I am certainlynot in the habit of defending Barack Obama against his detractors, but the controversy drummed up by rabid right-wing hysterics over the President's back-to-school speech on Tuesday is quite simply bizarre and absurd. However, the manufactured uproar and outrage over the President's socialist/fascist/communitarianist (hey, pick an ideology, any ideology!) "brainwashing" of unsuspecting and impressionable students on one of their first days of school brings up very real and very serious concerns over both the potential and realities of aggressive government indoctrination and the abuse of open access to America's youth.
In the days leading up to Obama's fifteen-minute long, syndicated speech, the conservative netherworld was abuzz over what sort of cultish and dangerous hypnotism our Kenyan-born Commie Muslim commander-in-chief would dish out in classrooms all over the country. The paranoia and fear promoted by political and media demagogues and repeated thoughtlessly by their audience of ventriloquist dummies created a sort of dual-McCarthyism, equal parts Joe and Charlie.
Last week, Glenn Beck warned listeners of his radio show about the dangers of Obama's upcoming speech and "the indoctrination of your children," saying that the Presidential address was evidence of the "get 'em while they're young" approach of of big government's brainwashing tactics. Meanwhile,NewsBuster's contributing editor Mark Finkelstein repeatedly compared the address to Chinese communism, likened Obama to Mao Zedong, and even inquiring in one blog post whether "our MSM report on the interesting parallel between our president's plan for our children and the approach of another Great Leader from the past?" Then there was Mark Steyn, a Canadian author and political commentator, who, while speaking on the Rush Limbaugh Show made extensive reference to Saddam Hussein's cult of personality in Iraqi schools and warned against Obama's attempt to do the same here in the United States.
"Zealous teacher's unions have enlisted captive schoolchildren as letter-writers in their campaigns for higher education spending. Out-of-control activists have enlisted their secondary-school charges in pro-illegal immigration protests, gay marriage ceremonies, environmental propaganda stunts, and anti-war events."Yeah, if only.
In a recent article, Lauri Regan of American Thinker wrote that "Obama has turned his team of brainwashers on the task of indoctrinating America's youth...My children are off limits," while Townhall.com's Meredith Jessup bemoans the loss of mandatory prayer and religion in public schooling as "big-government influence continues to be ushered in." Jessup thusly concludes that "This massive abuse of government power - reaching into our kids' classrooms - is unacceptable."
A OneNewsNow column from September 4th identifies Diane Jewell, a parent in Indiana, as worrying that "her daughter is being indoctrinated into socialism" by attending public Junior High School. Jewell believes that "it is not Obama's place to talk to children directly, without parental input" adding that she is "very concerned with the increasing involvement of federal government in education." Obviously, Jewell now "regrets her decision to quit homeschooling and in retrospect she wishes she had stayed at home in order to continue homeschooling her daughter."
In a September 1 post featured on her tellingly-titled "Atlas Shrugs" blog (and headlined "Obama in the Classroom: Keep Your Kids Home from School September 8"), Newsmax.com contributor Pamela Geller wrote,
The fascist in chief is taking his special brand of brainwashing to the classroom. Keep your kids home. I think this man is a threat to our basic unalienable rights. I don't want him indoctrinating my children. Seriously.Seriously?
Ask your school what their participation is in this leftist indoctrination outrage. Keep politics out of the classroom. Keep communists and their propagandists away from small children.
Not to be outcrazied, American Family Association radio host and conservative activist Bryan Fischer wrote in a September 1 column that Obama's speech "is likely to be an exercise in nation-wide indoctrination...The capacity for mischief here is enormous." Then, echoing Geller's sentiments that parents should opt their children out of viewing the speech, Fischer continues,
Unless we get public assurances from the White House that the president won't address health care or global warming or the homosexual agenda (under the color of "human rights for people different than us") this might be a great time for parents to exercise their opt-out authority and give their students a biography of George Washington to read while the President turns the minds of an entire generation to mush.WorldNetDaily news editor Bob Unruh floated the idea that Obama's speech to students has "been cited as raising the specter of the Civilian National Security Force, to which he's referred several times since his election campaign began, but never fully explained" while also pointing out how creepy it is for the elected President of the United States of America to speak directly to the nation's children about the importance of education. "Parents across the country are rebelling against plans by President Barack Obama to speak directly to their children through the classrooms of the nation's public schools without their presence, participation and approval," Unruh wrote, before quoting random insane rantings of conservative web-forum comments:
"He's recruiting his civilian army. His 'Hitler' youth brigade," wrote one participant in a forum at Free Republic.Brett Curtis, an engineer from Texas, told the New York Times that the idea of the speech "seemed like a direct channel from the president of the United States into the classroom, to my child," and would therefore keep his three children home from school that day since he doesn't "want our schools turned over to some socialist movement." Jim Greer, the Republican Party chairman in Florida, said he "was appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama's socialist ideology," and warned that the address "does not allow for healthy debate on the President's agenda, but rather obligates the youngest children in our public school system to agree with our President's initiatives or be ostracized by their teachers and classmates." Greer was certain that, because the Democrats had a rough summer of hijacked town hall meetings, "now that school is back in session, President Obama has turned to American's children to spread his liberal lies, indoctrinating American's youngest children before they have a chance to decide for themselves."
