Commentary Magazine


Everyone, Back to School!

In listening to President Obama’s address tonight, I thought I heard something a little extreme about education, but then tossed it up to being distracted and a little sleepy. I just went back and looked at the transcript and, sure enough, this startling little passage was actually uttered:

And so tonight, I ask every American to commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training. This can be community college or a four-year school; vocational training or an apprenticeship. But whatever the training may be, every American will need to get more than a high school diploma. And dropping out of high school is no longer an option.

Every American should go back to school for at least a year on the president’s orders? Really? Even the ones who have been through school and are gainfully employed? Even the ones who can’t afford to take time away from their jobs in order to get an additional certificate? And the unfortunate kids who need to leave school and take care of this or that responsibility . . . can’t?  I’m sympathetic to the importance of education and support most any effort to get Americans to choose to learn, but this isn’t pro-education; it’s community organizing on a national scale. It’s also unfeasible and creepy. The last time we caught a whiff of anything like this was when Michelle Obama made what I frankly thought was a gaffe a year ago. In a speech at UCLA, she said:

Barack Obama will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed.

Apparently that was no gaffe. She knows her husband. But, most times, peoples’ “lives as usual” have taken shape out of necessity, not commitment to ignorance or isolation, and certainly not an addiction to “comfort.”

Can a prescribed reading list be far off?