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Hugh Fisher column: Talk to kids about Obama school speech

I have a very simple, direct question for any parents who have decided not to allow their children to watch President Obama’s speech this week:
What kind of an American are you?
I ask this without anger, and without sarcasm ó which is rare these days. It’s a simple and direct question, and you need to think about your answer.
It is a question that relies on a set of assumptions about what “an American” is and should be, and those are basics I’m afraid we’re losing sight of today.
The United States was founded amid discord. The men who agreed to declare independence from Britain disagreed about how to run the country once it was founded.
And they disagreed about issues a lot more divisive than healthcare. They disagreed about what rights should be guaranteed to citizens, the rights that we now take for granted. It took a lot of debate and compromise, and some false starts, to produce the Constitution.
But if our forefathers had done no more than yell insults at those who disagreed with them, our nation might still be playing “God Save the Queen” before ballgames.
They did what we ought to be teaching our children to do. They debated. They offered solutions. They thought about what was best. Many of them prayed.
They didn’t always agree, but they found a way to do what was best for the greater good.
And they didn’t cling stubbornly to stupid lies and conspiracy theories. They didn’t intentionally manipulate emotions and distort the facts to support their side. (“Death panels,” indeed.)
Our founders weren’t afraid to disagree, or to compromise, and they didn’t try to disguise personal insults as honest discourse. They didn’t make their freedom of speech an excuse to stop taking responsibility.
We haven’t always listened. The Civil War is an example of failure on an apocalyptic scale. The “real Americans” who talk like they want another civil war are another.
But I have to practice what I preach, and let’s be honest: If former President George W. Bush had made a speech to schoolchildren, the far-leftists would have pooh-poohed it. A vocal minority of parents would fuss and snort and swear they wouldn’t be forced to let their children hear “that man” talk.
Many of those who say they won’t let their kids hear President Obama would have been defending President Bush’s right to be heard if the situation was reversed. And that is sad.
Although I voted for President Obama, I don’t agree with the MoveOn.org crowd, the ultraleftists with a truly reactionary agenda, any more than I agree with the Rush Limbaughs and Glen Becks of our nation.
Because I believe an open mind is a necessity for life. One may be a citizen without listening to the other side of a debate, without taking disagreements and disagreeable opinions into account ó but one cannot be a good citizen and do so.
My parents taught me that the person who closes his ears, who decides his truth is the only truth, has already lost the argument.
And only a truly closed-minded person lacking in American spirit would let this opportunity pass:
Do you disagree with the President’s policies? With his politics? With his ideas?
Then do what’s right. Let your children watch the speech. Don’t let them take the easy way out that’s taken by so many who hide themselves in the Fox News or Air America backwaters of thought.
Even better: watch the speech yourself (it will be made available to the public Monday) and talk about it with your kids.
Then, talk about why you, as a grown-up, disagree. Give them facts, not soundbites. If you don’t know something, look it up.
But before you do, think. And question not only what the president says, but what you’ve been told by those who provide the media spin.
Because it’s long past time for us to stop sticking our heads in the sand. It’s time we stopped hearing only what we want to hear.
And it’s time to end the hatred, the name calling, the intentional and willful surrender to anger, the too-easy impulse to call names instead of offering solutions.
We all need to ask ourselves what kind of Americans we want to be.
And if you’re a parent, you need to ask what kind of America you want your children to inherit: a wasteland of mindless soundbites, or one where opinions are valued and free speech is prized, even when we disagree.
– – –
Hugh Fisher is a freelance writer and college English instructor. He lives in Kannapolis.

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