"I am not going to compare President Obama to Hitler. We'll leave that to others and you can form your own opinions about them and their analogies. ... However, we can learn a lot from the spread of propaganda in Europe that led to Hitler's power. A key ingredient in that spread of propaganda was through the youth," wrote a blogger at the AmericanElephant.com blog, where the subject of the day was a national "Keep-Your-Child-at-Home-Day."
"Totalitarian regimes around the world have sought to spread their propaganda and entrench their power by brainwashing the children. I guess it's easier to indoctrinate a six-year-old instead of fighting a 26-year-old or being challenged by a 46-year-old in the voting booth," the blogger wrote.
Meanwhile Kansas City talk show host Chris Stigall, with thoughts of sugar plums and executive pedophilia floating in his head, stated that he "wouldn't let my next-door neighbor talk to my kid alone; I'm sure as hell not letting Barack Obama talk to him alone."
Never mind the sheer ignorance of all these people, especially the clear fact that none of them knows the definition of fascism or socialism, or could explain the difference between a democracy and a republic, for that matter. Never mind the fear-mongering and hateful resentment of a recently beaten-up political party. Never mind the fact that Obama's speech wound up being totally innocuous, completely devoid of politics whatsoever, and called upon this nation's students to take pride in their education, try hard, and do their best to achieve their goals. Never mind that, as Time.com's Michael Scherer put it, "President Obama's speech to your kids reads like a paean to individual striving and free market capitalism, the sort of thing that Ayn Rand and Barry Goldwater might have signed onto. At root, Obama's message is one of individual responsibility, a disquisition on the freedom of American youth to fail or succeed on their own tenacity and merits," and was anything but "lefty, neo-socialist, communitarian brainwashing."
Never mind that this country's education system is already tailor-made to spread misinformation, entrench mythologies, and promote American exceptionalism to our young children. American history, as taught in schools, is generally nonsense meant to instill and preserve a sense of City-on-a-Hill nationalism, along with healthy doses of tall-tale founding myths, gung-ho militarism, and ethnic cleansing justification in the form of righteous Manifest Destiny. As James W. Loewen explains in his 1995 book Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, textbooks used to teach our children "leave out anything that might reflect badly upon our national character." More to the point, Helen Keller (y'know the deaf, mute, and blind kid who was actually a radical and progressive political thinker, one of the founders of the ACLU, and a staunch supporter of the NAACP and actual socialism) stated clearly why American history is made up of gross simplifications and hero worship: "People do not like to think. If one thinks, one must reach conclusions...Conclusions are not always pleasant." Anyone who has actually studied real American history knows this to be true.
Students in the United States are taught that Christopher Columbus discovered America and proved that the earth was round (not true); they are not taught that Columbus was a genocidal manic (true). Institutionalized racism and ethnocentrism is all but ignored in history class, Native Americans are demonized as savages (they weren't) and colonists (who were savages) are celebrated as civilized co-existers. (The reason the Pilgrims in New England had such bountiful crops is because all the Native Americans who planted them had either died from European-borne plague or had fled in fear of plague, which John Winthrop, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, called "miraculous.") Students are taught that Albert Einstein failed his math class (he didn't, and was, in fact, a mathematical prodigy by the age of 12). They learn that Isaac Newton was hit on the head by a falling apple and "discovered" gravity (not true), Benjamin Franklin flew a kite in a storm and "discovered" electricity (also not true), and that George Washington chopped down his father's prized cherry-tree and then didn't lie about doing it. (This is a fairy tale created by a man named Mason Locke "Parson" Weems, author of the "biography" The Life of George Washington, with Curious Anecdotes Laudable to Himself and Exemplary to his Countrymen, in which Weems recalled many fantastic, adulatory confabulations about a fabulously deified Washington, with particular emphasis on his overwhelming moral fortitude and infallibility. At various points in the work, Weems refers to Washington as a "hero," a "demigod," "the Jupiter Conservator" [or, "Jupiter, Savior of the World"] and, quite simply, the "greatest man that ever lived".)