Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Editorial Board, June 2009 to September 2009
- Suzanne Schlicht, general manager
- Brent Boyer, editor
- Mike Lawrence, city editor
- Tom Ross, reporter
- Grant Fenton, community representative
- Paul Strong, community representative
Contact the editorial board at (970) 871-4221 or email@example.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.
Steamboat Springs It's a sad day in America when the president of the United States can't talk directly to schoolchildren about the value of education and the importance of them taking responsibility for their success in school and life.
The overblown controversy surrounding President Barack Obama's 20-minute speech broadcast live Tuesday on C-SPAN and the White House's Web site is, unfortunately, representative of where we are as a nation - so politically polarized that even a straightforward talk about education is met with irrational resistance. The intensity of that polarization was felt even in Routt County, where the leaders of our three public school districts were put in the unenviable position of deciding whether to appease the few parents who called to complain about the speech, the few who called to support it, or the vast majority who didn't call at all. The late notice of the speech didn't help, nor did the holiday weekend that prevented schools from having more time to prepare for it.
Despite those challenges, our school districts should have shown the speech live to all students in their classrooms, where available. Students who didn't want to hear the address from their president - or whose parents didn't want them to hear it - certainly should have been given the chance to opt out, but the burden should have been on those students and families, not the other way around.
In Steamboat, school officials made the live broadcast available in school media centers as opposed to classrooms. Students who wanted to see it could leave their classes to do so. The district also planned to record the speech and make it available to teachers who want to use it at a later date. By Tuesday afternoon, the district's Web site featured a link to the speech video so parents and their children could watch it together. Middle school Principal Tim Bishop said the district simply wanted to reach a compromise that worked for everyone.
Steamboat Springs High School's plan was adjusted at the last minute when Principal Kevin Taulman allowed the broadcast to be shown in individual classrooms. Students who didn't want to watch it could go to the media center.
"The speech was worth taking time out of class," Taulman said. "It allowed students to see a speech specifically aimed at them from the president of the United States. That doesn't happen every day."
We couldn't agree more. And although we don't doubt that every move made by the president and every other national political figure is calculated at some level, the text of Obama's speech revealed nothing more than an inspiring message from the leader of our nation. If Obama's speech motivated just one child in every classroom across America, the time taken away from regular curriculum was worth it.
Students in Hayden didn't get the chance Tuesday, because Superintendent Greg Rockhold said they'd be too busy on the first day of classes for the 2009-10 school year to listen to a presidential address about their education. We can't think of a better time to stress the importance of education to students than on their first day of a new school year.
Finally, South Routt Superintendent Scott Mader left it up to individual teachers to decide whether to show the speech to their students. Mader told the Steamboat Today that he thought Obama's message would be an important one for students to hear. We wish he would have taken that stand for his district and not put his teachers in the uncomfortable position of making that choice while in the midst of trying to build positive relationships with the parents of their students.
Much of the controversy stemming from it centered on the inclusion of suggested lesson plans to accompany the speech. Part of the lesson plans encouraged students to "write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president." Conservative pundits immediately criticized Obama for attempting to use a captive audience of children to push his political agenda. Nevermind that then President George H.W. Bush encouraged students to write a similar letter during a speech to them in 1991. It was a speech that reportedly led Democrats to demand an investigation into the taxpayer money spent by Bush on the address.
The Obama White House called the current controversy "silly" but nonetheless changed the wording of the lesson plan activity to instead suggest that students "write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short- and long-term education goals."
Democrats aren't off the hook. Both parties seem to spend as much time assailing each other as they do working together to enact meaningful legislation for the betterment of our country.
Regardless, when the sitting president of the United States wants to take less than half an hour to talk to kids about personal responsibility and their educations, we should listen. More important, our students should listen.
We think an opportunity was lost Tuesday for many of Routt County's schoolchildren.