Class Warfare | Pittsburgh City Paper

Class Warfare

Ordinarily, growing up in an upper-class suburb doesn't give you much cred as an alt-weekly editor. But this week, my alma mater -- the Upper St. Clair school district -- has done something that would stir the heart of any anarchist:

It has publicly told the President of the United States to go fuck himself. 

When Barack Obama sought to address students across the country on Sept. 8, USC and several other local school districts announced that they wouldn't air the speech in class. Instead, USC administrators pledged to "record the speech and then decide if all or part of [it] would fit into the District's program of curriculum and instruction." 

As of press time, there was no word on whether the review will include playing the speech backward, so officials can listen for hidden messages espousing socialism. 

Which raises a question: If you can't trust the President of the United States, how can you trust local school officials? After all, USC has recently been sued for rapes that allegedly took place on school property. Up until a year ago, the school board included a guy who thought a popular international-studies program posed a danger to "Judeo-Christian values." These guys aren't necessarily experts in threat detection. 

What is the danger in Obama's speech? According to advance text, it urges kids to stay in school and study hard. "[I]f you quit on school -- you're not just quitting on yourself, you're quitting on your country," the speech reads. 

Some conservatives hear overtones of fascism in that. The president ... is telling kids ... that they have obligations to the country ... but he governs the country ... so telling kids to study hard means ... demanding their obedience to his will! 

If nothing else, it makes a great excuse for not doing your homework. 

The irony here, of course, is that by not showing this video, school officials are probably making Obama even more popular with kids. Compared to his predecessors, Obama is cool -- listens to better music, has a sense of humor. If you want to take away his "cult of personality," the best thing you can do is have him lecture your kids about studying hard. Five minutes of that and they'll be rolling their eyes, just like they do at every other authority figure. By putting Obama in detention, USC school officials have made him even more appealing. Now he's like the student-council president who can also hang with the stoners behind the gym. 

Supporters of Obama note that many districts wary of the speech -- USC, Chartiers Valley, Peters Township North Allegheny, Bethel Park -- are affluent suburbs with lots of GOP voters. Presumably, some of those residents were less upset back in 1986, when Ronald Reagan made a nationally televised speech to school kids. And that speech really was a lot of political indoctrination. ("Only five years ago, our economy suffered from high inflation, high interest rates, mushrooming government spending," Reagan told students, who were no doubt enthralled.) 

Actually, I have no recollection of Reagan's speech, although I was in high school back then. Either USC didn't broadcast that one either, or I cut class that day. (This was Reagan's second term: By then, I'd already quit on my country.) But regardless, what I did hear of Reagan convinced me that authority figures almost never deserve the benefit of the doubt. 

Which, weirdly enough, makes me enthusiastic about what is happening at USC. 

For one thing, I have a hard time agreeing when Obama's defenders say of course school officials can trust him -- because he's the president. That kind of thinking got us into a lot of trouble back in the 1980s, and on a few occasions since. 

And while many of Obama's critics are obviously craven hypocrites and political opportunists, kids often learn a lot more than you intend to teach them. Once you teach your kids that even the President of the United States can't be trusted, they might extend their doubts to the school officials trying to censor him. They might realize that, depending on how political winds are blowing, "education" is about keeping you ignorant of some facts, even while teaching you others. And they'll learn that even in upper-class communities, people act like scared, petulant third-graders when they don't get their way.

Those are important lessons, perhaps the most valuable I learned growing up. Nice to see USC is still teaching them.