Obamacentric Lesson Plan
Natalia J. Garland
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
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.
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
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, www.gov.ed, in PDF form. I made slight changes
in the document structure in order to present it in HTML form on
Menu of Classroom Activities
President Obama's Address to
Students Across America
Produced by Teaching
Ambassador Fellows, U.S. Department of Education
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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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?
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
[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.
[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.
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