Let me be clear from the outset: I'm not here to argue about whether Obama's speech is good, bad, ugly; propaganda, motivation, or mind control. There are too many unproductive shouting matches going on about that elsewhere on the web. Missing from those shouting matches is reasoned discussion of what I think is a more important question with a much larger impact on what I do as a teacher.
The controversy about the broadcast of Obama's "work hard" speech has precipitated some interesting responses from school districts across the country, ranging from the superintendent of schools in Tempe saying all teachers shall show the address and parents are "not allowed" to opt out, to districts like mine who instructed teachers to get parent permission before showing the speech. These policies have an impact on classroom instruction--much more of an impact than the speech itself--because it brings up the question about how schools should handle politically charged and divisive content, and what the school's role is in mediating that content for students.
Many an educator who attempts to make content relevant will want to connect to current events. Whether its genetic engineering, military endeavors, alternative energies or health care, it is easy for a curriculum to turn into a volatile tinderbox, because these topics and others have clear political implications.
How should schools handle hot political topics?