Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Much of conservative newstalk radio this week has been savaging the President's upcoming address to the nation's students. These hosts include my hero (if not necessarily this dedicated agnostic's ideological soul-mate) Michael Medved and the delightfully acerbic Mark Steyn (filling in for Limbaugh on the Excellence in Broadcasting Network).

The charge generally is that Obama is using this as an excuse to indoctrinate our schoolchildren with his putative statism.

Notwithstanding those silly "How I Can Help the President" letters-to-themselves that second-graders are being instructed to write, I think this has the makings of a terrific Presidential tradition. And it would perfectly tie in with a radical Department of Education revamping I've advocated.

I've long argued over KIRO/Seattle and earlier stations which have aired my commercial newstalk radio broadcasts for continuation of the grand and sensible American tradition of local control of education. Locally-elected school boards and their appointed administrators, not Federal policy, should dictate curricula. But I do see a vital federal role.

Like many, I've advocated a dismantlement of the Education Department, but my idea has a twist. Medved and others want to see a total dissolution of the Federal Department.

My proposal is cleverly less sweeping. Unlike the standard conservative position, that the entire cabinet level position be eliminated first by Executive Order and later confirmed by Congressional act, I favor instead a drastic downsizing of the Ed Department, which incidentally was one of the many mistaken advents of the Carter Administration. That is, I think every position but the Secretary of Education should be abolished.

So leave the Secretary and a tiny support staff for the office, tiny for pretty much all they would have to do is schedule the Secretary's numerous appearances in each of the 50 states. For in my Administration, the Secretary's sole job would be, on short notice, to visit local school boards, administrators and even classrooms, lending the Administration's prestige and influence to further whatever general educational aims my Administration rhetorically espouses.

The threat of an occasional visit by the Secretary of Education would have a noticeable effect on local school boards maintaining their standards, naturally fearful of the national spotlight being shed on their substandard management of the locals' educational future.

This idea need not be restricted to the Secretary. If you like, also retain with the Secretary the office's various Undersecretaries and Assistant Secretaries to widen the reach of this approach.

In this context, an annual Presidential Address to the Students each September could set the tone for that entire scholastic year, not to mention giving at least those students paying attention to their video screens a stake in the national improvement of our much-documented failing classrooms.

One vital idea that seems lost on many marginal students is why so many years of one's youth must be devoted to education in the first place. Presidents might be uniquely positioned to explain to those disillusioned by the entire process why it's not only in their personal interest but also, appealing to the natural patriotism even lackluster students often possess, how it's in the national interest for each of them to laboriously learn how to not improperly use apostrophes and why it's—not its—important to know who our nation's 4th President* was.

Meanwhile, Obama's initiative is being lampooned as a stunt, but many Presidential addresses circumstantially have that air anyway. This one, well-executed and inspirational—two Presidential details Obama's usually got down, in sharp contrast to his earnest and principled but inarticulate predecessor—would go a long way toward sheparding our nation's students, primary, secondary and collegiate alike, toward avoidance of squandering the twin gifts of youth and education.


* That would be James Madison, so-called Father of the Constitution, for those who didn't pay sufficient attention in grade school.

No comments: