Friday, January 29, 2010

High School Students React to SOTU

I am reproducing this post from the dailyKos complete (except that I have not brought along the 55 comments).

SOTU - a discussion with my students
by teacherken

Thu Jan 28, 2010 at 02:04:20 PM PST

Homework for last night was to watch SOTU, and if possible, the Republican response by McDonnell. Today was devoted to a discussion, asking what they thought, exploring the questions they raised.

I have 6 classes. My first three are a state required course in Local, State and National government. The students in this class are not identified as honors/gifted, although there are a few who clearly are. They range from 10th to 12 graders. The students are mainly African-American. My final three classes of the day are Advanced Placement (College-level) US Government and Politics. Almost all of these students are 10th graders, although there are 9 spread across the thre classes who are seniors in a special program who took LSN with me as sophomores. These classes are about 60% white, with a real mix among the rests, including some bi-racial kids, kids with two moms,etc. Most of the students consider themselves Democrats, but there was little difference from the Republicans, libertarians, and independents in the reactions they offered.

teacherken's diary :: ::
In general the students liked the speech. By and large they did not think McDonnell's response was effective. They criticize his (McDonnell's) delivery, thought he spoke to fast and without regard for his audience, thought the physical set-up was weak. One student in an AP class remarked that McDonnell lied, because he did not keep his remarks to 10 minutes as he promised. Another thought the humor about Sports Center set the wrong tone right up front.

Most of the discussion was, of course, about Obama, about the setting. Not all had seen the ceremonial entrances. There were questions about the two guys squeezed side-by-side announcing the President. There were questions about why the military and the judges did not stand and applaud - but those were usually answered by other students without my intervention.

About half the students had noticed Alito's reaction. There were comments about that. A few had seen the video being replayed. I was asked in several classes if Obama were in fact attacking the Supreme Court for the decision as they had heard some Republicans say since the speech. What I did is to repeat the relevant portion of the President's remarks, parsing it for them:

deference to separation of powers - recognizing SCOTUS has a different role

noting the decision overturned 100 years of law - original Corrupt Practices Act dates to 1911

raising questions about the possible impact

asking Congress to legislatively try to at least lesson that impact

I then asked which part represented an attack on the COurt or its decision. They decided there was none.

I then read them the relevant portion of Article II Section 3, with emphasis on what I am bolding:

He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient

The students decided that the President was well within his rights to ask for a legislative addressing of what he considered a problem within the context of SOTU.

Students were fascinated with what the President said about education, but they did not understand tax credits and how that worked, and most did not know about Pell Grants (which given that most of them would be ineligible for them is understandable).

When I asked how they thought the speech went over with the American people, most thought the people might approve, but some raised questions whether there were enough specifics to satisfy some people. That led to having to explain that while SOTU may have a laundry list of proposals, often they are not spelled out in the speech itself.

Some students questions whether the President was attempting to trade with Republicans by offering support for nuclear power and off-shore drilling in hopes of getting support for some of his initiatives in return.

There was a LOT of discussion about whether he was attacking Republicans, and/or attempting to blame Bush. Some students noted that Obama made the point of the bad conditions he inherited at least two times, at the beginning and then again later on.

Everyone noted the chastising of both parties. Most students understood clearly about the 60 votes and the relationship to the filibuster.

Some criticized Biden for his reactions, for example, how much he was vigorously nodding.

There were questions about DADT, with one young lady noting how little time Obama spent on it as compared to talking about jobs. Some questioned whether the lack of clapping by the military on that meant that they opposed it, others pointed out that Secretary Gates had vigorously applauded that and we had a discussion that the military is prepared to implement it as soon as it is passed by the Congress - here I probably should have mentioned the possibility of such an effort being filibustered. I don't know if there is a head count of how many Republicans might support repeal and how many Dems might opposed, but I can conceive of a problem getting to 60 for cloture. But there is only so much one can squeeze into a 45 minute period, particularly when as a teacher you are trying to get the students to talk and discuss.

If I compare student reactions to SOTU compared to things like the Inaugural address last year's students were required to watch, or the debates, or the convention acceptance, or even Obama's remarks in Grant Park, this speech had less impact upon them, but given the function of a SOTU that does not surprise me.

In general most of my young people are still favorably inclined towards Obama, and there was nothing about which they commented that gave any indication they inclination was in any way diminished by what they heard. Some raised questions of whether or not he will be able to offer concrete results, not just words. Given that I heard similar expressions last night on the Hill, including from several electeds, I think that was a more than fair question for them to raise.

Some students discussed the speech with their parents. Particular my AP students, there is a real hunger to understand Obama, how the government works, and a real hope that he will succeed in much of what he is attempting.

I suspect a similar feeling exists among the American people as a whole, at least as I looked at the data from the CBS snap poll, the results of which I shared with students towards the end of class. There were a few things from that poll that really stood out for me, especially how those who viewed the speech increased significantly in their approval of Obama having a clear plan for jobs (from 40 to 59%) and having a clear plan for dealing with the economy (from 55 to 76%). I did not want to share the polling data with the students before they had offered their opinions and insights. I suspect that most Americans still want this president to succeed, hope he will succeed, although they may have their doubts. My students reflected that in their comments.

So that is a brief overview of our discussions today. Nothing earthshattering to report. Perhaps largely as one might expect. What I think is note-worthy is that so many of my students are still hopefully, still willing to engage in the political process, still wanting to have national leadership in which they can trust. That gives me some hope for the future, and makes me feel better about continuing the task of being a teacher.

What about you?


Tags: SOTU, students, Bob McDonnell, Barack Obama, Congress, Joe Biden, Samuel Alito, DADT, State of the Union, Rescued (all tags) :: Previous Tag Versions


teacherken said...

Might be nice if you asked my permission before crossposting.

Chris M. said...

If I have gone against some commonly accepted practice that I am unaware of, I will do anything reasonable to make it right. If you want, I will remove the post.
At the foot of the page on which I found this it states, "Site content may be used for any purpose without
explicit permission unless otherwise specified." So I am not aware that I have done anything untoward. Also I have not a clue how to reach you.
But I am not seeking a dispute or argument and will comply with any reasonable request you make.