is a no-brainer. Many of them will learn a ton. Some of my high school students in D.C. had never heard Barack Obama speak before I showed them his inaugural address in class. The effect for many was riveting and inspirational. Many students in our country— especially in lower-income households— are simply disconnected from the news and leaders of the day. That disconnection and isolation comes at a psychic cost. Schools can fulfill a responsibility to keep kids informed of major events, and the President of the United States addressing them, via television or webcast, is a major event.

Still, Mathews thinks granting students this exposure detracts from their education. And his anonymous corroborating witnesses (“the teachers who have influenced me”) wouldn’t compel the most clueless reader.

Ninety-nine percent of the commenters on Mathews’s article page on the Post website are with me. And Mathews’s saner colleague, Valerie Strauss, wrote:

“The furor over a speech that President Obama plans to give Tuesday, live online at noon urging kids to take their education seriously, has overshadowed this point: Whatever the adults in the room think of a president’s policies, he is the president–and it is important that kids learn to respect the office and listen to the occupant.”

Take a cue from your colleague, Jay, and return to earth.

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