Polarization hurts pride

Published 2:45 am Wednesday, September 9, 2009

By Staff
Kerry Whipple Bean
When I was in middle school, my sixth grade classmates and I sent letters to President Reagan, asking him to visit our school and speak to students.
I remember being so proud of the idea that the president of the United States might visit our school and speak to us. I was proud of my government because I was proud of my country. It was about civics, not politics.
So what does it say about how polarized our country has become that President Barack Obama can’t speak to schoolchildren without some people thinking he’s going to try to sell them on healthcare reform?
Other presidents have spoken to schoolchildren in similar forums. In fact, when the first President Bush spoke to students in 1991, Democrats raised an outcry over the issue after the fact. They even held hearings. That idea is as silly as conservatives attacking Obama’s speech before they even read it.
Some schools chose not to show Obama’s speech. Their reaction wasn’t necessarily political. Some did not have time in the day for a half-hour speech; some may have felt the speech was not needed or appropriate — especially at elementary schools where it’s hard enough to get young children to pay attention.
Obama’s speech, if you’ve read it or heard it, has nothing political in it.
Some kids — a lot of kids — need that lesson. And we are kidding ourselves if we think everyone is getting it at home, or even if they are that they are listening. I have been a parent for all of 17 months, and I know that getting my child to listen to me is about as easy as pushing a boulder up a hill.
So when a president who grew up with modest means gives the message that staying in school can help you succeed, it’s not just lip service.
Why is this different than Nancy Reagan telling my generation to “just say no,” or President George W. Bush asking school children to give $1 for the children in Afghanistan?
Before delivering the remarks he prepared on Tuesday, President Obama had a question and answer session with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va. One young boy asked Obama what his life might have been like if his father had not abandoned him. The boy, Brandon, was also the child of divorced parents.
Obama’s answer was honest. He didn’t glorify having been raised by a single mother, but he didn’t try to make Brandon feel bad about his situation, either.
I’d like to think Brandon left school Tuesday feeling a little more confident about his situation.
I’d like to think his classmates, and anyone else who heard the speech, left school feeling more determined to work hard — and more interested in civic life.
Like any of us, they don’t have to agree with the president. But they can respect him, respect the office and respect each other despite their differences of opinion.
And that should make all of us proud to be Americans.
Kerry Bean is publisher of The Brewton Standard. She can be reached at 867-4876 or by e-mail at kerry.bean @brewtonstandard.com.