The XX Factor

Ask Not What Your President Can Do for You. Ask What You Can Do for Your President.

I agree, Jessica , that the uproar over President Obama’s back-to-school speech is silly. But the controversy, as I understand it, started not over the speech itself but the accompanying lesson plan, wherein it was suggested that students write a letter to themselves outlining what they could do “to help the president.” Isn’t Obama a former community organizer? Whoever wrote up that suggested lesson plan in the Department of Education could just as easily-and probably should have-written that line to say “help your school” or “help your community.” If I had to guess-and this is entirely speculation-I would imagine that an idealistic, enthusiastic young employee over at Education thought up the line and couldn’t conceive why anyone wouldn’t want to help the president. As a White House official said, “That was inartfully worded, and we corrected it.” For me, that’s the end of the matter.

But I’d also be willing to bet that if Bush 43’s Department of Education had come out with a similar lesson plan, someone on the left would have complained that Bush was trying to turn our nation’s children into a bunch of warmongering God freaks. I don’t think that this goose-and-gandering is necessarily helpful or productive, but I’m not surprised by it.

I do think it’s silly-and annoying-that some districts are not showing the speech and some people are “urging boycotts.” If you’re worried about what your kids are hearing at school, talk to them about it when they get home. We need more information, more discussion, and we need to stop roping ourselves off and listening only to people with whom we agree. Too much of that, and you have 65-year-old men biting off fingers . (Maybe they should be sent back to school to listen to Obama’s speech.) I don’t know whether my son’s kindergarten class will be watching the speech, but if he comes home asking me what a public option is, I’ll report back.

Photograph of Barack Obama by Gary Fabiano-Pool/Getty Images.