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Stacie Nevadomski Berdan Headshot

A Live Lesson in Democracy for Students

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Today, because the Connecticut school district in which we live chose not to broadcast President Obama's speech to students, I'll be picking up my fourth-graders to watch the President live in our home. Although my husband and I have the luxury of this option because we're writers with flexible schedules, we worry about the millions of children who aren't given this choice. Children whose parents work or do not have the means or ability to share in a message because school boards across the country made critical decisions to restrict our children's education for political reasons.

What has gone so wrong with our country that educators would claim that "teaching time" is more important than hearing from the President of the United States on the subject of the importance of school? Why have these educators opted for closing a mind-opening avenue for students as opposed to embracing it?

Some clues lie in an e-mail message sent to parents and guardians late Friday afternoon by our Glastonbury School Superintendent Alan Bookman. He argues that "We are very protective of our "teaching time" and want to be sure this time is spent on the required curriculum." Bookman admits that although the Connecticut State Department of Education had found nothing objectionable in President Obama's 20-minute, nationally-televised address to America's elementary school students, "just the same", elementary schools in Glastonbury "will not be participating".

Teaching time? Not participating? It's obvious the forces at work here.

The national and local media coverage of reactions to the President's proposed address suggests that Bookman's rationales for not televising the speech are specious and fabricated. For starters, as just about any parent of an elementary school student can attest, there are literally dozens of times each year when precious "teaching time" is ceded to decidedly less than academic activities.

Moreover, the President's message -- extolling the virtue of education and the desirability of pursing it to the best of each student's ability -- is likely to be the most effective 20 minutes of pro-education message that all school children are going to receive all year.

Why isn't hearing from the President of the United States taking precedent?

There is no doubt in my mind that what our school district -- and others across the country in similar situations -- are really doing here is caving into the unreasonable and primarily politically-motivated clamor of a shrill minority of parents -- ginned up by the conservative media and "inside the Beltway" professional GOP agitators -- who, for selfish and spoil-sport reasons of their own, still won't accept the results of last November's election. Our founding fathers were rightly concerned about the tyranny of the majority. What we have here, however, is ever more subversive - a tyranny of the minority, aided and abetted by the timidity of those publicly charged with serving everybody. The lessons these so-called leaders (who are supposed to be advocates for children) are teaching is that irrational obstreperousness on the part of an exercised few can indeed prevail.

When the President of the United States can't address the nation's school children on the importance of education, we have turned a dangerous corner.

There is hope. Some school districts -- such as Weathersfield, Conn., across the river from us -- have seen the error of their ways and are now showing the speech, choosing to teach democracy not obstruct it; embrace diversity of thought not instill fear of difference; open up students' minds, not restrict their learning.

As parents, we must continue to do everything we can to give our children the best opportunities. And since opening our children's minds is one of the greatest gifts we can give, our family is using this controversial issue as an excellent teaching moment.

As the world's leading democracy, our children should expect no less.

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