Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Encourage, Inspire, but Expect?

President Obama's release yesterday of his speech to America's students might be the most anticlimactic Presidential press release in recent memory.  As expected, it's a call to work hard, study hard, stay in school, don't give up and don't give in.  All good stuff.

Well done, Mr President.  You gave us exactly what everyone expected.  That is, you gave us exactly what every President says to students in every era.  Drab, but safe.

Of course if the President had been inclined to say anything non-standard, that impulse probably fled quickly after all the hubbub over the speech and especially over the accompanying lesson plans.  Did he want to say something else -- something more -- and change his mind in the end?  We'll probably never know.

But now that he has chosen the safe road, the predictable road, let's move on, right?  I may take a lot of flack for this, but in this masterpiece of political correctness I still find something disquieting... even slightly disturbing.

Am I the only person in America who finds the President's use of the word 'expect' a bit out of place?  He uses it three times in the speech.  First, he sets the stage by saying,
"So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I'm here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I'm here because I want to talk with you about your education and what's expected of all of you in this new school year."
In the passive voice this doesn't catch in the lint trap of the mind quite so much as the subsequent uses.
"They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same."
The President expects.  Somehow that strikes me as odd in this context.
"So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don't let us down - don't let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it."
Let's see.  Parents and teachers can expect students to get serious.  Parents and teachers can expect a student to put forward his/her best effort.  And Parents and Teachers can expect great things from students.  But does a President of the United States have the right to impose his expectations on American students? Even when those expectations are quite healthy and likely align with the goals and desires of the parents and teachers?

No, I don't think so.  We might anticipate that a President would encourage students to get serious, or encourage them to put their best effort into everything, or encourage great things from each student.  We might even imagine the President sharing stories (as he did in this speech) to inspire getting serious, putting forth their best effort, and getting great things from them.

But to expect?  Am I the only one who feels like saying, "Who does this guy think he is?  What right does he have to lay his expectations -- however noble -- on my child?"  He may be the President of the United States and he may be due certain honors and respect.  But he crosses a line when he thinks he has the right to expect anything from children who are not his own.

It's possible he meant something different.  When one says, "I expect", it can mean two very different things.  It can mean, "You better do it," or it can mean "I have every confidence that you will achieve it."

A master orator like President Obama certainly knows this distinction.  In his trio of expectations he almost seems to move from "You better get serious" and "you better put your best effort into everything" to "I have every confidence that you will achieve great things."

Maybe this is Obama's idea of tough love.  No doubt he's worried about students who might drop out.  Such students might need a bit of tough talk.  But is he their Papa that he has the right to deliver that tough talk to them?

Nah.  I'm giving him too much credit.  In his model the government is the supreme being.  Government knows best.  He has already exerted authority over the financial system, the automotive industry, pay scales, etc.  Now he wants to exert authority over health care, one sixth of the US economy.  His ultimate goal is to exert authority over every aspect of the economy so that he can more equitably redistribute wealth.  So why wouldn't he be trying to excercise that same  authority over students?

I think he is.


  1. You're an idiot. You're looking for invisible boogeymen and not focusing. Your racist hate blinds you; Christ calls all believers to rebuke people just like you.

    I *expect* the children to do well, and so does the President.

    You clearly have no understanding of pulic education, other than some dismissive commentary about "socialsm," I'm sure (though I doubt you mind driving on paved roads).

    People like you astound me. You seem to really believe that you're in the right, despite your hate, vile, and vitriol. What would you have us do? Have soup lines in churches? What of those nonbelievers among us? Oh yes--in your world, those people would be stoned, I assume.

    I'll pray for you. Christ knows that you need prayer.

  2. Heh Anonymous,Where did the Libertywatchman even reference race.?

    Anyway, I think your take on the word "expect" is well founded.

  3. Anonymous, where in the world are you coming from? I agree with Darlene - what has this to do with race? I think you have your own agenda and can see nothing WRONG with this President! And what is with the personal attacks and vitriol? You will never win a point in an argument when you respond in that way by attacking someone who you disagree with. Very immature.

    The problem that many of us have with this president is his arrogance and control-freak nature. I wouldn't normally oppose the word "expect", except that it is coming from someone who is an authoritarian and who seems to love to lecture the American people (and our children) more than lead. We have had to listen to his voice one too many times. Unfortunately, he has not heard the sound of his voice enough, and continues to speak out his "nanny in chief" dribble all the time.

    His speech was harmless, in my mind, but was it really necessary? What was the point, and will he do this every year??? I understand the President of the US is a role model to many, many young children in our country, and I would never want to distort that for any of them. I think it's important to teach them to respect anyone who is in that position. It's just a shame that that same kind of respect was not given to President Bush that those of you who support Obama are expecting for him.

    The hypocrisy speaks for itself.

  4. Hypocrisy?

    Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

    The right's viscous attacks on Obama evidence not only a deep-seated hatred but also an obvious fear of progress. If you really believe that the right's attacks on Obama don't stem from an institutionalized racism, then you're just ignorant of history (not ad hominem--the truth).

    Criticism qua criticism is one thing; pathological fear of "socialism" (a right wing scare tactic) is something else entirely. Students of history know that the right has always been this way--the right dismisses any new idea as "communist" or "socialist" or "un-American" with little to no investigation of the issues at hand

    As to the point about necessity: why *wouldn't* it be necessary? We're living in tough times, just now coming out of a recession that the Bush junta plunged us in to. The President's reassuring words and urgings to work hard are necessary. If you think that our students work hard now, then, again, you're ignorant of history.

    Reagan addressed school children. Bush 1 did. Clinton did. Bush 2 was reading a story to a group of school children when the towers fell.

    Let's just face it: this opposition to Obama has little to do with reality.

    My prayers are with you, all of you, who are blinded by the Newt Gingrich-penned narrative that the right wing has some monopoly on morality.

    Christ was a political revolutionary, and so are true Christians.

  5. Wow, Anonymous, you really have no idea what you're talking about.

  6. Easy to say, Abigail. Harder to back up with real argument.

  7. Anonymous,

    There's really no point in engaging in intelligent discourse with someone who begins their post with "you're an idiot". It is at that moment that one realizes you are not seriously interested in a two-sided debate. All you are interested in is spewing forth venom against those with whom you disagree and whom you don't know, nor understand. Your pre-conceived judgments and the vitriolic manner in which they are delivered eliminate any opportunity for a healthy argument. It's really a shame that you can't discuss issues on a more mature level. I believe you have a lot to offer to a discussion, but not the way that you present it.