If the days leading up to President Barack Obama's address to American schoolchildren Tuesday were retold on stage, the title would be a no-brainer: "Much Ado About Nothing." Not since the rampant Y2K panic 1999, has frantic, reflexive public reaction so outweighed the actual harm of the potential problem.
To anyone with an iota of sense, the president's education speech wasn't the socialist, spiteful, doctrinaire rant many conservative talking heads worried that it would be. Instead, it turned out to be the rhetorical version of grape-flavored cough syrup: sweet, simple and benign—exactly the sort of thing you'd expect someone, anyone, to say when trying to motivate 6- and 7-year-olds.
That so many took issue with the address even before it was given speaks to the need for a better educated America. But it also highlights the difficulty we face in trying to enlighten some segment of the population.
In Texas, Missouri and Virginia, entire school districts opted out of broadcasting the speech to their students, citing the "controversy." Elsewhere around the country, parents afraid of what President Obama planned to say were allowed the right to have their children excused from watching the feed. In the wake of the thing, we can see clearly now from what foul evil these careful educators and frightened parents rescued their defenseless kiddies:
"[A]t the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world—and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed."
"We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect, so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that—if you quit on school—you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country."
The jig is up—there are no monsters under the bed. The speech conservatives had been pooh-poohing as a threatening attempt to brainwash youngsters turned out to be nothing more than a bland but patriotic plea for hard, honest work from America's young people.
Jim Greer, chairman of the GOP in Florida, stands out as a man with a particularly large dollop of egg on his face. After saying last week that he "was appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology," Greer was forced to backpedal, saying Monday of Obama's address, "It's a good speech. It encourages kids to stay in school and the importance of education, and I think that's what a president should do."
Too little, too late, unfortunately. Many children around the country have missed out forever on Obama's "good" speech, thanks largely to Republican pundits and fear-mongering talking heads who convinced schools and parents alike that the president's words would be anything less than professional, wholesome and inspiring.
And in a couple decades, those children will be just like their parents: paranoid, angry, wary of schooling and willing to believe almost any lie shouted from the oversized gray desks of cable news. They won't know it, but they never had a chance.As is too often the case, the kids were alright; it's the adults who needed help.
Cord Jefferson is a regular contributor to The Root.