President Obama & Bill Gates

September 7, 2009

[Related commentary: President to Children: Wash Your Hands]

President Obama to Address School Children, Bill Gates to Follow 
  
President Obama will address public school children in a 15-20 minute speech on September 8, 2009 at noon (EST) from the White House via the White House web site and C-Span. His administration (Department of Education) has developed companion lesson plans for teachers to use to prepare for and help children evaluate the speech.1
 
The lesson plans are carefully couched in the language of “teachers could, teachers can” do this or that. Among the things teachers might want to do with their students:
 
• Before the speech, read about presidents’ lives, including President Obama
• Discuss what the president might say
• Discuss what the president did say and what he is asking of students and others
• Create poems, essays, songs and art based on the president’s speech (implied)
• Set personal goals and develop ways to track them
 
Almost needless to say, there is a fair amount of outrage over this event. Individuals and groups are questioning the propriety of a president telecasting himself into classrooms full of confined children.
 
But this is
not the first time a president has addressed school children about the challenges they face, and while it is up to individual schools districts whether or not they’ll show the speech (as it has been in the past), and while parents can always keep their children home that day, it nevertheless does bring up issues of concern about the federal government’s increasing involvement in education, something that portends frightening consequences.
 
Bonus Feature: The Get Schooled Initiative
 
More disturbing may be what follows the president’s speech on September 8.
 
Later in the evening, will be the kick-off of a five-year program —
The Get Schooled Initiative — sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation in partnership with business leaders, policymakers, entertainers and others:
 
“The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Viacom Inc. will join other corporations and nonprofit organizations, as well as education thought leaders, policymakers and concerned entertainment industry professionals at the Paramount Pictures lot in Hollywood to formally launch the Get Schooled initiative and engage students, families and community members in efforts to reform the nation’s public schools and provide American youth with a world-class education.”2
 
The opening ceremonies will feature, among others, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller, New York City Department of Education Chancellor Joel Klein, and Los Angeles area high-school athletic director Stephen Minix.3
 
Also premiering will be a documentary called
Get Schooled You Have the Right, “which highlights the education stories of three successful professionals who work with President Barack Obama, 2009 NBA MVP LeBron James and pop superstar Kelly Clarkson.”4
 
The documentary will be aired at 8 P.M. (EST) “in the first programming “roadblock” of any kind across all Viacom networks, including BET, MTV, VH1, CMT, Comedy Central, Spike TV, TV Land, and Nickelodeon.”
5
 
The Department of Education offers this explanation of its own part in The Get Schooled Initiative on its web site:
 
Is the “Get Schooled” television event in the evening on Sept. 8 hosted by the Viacom network and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation connected to the president’s speech?
 
While the U.S. Department of Education is a partner in this effort, the president’s noontime address is a separate event. Get Schooled is a five-year national platform developed by Viacom and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that connects, inspires, and mobilizes people to find effective solutions to education challenges….

The grand finale of the opening ceremonies of the September 8 kickoff of The Get Schooled Initiative: “[T]he Gates Foundation and Viacom will welcome corporate partners AT&T, Capital One Financial Corporation, and NYSE Euronext, which have each signed on to the Get Schooled initiative…” [end quote]
 
One can’t help but feel that this effort is reminiscent of the powers that contributed so heavily to the government takeover of education to begin with, as documented in John Taylor Gatto’s
book, The Underground History of American Education.
 
What do you think?
 
The most important questions about President Obama’s speech will not likely have anything to do with the content. It’s hard to imagine that he will say anything too radical or anything students don’t hear every year from their government-employed teachers, principals and counselors.
 
Some of the bigger questions include:
 
• Is this an appropriate thing for a president to do?
• Is this one more step toward a more embedded presence of the federal government in education — and what might that lead to?
• What are the implications of the government working in any way with a private foundation, which is working on the same project with powerful business leaders and influential entertainers, to influence the formation of children into adults?
 
Your thoughts are most welcome. 
  
References
 
1. Suggested lesson plans and activities from the U. S. Department of Education:
http://www.ed.gov/teachers/how/lessons/prek-6.pdf
http://www.ed.gov/teachers/how/lessons/7-12.pdf
 
2, 3, 4, 5. http://www.gatesfoundation.org/press-releases/Pages/get-schooled-documentary-launches-in-hollywood-090827.aspx