Rhetoric is not going to reform education

He should have known — he really should have known.After only a few trials, Pavlov knew that his dogs would salivate at the sound of a bell, but Obama hasn’t yet discovered that half the population will scream “socialist” at the sound of his voice.Last week he gave an address to students beginning school, encouraging them to work hard and value their education. As you may have heard, many parents were outraged, school districts refused to participate and many parents kept their children home. During the pre-address fuss, it came to light that the Department of Education was circulating the idea of a classroom activity where children would write papers on “how to help the president.”  Naturally, there was a flurry of anger and the proposal was recanted. It reminds me of that great line from John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask if you can keep your child out of school because your president’s a communist.”And what a pinko speech it turned out to be.”Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.”  Isn’t that how they do things in Sweden?”Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer.” Is it just me, or is that suspiciously close to, “each according to his abilities?”In all seriousness, Obama should have been able to foresee some degree of controversy, even if it was unwarranted, in making a direct speech to people’s kids.I’m beginning to believe Obama has a real weak spot for what he calls “teachable moments.” He seems to have a great degree of confidence in his ability to untangle longstanding issues with the right combination of words — think Skip Gates and Jeremiah Wright or his Middle East address.Apparently, if you tell someone they are an incredible, magical orator long enough, they’ll probably start to believe you.Much like his attempts at smoothing out Middle East or race relations, Obama doesn’t seem to realize that reforming education is an issue that suffers from no lack of talking or trying.   Most of the speech was clichéd, albeit good, advice and inspirational stories — Obama’s right at the forefront — and that kind of rhetoric isn’t going to solve the problem.You certainly can’t begrudge him for trying, but he could budget his resources better. Actually doing big things beats talking about them — and acting rather than talking could also help him get out of the speech-controversy-outrage cycle he seems to be trapped in.