Much angst has been expressed this week on President Obama’s plans to speak to the nation’s elementary school children this upcoming Tuesday on the subject of community and personal responsibility. Observing the alarm in the conservative communities and the subsequent counter-alarm from the left in reaction to their unprecedented rejection, I felt I might share a perspective from a realm outside of either political domain.
I’ve found the rejection of the right to be a curious one, especially from a constituency that has historically respected the political office even when its occupier was one to which they had great disagreement. During both Carter and Clinton terms, the right expressed great frustration with policy and personal issues (e.g. Lewinsky scandal), but the support of the executive and commander-in-chief was generally present (compare this to the absolute rejection of the left to President Bush, even through the rejection of his very legitimacy of office which constituted the most profound and profane of exclusions). Even when there has been material objection to the executive, it has typically been on predicable ground: e.g. defense of values of patriotism or faith, objection to Federal encroachment upon federalism, or the concerns of Bill of Rights violations (e.g. second amendment).
However, the current reaction appears to be less associated with an enumerated principle and more with a visceral, emotional objection. It increasingly appears that the President has elicited alarm through a break-down in trust at the most fundamental level with both independent and conservative individuals. For those desiring any further policy progress by this executive, understanding this break down in trust will be fundamental to that aim. Some are already pronouncing Obama’s political capital exhausted absent a major change of course, as witnessed with the healthcare fiasco and abject mismanagement of his senior managers (per the failure to conduct any background checks on the czars and subsequently pack the White House with unaccountable radicals, many with criminal records; a brand-of-corruption and cronyism formerly perceptually dominated by the right).
Many have expressed that they would see no benefit from the current president speaking to our students. Should the students be presented with a pioneering scientist, a globally distinguished philosopher, innovative community leader, accomplished musician or successful entrepreneur, they would encounter someone who’s life experience constituted a message with potential value for their self-application. But as they explain, very few students would encounter a personal experience within a political machine that advanced one with no meaningful accomplishments and a stealth career of staying anonymous and avoiding taking any position in order to ascend to national office when the right powerful elites advance their status. Subsequently, Obama’s “life experience” value is no greater than that of a state lottery winner, and may indeed communicate the wrong message if shared. Given this lack of a meaningful life story to follow, I’d have to agree with those that state that the President’s message is not likely to be one which speaks from an experience most students would aspire to follow.
I personally prefer allowing discourse, especially when it’s used in the context of localized learning, aligns with student development plans, and is initiated in a “pull” manner (e.g. the student/teacher combination elects to receive and evaluate the message in the furtherance of educational advancement). But recognizing the role of the President as the embodiment of paternalistic Federal power, I’m a strong opponent of push-messaging directed at creating a fictional discourse between the student and the President. At a minimum, this false dialog confuses the student into believing she/he has a direct connection with the President and encourages the unhealthy projection that the President personally cares for their life advancement. This trespasses on the uncomfortable ground of populists and propagandists.
Worse yet, the false president-student connection distorts the student’s comprehension of the learning model, reinforcing Federal hierarchies as the preferred structure and damaging decentralized models. Instead of seeing their relationship within the educational institution as the primary coefficient in advancing their education, the concept of President-as-My-Personal-Mentor is forwarded. These messages are particularly damaging to the K-6 student who is just developing their learning experience model, and include monstrosities written in the White House’s directive to school principals (that included a list of recommended questions that be asked of the student following the President’s message) such as:
- Who is the President of the United States?
He is a great man who is the leader of our country and a leader in the world.
- What do you think it takes to be president?
It must take an awful lot to become president. (This reinforces the elite “I am honored to be spoken to by such a great man” quality of the dialog-to-be-established)
- To whom do you think the president is going to be speaking?
Well, to students, right? (Another effective mematic manipulation technique is in play with this question, posing an obvious question to create the student’s visualization of “President to Anonymous Masses of Students” image which will be shortly shattered. We must first be made to feel anonymous in the cult before being singled out by the Leader for love and attention)
- Why do you think he wants to speak to you?
What? He wants to speak to ME? Personally? (This shifts the students perception of the message from generic to specific and is an exceptionally effective technique in mematic exploitation)
- What is the president trying to tell me?
He *is* talking to me! I have a direct relationship with the president as he is speaking to me and I’m being asked to interpret his message!
- What is the president asking me to do?
That the President would speak to me and now call me out for action is very special. I’d better not let him down.
- If you were the president, what would you tell students?
(Shifts the perception of the dialog and further reinforces the students projection of personal communication with the President and expanding the emotional connection. This role-reversal technique is commonly used by social engineers to disarm perceptual defenses; once I’m seeing the relationship from the eyes of the Other, they become me and I become them. I mistakenly attribute my motives, beliefs, etc. to my representation of the Other and disable natural defenses).
- What new ideas and actions is the president challenging me to think about?
(NEW ideas are imputed to be better than OLD ideas through this question. This implicates the status quo and its institutions, including the student’s current educational program, the political climate, etc. This statement also furthers the paternalistic model of Leader engaging young student to change the nature of things through thought that which rejects the old).
- Does the speech make you want to do anything?
(Ties discourse to action)
- Are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us?
(Prepares action for radicalization when opposition is met to the NEW ideas)
Overall, there is nothing accidental nor innocent in this program, as it constitutes some of the greater thinking in current social engineering theory. The effect is a program that succeeds in re-orienting the student toward unquestionably receiving the President’s message, rejecting the current model of “teacher as educational thought leader”, replacing it with a populist hierarchical system where the President is the leader and sends instructions that are to be converted to action through the new channel, rewards NEW thought/action over the OLD status quo, and prepares for radicalization should resistance to change be encountered.
Should one take the explanation by the White House that their intentions are sincere and are not aimed at reprogramming America’s youth, the current speech should be canceled and an alternative approach would be appropriate. President Obama’s presidential campaign showed itself to be Internet savvy, using Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, mass emails and other technologies to engage and excite its constituency. Many independents were greatly excited by the campaign’s rejection of old guard hierarchy. Yet as anticipated by Agamben’s State of Exception, the new executive never dismantles the old hierarchy; he merely co-opts it, re-appropriates it and assimilates it to his own ends in the process of advancing even further Executive power.
Were the President to be true to his rhizomic campaign strategy, he would discard the effort to impose hierarchical authority over U.S. students and transmit push-messages through static and non-interactive media, and instead utilize Youtube and other Internet forms to engage truer dialog with the students. Throw out the paternalistic television and radio broadcast and appropriate change.gov to disseminate education-positive messages to America’s students. This approach would be compatible with the student’s learning objectives, would reinforce their local educational program and supplement it with supportive messages regarding the importance of education from the President, rather than representing an attempt to circumvent that program.