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Obamacentric Lesson Plan

Natalia J. Garland

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President Obama will give a speech next week to America's students. In anticipation of that speech, the government developed a lesson plan for teachers. Apparently, Obama expects the public schools not only to provide time for listening to his speech, but also possibly for conducting a lesson(s) centered on its content. The lesson tends to portray Obama as the egocentric focus of student activity. That means, next Tuesday, America's public schools could begin to operate as a nationalized, collective unit under the presidency and personality of Barack Obama.

Now, there is nothing wrong with the President talking to school children, encouraging them to study and to prepare for a meaningful adult life--other presidents have done the same. The problem, however, is that Obamian thought is inserted into a planned lesson--perhaps felt as inspirational to some but as intrusive to others. Not every parent voted for Obama, not every parent who voted for Obama currently supports Obama's policies, and not every student ranks Obama as an appropriate role model. Given the cult-like adoration of Obama among some teachers and students (as evidenced by discussions, songs, and art work done by young students, under teacher supervision, during Obama's campaign), a government-sponsored lesson plan could put teachers and students in a very uncomfortable relationship depending on their political viewpoints.

There are erroneous assumptions within the Obamacentric lesson plan, beginning with (1) the lesson plan itself: that the President's speech should be the topic of classroom study in public schools. That is, beyond respectfully listening to President Obama, students should also use classroom time to study and follow his advice. Other assumptions include (2) that educators are apparently expected to implement the lesson without question or modification, (3) that the content of Obama's speech will be correct and worthy, (4) that students are apparently expected to follow the lesson without using the intellectual skill of critical thinking.

Beneath these assumptions are deeper fundamental issues, specifically (1) the freedom of thought and speech regarding ideas, advice, and suggestions, and (2) the right to question, disagree with, and reject government authoritarianism. These fundamental issues pertain to teachers, students, and parents.

The lesson plan is copied below for your perusal--I think you will notice that no where in the lesson are students instructed to use the skill of critical thinking. Everything, except for the section on academic goal formation and a couple of introspective questions, is focused on Obamaian thought and in a positive light. Among younger or immature students--who are not yet able to analyze or evaluate personalities and political agendas, who might be susceptible to pressure, who lack identity--the lesson plan could be used or misused as a political indoctrination tactic by certain teachers. The lesson portrays Obama as totally worthy of attention in this "historic moment."

Pages 1-3 of the lesson plan are offered below, (page 4 is a simple chart which I omitted). This lesson is for grades 7-12; there is another lesson for the lower grades which would not download at the time of this writing. Although the lesson plan is dated September 8, 2009, I accessed this material on September 3, 2009, from the Department of Education website,, in PDF form. I made slight changes in the document structure in order to present it in HTML form on my website.

Menu of Classroom Activities
President Obama's Address to Students Across America
(Grades 7-12)
Produced by Teaching Ambassador Fellows, U.S. Department of Education
September 8, 2009

Before the Speech

  • Conduct a "quick write" or "think/pair/share" activity with students. (In the latter activity, students spend a few minutes thinking and writing about the question. Next, each student is paired with another student to discuss. Finally, the students share their ideas with the class as a whole). Teachers may choose to ask the following questions:
    What ideas do we associate with the words "responsibility," "persistence," and "goals?"
    How would we define each term?
    Teachers then may choose to create a web diagram of student ideas for each of the words.
  • Have students participate in a "quick write" or brainstorming activity. Teachers may ask students:
    What are your strengths?
    What do you think makes you successful as a student and as a person?
  • Teachers may engage students in short readings. Teachers may post in large print around the classroom notable quotes excerpted from President Obama's speeches on education. Teachers might ask students to think alone, compare ideas with a partner, or share their thoughts with the class. Teachers could ask students to think about the following:
    What are our interpretations of these excerpts?
    Based on these excerpts, what can we infer that the president believes is important in order to be educationally successful?
  • Create a "concept web." Teachers may ask students to think of the following:
    Why does President Obama want to speak with us today?
    How will he inspire us?
    How will he challenge us?
    What might he say?
    Do you remember any other historic moments when the president spoke to the nation?
    What was the impact?

    After brainstorming answers to these questions, students could create a "cause-and-effect" graphic organizer.

During the Speech

  • Teachers might conduct a "listening with purpose" exercise based on the following ideas: personal responsibility, goals, and persistence. Teachers might ask pairs of students to create a word bank at the top of a notes page that has been divided into two columns. On the right-hand side, students could take notes (trying to capture direct quotations or main ideas) while President Obama talks about personal responsibility, goals, or persistence. At the end of the speech, students could write the corresponding terms from the word bank in the left-hand column, to increase retention and deepen their understanding of an important aspect of the speech.
  • Teachers might conduct a "listening with purpose" exercise based on the themes of inspiration and challenges. Using a similar double-column notes page as the one described above, teachers could focus students on quotations that either propose a specific challenge to them or that inspire them in some meaningful way. Students could do this activity individually, in pairs, or in groups.

