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Posted at 10:05 AM ET, 09/22/2009

Teaching All the Wrong Lessons in Howard County

By washingtonpost.com editors

By Julie Christiansen Heleba
Ellicott City

A few days before President Obama’s speech to America’s schoolchildren, Howard County school administrators advised principals that the address could be shown at their discretion. Hours after that e-mail went out, some other parents and I polled Facebook friends to see whose children were going to get the chance to watch. We were saddened by our findings. Many schools had opted out.

It was a classic case of passing the buck. Clearly, the Howard County schools were taking a pass on their responsibility to their students.

At my neighborhood school, students are encouraged to do their “BEST” — an acronym that stands for “be respectful, embrace differences, spend time on learning, and take responsibility.” I had always believed that this was no empty acronym but a simplified educational creed. Clearly, however, some school officials did not take these ideas into consideration when they opted out of the speech. If they had used BEST as their lens, they would have come to a different conclusion.

How many of these principals thought of their respect for the president and of modeling that respect for the students? One would think that when a president speaks to our children, we should teach them it is respectful to listen. If our elected president is not worthy of this respect, then who is?

It also seems that many school officials need to learn to “embrace differences.” Isn’t this crucial to us as Americans? We have a democratic process in this country that functions well to ensure that we all get a say, a vote, an opinion. Children should be taught this process, to listen to opposing viewpoints and to develop their own opinions.

Some argued that showing the speech would take away from time for learning — but learning can involve so many things, can’t it? Perhaps the best learning is done when one is put in a position to think for oneself. Listening, forming an opinion, debating, persuading — these are all part of learning. With this speech, students had a great opportunity to question and reflect on what was being asked of them.

And finally, let’s reflect on “taking responsibility.” One of the main points in President Obama’s speech was encouraging students to take responsibility. How wonderful to have one of our most strongly held values echoed in a speech by the president, and how unfortunate that many students didn’t get the chance to hear it.

A regrettable choice. But I hope our Howard County schools can move forward now and promise us that they will try harder to do their BEST.

By washingtonpost.com editors  | September 22, 2009; 10:05 AM ET
 
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Comments

I would not want my school age children to hear a speech in school from President Obama. The President is a political figure. There is no getting away from the politics of it. If this were being done during a great crisis, such as WW2, I would think differently.

Posted by: alanr1 | September 25, 2009 7:46 PM | Report abuse

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