U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today made the following remarks on the floor of the U.S. Senate regarding President Obama’s speech to the nation’s schoolchildren:
• “I’m glad that the president has spoken to the schoolchildren of this country. Of course the president should be able speak to the schoolchildren of America. President Reagan did it not long after he was elected—he talked about how our country was founded. When I was education secretary in 1991, the first President Bush did it—he talked about drugs, warning of the dangers of drug use. Of course presidents should speak to our students, but parents and teachers should decide whether the children hear the speech and in what context they hear it.
• Tomorrow night, when the president addresses the country, no one has to listen to him except those of us perhaps who volunteered to serve in the United States Congress. We’ll be here, but millions will listen out of respect to the office, but some could turn off their televisions . . . adults have those choices. Children are in a different situation. They’re captives in their classrooms and they’re inexperienced, so we rely on parents and teachers to use their good judgment to decide whether any speech is appropriate for children to hear and in what context.
• If I were a teacher, I’d jump at the chance to take advantage of this speech. I believe I would put up a picture of Reagan and one of F.D.R. and one of Abraham Lincoln, and I would talk about the presidency. I’d talk about how he is the agenda setter and how the president’s election represents the unique American characteristic that anything is possible for any American of any background . . . and then I would put up a picture of the leader of North Korea and I would say, there’s the Dear Leader of North Korea. If you criticize him, you go to jail. If you criticize the President of the United States, you have a constitutional right to do that. I think we need more teaching of United States history and civics in our classrooms so our children can grow up learning what it means to be an American. The lowest scores that high school seniors have in America are not in math. They’re not in science. They’re in United States history. So we ought to take advantage of opportunities for children to learn about history and about civics. But parents and teachers ought to be in charge of it. They should decide in what context it’s done and I hope a great many have taken advantage of that today.