Dept of Ed needs English-language lessons

Next Tuesday, September 8, 2009, President Obama will address the nation’s school students via television link (presumably on some education-only channel). This action has been greeted with suspicion by many folks generally opposed to the President’s policies as they consider any attempt to direct political persuasion at school children – particularly when they’re literally a captive audience – to be a Bad Thing™. Given the President’s penchant for turning every phone call and meeting into a “get behind my universal health care proposal” marketing pitch, I have to say I’m a bit wary of it, too. Not so much that I would join the calls to keep the kids out of school next Tuesday, however. If he’s going to keep his legislative push completely out of the speech, then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a President addressing the students. I applaud it, in fact.

However, it’s not completely a mystery where people might get the wrong idea about this whole event. The Department of Education put out an agenda and some suggestions to teachers about how they could capitalize (if you’ll pardon the expression) on the event. One of the exercises they suggest giving to the kids was to have them “write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president.” Help him do what? And that’s the problem with this suggestion: what is the President going to be asking them to help him with?

Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller with ABC took note of the controversy and – surprise! – noted that the Dept of Ed changed the text of their suggested lesson plan.

In an acknowledgment that the Department of Education provided lesson plans written somewhat inartfully, surrounding the President Obama’s speech to students next Tuesday, the White House today announced that it had rewritten one of the sections in question.

President Obama will talk to students from Pre K thru 12th grade about personal responsibility and the importance of staying in school, White House aides said.

As one of the preparatory materials for teachers provided by the Department of Education, students had been asked to, “Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president. “

Today, after Republicans accused the White House of trying to indoctrinate school children with liberal propaganda the White House and the Department of Education changed the section to now read, “Write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short‐term and long‐term education goals.”

“We changed it to clarify the language so the intent is clear,” said White House Spokesman Tommy Vietor.

Sidebar: isn’t it amazing how fast this administration’s efforts have added the term “inartful” to our political language? Makes a blaring gaffe sound positively benign, doesn’t it?

Here’s the thing about “inartful” wording – it’s a matter of saying something such that it sounds worse than it could have. Suggesting that a woman possessed of “stern features” is “a homely hag” is an inartfully-worded comment. But there’s no serious changing of the assessment of this hypothetical woman. The speaker clearly thinks she’s not pleasant to behold. It’s just that the 2nd wording is… well… a bit blunt for what you’d call a politically-correct assertion.

That’s not at all what happened here. The change in language used didn’t “clarify” anything. It changed the entire meaning of the passage. For what purpose were the letters by the students to be written in the 1st suggestion? To express what they could do to help the president. And in the 2nd? To express what they could do to help them achieve their short-term and long-term education goals.

“…to help the president” is equal to “…to help them achieve their short-term and long-term education goals”? In what foreign language? Those 2 statements are nowhere near similar and you cannot assert that replacing the former with the latter was merely a clarification. It was an out-and-out change of direction and it was done because the Dept of Ed understands that they either overstepped their bounds in pushing an indoctrination approach, embarrassing the White House, or that they were just a bit too obvious about the White House’s intent, embarrassing the White House. Either way, if they’re suggesting to the American people that the 2 suggestions are just the same thing, only better worded, then they think you and I are pretty stupid. Of seriously lacking English language skills, one of the 2.

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One comment

  1. […] As I mentioned a few days ago, President Obama is scheduled to address the nation’s school kids tomorrow via video. In response to concerns raised about the content of the address, the White House has released the text of the speech, presumably in its entirety, on the White House web site. It’s not just a couple of paragraphs but it’s not a completely onerous read, either, so if you’re curious or concerned you should go have a look. […]

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