Obama’s Back-to-School Address: All Responsibilities and No Rights

President Obama’s speech last week to America’s students disappointed me. I wish he had given the bushleaguer Fox-frequenters something to squawk about. I wish his talk about responsibilities had included a promise to America’s minors that he would work to extend to them the same rights under the law that their parents, teachers, and principals have.

Obama used the same rhetoric for this audience as he would have if he were addressing full citizens of the US: “if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.” And while it’s hard to argue with the message “I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do,” I find it unsettling to hear kids once again being told that “Here in America, you write your own destiny” when the truth of the matter is that in 20 states, school kids of all age, for all kinds of reasons, are subject to corporal punishment.

Children, unlike adults, including convicted murderers, have no protection from “cruel and unusual punishment,” nor are they guaranteed due process, or so said the Supreme Court in its 1977 ruling on Ingraham vs. Wright, which challenged the State of Florida’s corporal punishment policies as unconstitutional, in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. See.

Twenty years have passed since the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which says that children should share in basic human rights, like protection from violence, and still the US has not ratified it, a distinction we share only with the great nation of Somalia. During his campaign, Obama said, “It is embarrassing to find ourselves in the company of Somalia, a lawless land.”  His administration has at least begun thinking about the problem; in June 2009 the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said officials are looking at “when and how it might be possible to join.” But it isn’t his decision alone.

The same mouths who had to protect their precious children’s delicate ears from being bruised by Obama’s innocuous speech will fight this tooth and nail. They’ll buy into the argument of Steven Groves, a fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, as reported on Fox: “To the extent that an outside body. . . have a say over how children in America should be raised, educated and disciplined — that is an erosion of American sovereignty.”

They’ll fear losing the legal right to terrorize with threats of violence and to physically assault those who are smaller than they are. They’ll claim it’s a matter of religious freedom, spare the rod and spoil the child. But even the stern Calvinists of Scotland stopped beating kids in public schools 29 years ago: “Corporal punishment is prohibited in state schools and for publicly funded pupils in independent schools in Scotland under Section 48A of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980.”

What other countries haven’t prohibited corporal punishment in public schools? Uganda, Turkey, Myanmar, Liberia, Cuba, and other illustrious nations. See.

Is it surprising that states that hit kids the most — whether by counting the number hit at least once during the course of the year or the percentage of the student body beaten — have some of the lowest graduation rates in the nation?

Or that in the ten most violent states, in nine cases , special ed students are paddled at a higher rate than kids in the general population (and in the tenth, they are paddled at the same rate)? 

Or that disproportionately more minority students, especially blacks, are hit and hit more often? In 2006-2007, 36% of kids struck at school were black (interestingly, in 1976, the percentage of blacks hit was 29%). Look at the map of where corporal punishment is allowed in schools, and think plantation discipline.

Obama used the words responsibility or responsibilities nine times in his address to school children. The word rights appears just once,  in a list of historical achievements of the American people, suggesting that the fight for civil rights is as much a done deed as putting a man on the moon.

Mr. President, you can do better than this.

I’ve an assignment for you.

In a year’s time, return to the schoolroom TV monitors and address this question: If rights come with responsibilities, do responsibilities come with rights?


Corporal Punishment : Legalities, Realities, & Implications. Patricia H. Hinchey. Clearing House, Jan./Feb. 2003

Corporal Punishment of Students with Disabilities in US Public Schools. Alice Farmer. Human Rights Watch

Global table of corporal punishment: home, school, penal system. at http://www.endcorporalpunishment.org

Corporal Punishment by State and Race. Center for Effective Discipline.


3 thoughts on “Obama’s Back-to-School Address: All Responsibilities and No Rights”

  1. I don’t know where you got the obviously unverified crud you’re using as sources for your info, but I know LOTS of teachers. They live every day in fear of their students–NOT the other way around! These days, they have to worry about MUCH more than just kids bringing frogs to school, or smoking in the bathrooms. They have to worry about guns, drugs, gangs, sexting, and offending BOTH sides of the street of political ideologues.

    Also, please don’t be so quick to make snide comments about the media (as so many of you politial ideologues on the left do), when you have obviously been a puppet of it yourself. BOTH sides use major news networks to promote their views, and you would sound more intelligent if you acknowledged this more vociferously in your overly dramatic diatribe.

    Such snotty commentary only succeeds in debasing your intended eloquence, and makes you sound like some kind of unread elitist (irregardless of what you quote elsewhere).

    Please put your attention to places where children are REALLY in danger — in the USA, thousands of kids disappear into a world of porn and prostitution, and the police just write them off as runaways, while they are actually raped and molested multiple times every night until they either die or escape. In other countries, child brides are force into marraige and are dying in childbirth, or are being turned into brainwashed and psychologically scarred little suicide bombers and child soldiers. In Africa right now, countless little girls are being raped. In Asia, your precious Barbie Doll fashions are being sewn by little children for mere pennies.

    These things are REALLY happening, even according to your brainwashing masters at MSNBC.

    Also, remember that Dr. Spock’s kids ended up on drugs. Doesn’t sound like “no spanking” worked well for this “expert”, does it?

    I certainly don’t advocate beating kids, but I sure think our schools are now more like zoos full of wild animals than educational institutions. I think our teachers need MORE support from us and MORE disciplinary options, NOT more finger-pointing at innocent GOOD teachers.

    Go out into the real world. Meet lots of real people. Ask the REAL EXPERTS– the TEACHERS– what they think about abuse and discipline in schools, and start quoting REAL cases — IF you can find any!– where abuse happened. (And no, the provoked YouTube videos– with teachers defending themselves against violence, which are posted by kids who edit out the assaults on the teachers– these are NOT kids being abused, these are TEACHERS being abused!)

    Throw away all those self-published pieces of crud, written by childless, barren-wombed “scholars” who have never actually TAUGHT children, and start quoting some people with REAL LIFE experience. The people who have to face “gangstuhs” and guns, sexting and bullies, EVERY DAY.

    The TEACHERS. They are REAL Heroes!

    DON’T tell people to treat teachers as some kind of perverse violent evil force, out to get my kids (which is what you ARE saying, whether you think so or not).

    Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s