As the president speaks, teachers can ask students to write down key ideas or phrases that are important or personally meaningful. Students could use a note‐taking graphic organizer such as a “cluster web;” or, students could record their thoughts on sticky notes. Younger children could draw pictures and write as appropriate. As students listen to the speech, they could think about the following:
- What is the president trying to tell me?
- What is the president asking me to do?
- What new ideas and actions is the president challenging me to think about?
- What specific job is he asking me to do?
- Is he asking anything of anyone else?
- Teachers? Principals? Parents? The American people?
On the surface of it, there would appear to be nothing wrong with any of this. Aren't those good comprehension questions? Isn't it helping students to focus on the main ideas of the president's speech? The answer to those questions, both of them, is yes. My concern, having watched Arbor Day turn from planting trees to saving the earth, is the discussion that will take place with these notes.
The youngest students are going to have trouble understanding, or caring about, the president's speech. That means someone will interpret for them, putting their own spin on the message, leading students in a particular direction. Older students will also be led in the direction that their particular teacher wants them led. Bearing in mind that a majority of teachers are liberals, the leading will be in directions I don't want to see happen.
The idea of *debate* will not be part of the lesson. Did you notice that there is nothing about "discussion" in these questions? Did you notice there is nothing about critically thinking? None of the questions asks, for instance, that students decide whether the president's message has a *valid* point. Nothing asks students to determine whether what the president suggests is something that will make a difference in their education.
No, the questions are merely, once again, at the knowledge and possibly application levels on Bloom's Taxonomy. Will teachers guide students to be critical thinkers? Will they even ask questions such as, "What might the education system look like if everyone did what the president asks?" They won't. They will lead students like little sheep to jump over the fences they want jumped. No one will ask, "What happens if we do what the president asks?" If they did, it wouldn't involve critical speculation. It would only be a Kum-ba-yah moment around the campfire, warming ourselves at Obama's fundamental Change for America.