Saturday, September 5, 2009

Why Can't My Granddaughter See the President?

Posted By on Sat, Sep 5, 2009 at 12:23 PM

Emily Gray Junior High School will not be airing the president's speech to kids on Tuesday, and I couldn't be more disappointed.

Like just about every other public school in the country, Emily Gray has a U.S. flag flying in front of it. But it's also the alma mater of both Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and former Arizona State Senate President Tim Bee, who now runs the Tucson office of Gov. Jan Brewer.

With all of that, and its reputation for superior education, you'd think it would have a better perspective on democracy.

Instead, the school gives the appearance of having its Socratic instincts shut down by the loudest voices.

As the grandmother of an Emily Gray student, I have had high expectations. This is one school, I believed, that understood the ephemeral nature of rote facts imparted to pre-teens in the modern world, and focused, instead, on the crucial importance of learning how to learn. A school that could be depended upon to support developing building blocks for their charges' future contributions to our society and our democracy—analytical thinking, informed and reasoned debate, personal responsibility, the importance of having goals and the persistence to achieve them—the essential tools of our fast-changing, modern world.

So what possible harm could come from lending an ear to the elected President of the United States of America? Apparently a withering racket inflicted upon teachers and administrators of Tanque Verde Unified School District.

The District responded by issuing an elaborate "opt out" policy last week. Administrators have deemed the speech, by the elected leader of the free world, "political." Students whose parents don't want them to hear it can opt their kids out with note or a phone call. The policy makes a point to note that, even if teachers choose to air the speech, they will not use suggested guidelines prepared by the Teaching Ambassador Fellows of the U.S. Department of Education. Those, too, are seen as being politically biased, by no less an influence than the Arizona State Superintendent of Schools.

The district appears to have left it to each teacher to decide whether or not to air the president's speech. ("You're on your own with this mess, folks.") At Emily Gray, not a single teacher stepped up to the challenge. As a result, my granddaughter has no option to "opt in" to hear and discuss it. And that's a shame.

It's a shame because what she learns from all this is that intimidation works. That Democracy is not stronger than cowardice. That misinformed or threatening rhetoric has more power than study and analysis. That for all the hands-on science experiments, hands-on social science is off limits in education.

What she does not learn is the heat of the crucible of defending her beliefs—the very thing that might best teach her the importance of analytical thinking, informed and reasoned debate, and the persistence required to achieve and maintain democracy.

Tanque Verde Unified School District policy on the president's speech here.

Emily Gray announcement here.

Guidelines by the Teaching Ambassador Fellows of the U.S. Department of Education here.

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