Transition/Quick Review

  • Teachers could ask students to look over their notes and collaborate in pairs or small groups. Teachers might circulate and ask students questions, such as:
    What more could we add to our notes?
    What are the most important words in the speech?
    What title would you give the speech?
    What is the thesis of the speech?

After the Speech

Guided Discussion:

  • What resonated with you from President Obama's speech? What lines or phrases do you remember?
  • Whom is President Obama addressing? How do you know? Describe his audience.
  • We heard President Obama mention the importance of personal responsibility. In your life, who exemplifies this kind of responsibility? How? Give examples.
  • How are the individuals in this classroom similar? How is each student different?
  • Suppose President Obama were to give another speech about being educationally successful. To whom would he speak? Why? What would the president say?
  • What are the three most important words in the speech? Rank them.
  • Is President Obama inspiring you to do anything? Is he challenging you to do anything?
  • What do you believe are the challenges of your generation?
  • How can you be a part of addressing these challenges?

Video Project:

  • Teachers could encourage students to participate in the U.S. Department of Education's "I Am What I Learn" video contest. On September 8, the Department of Education will invite students age 13 and older to submit a video no longer than two minutes in length, explaining why education is important and how education will help them achieve their dreams. Teachers are welcome to incorporate the same or a similar video project into a classroom assignment. More details will be released via

Transition/Quick Review

  • Teachers could introduce goal-setting activities in the following way to make the most of extension activities:

    "When you set a goal, you envision a target that you are going to reach over time. Goals are best when they are "Challenging," "Attainable, " and "Needed" (CAN). For example, a good goal might be: I want to boost my average grade by one letter grade this year so I can show colleges that I am prepared.' But, every good goal also needs steps that guide the way. These steps keep you on track toward achieving your goal. For example, my first step might be improving in all of my subjects by one letter grade. My second step might be completing 100-percent of my homework in all of my classes during the first week of school. My third step might be taking an extra hour to study for all of my tests during each marking period. My fourth step might be attending a tutoring session or getting an adult to help me whenever I do not understand something. My last step might be the most important: asking an adult in my life to check on me often to make sure that I am completing each of my steps. Your steps should add up to your goal. If they don't, that's okay; we fix them until they do!

    Let's hear another example of an academic goal for the year and decide what steps would help to achieve that goal...

    Now I want you to write your personal academic goal for this year and the steps that you will take to achieve it. We can revise our steps each marking period to make sure we are on track."

Extension of the Speech

Teachers could extend learning by having students:

  • Create decorated goals and steps on material that is the size of an index card. The index cards could be formatted as an inviting graphic organizer with a space for the goal at the top and several steps in the remaining space. Cards could be hung in the classroom to create a culture of goal setting, persistence, and success, and for the purpose of periodic review. (See the "Example Handout" section.)
  • Create posters of their goals. Posters could be formatted in quadrants, puzzle pieces, or trails marked as steps. These also could be hung around the room, to be reviewed periodically and to create a classroom culture of goal setting and for the purpose of periodic review.
  • Interview and share their goals with one another and the class, establishing community support for their goals.
  • Create incentives or contests for achieving their personal goals.
  • Write about goals and the steps to achieve them in a variety of genres such as poems, songs, or personal essays.
  • Create artistic representations of goals and the steps to achieve them.

  • [End of lesson plan.]

Readers can decide for themselves whether the lesson plan is Obamacentric, and whether public schools currently risk nationalization of instruction. My purpose today was to express my concerns and to copy and preserve the lesson document for possible further discussion. (Written 09/04/09)

[ADDED NOTE: On September 8, 2009, Byron York wrote an article contrasting Obama's school speech to President George H. W. Bush's speech in 1991. Below is an excerpt.

The controversy over President Obama's speech to the nation's schoolchildren will likely be over shortly after Obama speaks today at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. But when President George H.W. Bush delivered a similar speech on October 1, 1991, from Alice Deal Junior High School in Washington D.C., the controversy was just beginning. Democrats, then the majority party in Congress, not only denounced Bush's speech--they also ordered the General Accounting Office to investigate its production and later summoned top Bush administration officials to Capitol Hill for an extensive hearing on the issue.

Unlike the Obama speech, in 1991 most of the controversy came after, not before, the president's school appearance. The day after Bush spoke, the Washington Post published a front-page story suggesting the speech was carefully staged for the president's political benefit. "The White House turned a Northwest Washington junior high classroom into a television studio and its students into props," the Post reported.
[End of quote.]

The article goes on to say that the N.E.A. (National Education Association) denounced the speech because it cost $26,000 to produce, money which the N.E.A. apparently felt could have been used to help needy students. Now, that was $26,000 in 1991. I wonder how much it cost the taxpayers to produce Obama's speech in 2009; and nobody is complaining about the expense or that some children need lunch money. Moreover, the Democrats' complaints were only about Bush's speech--a bland speech. Bush did not offer lesson plans. It was Obama's lesson plans--not whether he should speak--that was the major concern of most Republicans.] (Written 09/11/09: bibliography available.)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2009 Natalia J. Garland