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National view: What's the harm in a classroom address?

WASHINGTON -- Just when you thought things couldn't get any stupider, schools across the nation decided to censor President Obama's speech urging kids to work hard because "being successful is hard."...

WASHINGTON -- Just when you thought things couldn't get any stupider, schools across the nation decided to censor President Obama's speech urging kids to work hard because "being successful is hard."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the terribly scary bit of propaganda that prompted certain Americans to cry "socialism" and "indoctrination," and force some schools to opt out of hearing the president's message Tuesday.

When and how did we become so ridiculous?

As it turns out, we've been this way for a while now. Such protests aren't new, a review of which follows shortly. The difference is that now, the masses are technologically enabled, amplified by a twillion tweets. Everybody's got a megaphone, bless democracy's heart.

But when a protest of a few can instantly morph into a babble of thousands, rabble-rousing becomes a hobby -- and rational debate becomes an oxymoron.

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Granting a supersized benefit of the doubt to protesters, Obama's speech originally included classroom instructional materials from the Department of Education that asked students to express how they were inspired by the president and how they might help him.

Too political, critics said. Indoctrination, charged Florida Republican Chairman Jim Greer.

"As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama's socialist ideology," Greer said.

Some conservative radio and television hosts latched onto the specter of youth camps past and encouraged parents to keep their children home from school in protest.

Even asking kids to help the president improve the nation doesn't justify charges of socialist indoctrination. John F. Kennedy's famous "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country" is hardly considered a bugle call to summer camp in the Urals.

Essentially, Obama's speech, which aired live, focused on encouraging students to evaluate how they might contribute to making America better. "What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make?"

Anyone who heard or read the address will have found little to criticize. Even former first lady Laura Bush and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich approved of the president's talk.

Presidential speeches to students aren't a new development. The St. Petersburg Times' indispensable PolitiFact.com "Truth-O-Meter" notes that both Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush gave such addresses. And, yes, Democrats protested. Reagan's speech was, in fact, political, as he went beyond stressing the importance of education to discussing nuclear disarmament, defense funding and even taxes. Talk about a snooze.

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Compared to previous presidential addresses, Obama's was strictly apolitical. It was also quintessential Obama -- aimed at healing, at soothing the afflicted and making things all better.

Addressing all ages of students, from kindergartners to 12th graders, presents clear challenges, but Obama managed to hit every group's vulnerabilities and insecurities -- from being bullied, to not fitting in, to having a divided family. And now he's president. You can be, too, was the subtext. What's so wrong with that?

One might have wished Obama's remarks cut by half. But overall, the president's message was a conservative hymn, a GOP platform for kiddies: Take personal responsibility, don't blame others for your failures, listen to your parents and your teachers, work hard.

"Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future."

The only thing missing from this orgy of conservative orthodoxy was ... a Republican president. And that is the lesson of the day.

Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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