September 3rd, 2009

The Impressionability of Youth

photo credit: Barack Obama

At a speech at the Reichsparteitag in 1935, Adolf Hilter declared that “he alone, who owns the youth, gains the future!” This ownership he described was a reference to the use of propaganda, emotion, and allurement to captivate the minds and secure the allegiance of the growing generation. Dictators, marketing executives, and others seeking influence have all worked to capitalize upon the impressionability of the youth to realize their objectives.

Barack Obama and his team—effective marketers of their political ambitions as they are—are no different. Next week, the President will be making the next step in an effort to mesmerize the minors attending school in the government-run system. Many see this event as nothing more than an innocuous speech encouraging children to pursue a good education, but the supplemental materials being provided to the nation’s schools betray this naive assumption.

The President is elected to do a job defined by a limited set of powers. While these boundaries have been violated repeatedly, the office of President in essence is that of a servant to the public—he is our employee, on our payroll, and does what “we the people” tell him to do (in theory, anyway). And yet children across the country are being prompted to consider how they can help the President.

Last night, the materials were edited to remove a line that told teachers to ask their students to “write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president.” Only after an outcry was this suggestion changed for something more tame. And yet the fact that it existed in the first place illustrates the intentions of federal authorities in relation to our children’s education. This is an extension of John F. Kennedy’s “ask what you can do for your country” theme, focusing the attention and effort instead on one individual—the one soliciting the request.

Ignoring the excluded remark, we are still left with other suggestions telling children to consider what the President is asking them to do, and what ideas and actions the President is challenging them to think about. The simple fact that a single man is addressing himself to the nation’s children and using the network of government-funded (and regulated) teachers to instill certain thoughts in their minds should worry all parents. Those parents who themselves have fallen prey to the propaganda will, of course, see no problem with their children participating in the same.

The President of the United States was never intended to be a leader to our children, nor to speak to them directly. Only individuals looking to mold public opinion in their favor aim to do this on a large scale, and historically those individuals have had ulterior motives of ill repute. Time will tell how Mr. Obama’s intentions manifest themselves in the fertile soil of our children’s minds.

28 Responses to “The Impressionability of Youth”

  1. JHP
    September 3, 2009 at 2:41 pm #

    I agree, but I do think a lot of people are blowing this out of proportion. I think this nationwide speech should alert us, but we should wait to see what he actually says. It may truly be harmless, though I am skeptical. It does confirm to me that Pres. Obama wants to be heard speaking by as many people as possible at every possible moment, as evidenced by this and all the other speeches he’s constantly giving on national TV.

    Anyway, the following quote is an addition to what you’ve said. It is in reference to the school system (first mission schools then public schools) used in Utah to “normalize” and “socialize” LDS youth in early Utah.

    E.H. Parsons, U.S. Marshall said in 1889, “The work of the Christian church in this community is through the young. The only way to access them is through the schools.”

  2. Connor
    September 3, 2009 at 2:45 pm #

    …but we should wait to see what he actually says. It may truly be harmless…

    I’m actually as much concerned about the connection being established and the supplemental material being provided as I am the actual speech itself. Obama’s words are fleeting, and children likely will not remember what he said a few days later. But they will remember that he spoke to them, that they got to see the President talking directly to kids, that they were excited, and that (maybe) they’d like it to happen more often. The foundation this action lays is far more broad than the words he chooses in his speech, I think.

  3. JHP
    September 3, 2009 at 2:55 pm #

    Yes, I agree with that. Past presidents have given speeches in some format to American students, but it does seem that this president is going the distance in trying to influence the youth, whatever his intentions are.

  4. Connor
    September 3, 2009 at 3:11 pm #

    Another factor of concern is the inherent trust that children place in authority figures. They’ve yet to learn that the Obamas of the world are deceitful liars making hollow promises, and so are more willing to buy into the words being said and the emotions being felt. Talk about a gullible base of support from which to draw… and if that trickles outward and upward (in age)? Might just be a genius political strategy.

    I suppose that Obama can look forward to an increasing number of fan videos such as this:

  5. JHP
    September 3, 2009 at 3:41 pm #

    Wow, that’s frightening. Most importantly for Obama, just think how many high school kids will be of voting age in 2012.

  6. Daniel
    September 3, 2009 at 4:46 pm #

    It’s a bit rich for a Mormon to be decrying anyone’s influence on impressionable children.

  7. Connor
    September 3, 2009 at 4:50 pm #

    It’s a bit rich for a Mormon to be decrying anyone’s influence on impressionable children.

    Oh please, Daniel. Me raising my child as a Latter-day Saint is no different than you raising your child as an atheist. Since they are our children, we can influence them however we think best.

    That’s not what this is about. This is about a government official assuming the role of inspirational teacher—something he was not elected to do. That’s a far cry from me prompting my child to listen to the Prophet, or you prompting yours to listen to Darwin.

  8. Daniel
    September 3, 2009 at 5:41 pm #

    Hey — I’m not raising my kids to be atheists. That’s a bit presumptuous of you there. I’m raising my kids to be good critical thinkers, and then letting them come to their own conclusions. They’re not our kids at all. They’re themselves.

    And I can tell you that there are no secular rationalists for songs like “I Am a Child of No God”, or “I Am an Atheist Boy”. (Though I think I will be picking up the new They Might Be Giants album, “Here Comes Science!”)

    Let me give an example of my style: One time I showed my boys a YouTube video about a Nazi family. Dad was a Nazi, Mom was a Nazi. The son looked like a normal kid, but he was talking smack about black people, saying how he didn’t like them.

    The boys really seemed shocked by this. So I said to them, “He looks like a kid that might be in your school. Maybe he’s an okay guy. Why do you think he’s saying all that stuff?”

    They both said the same thing, “Because of his dad.”

    “That’s right,” I said. “So don’t just believe things that people tell you. Including me, ’cause I could be wrong.”

    I think this is a really important point.

  9. Connor
    September 3, 2009 at 7:35 pm #


    White House officials say Obama’s telecast will be the first speech by a sitting president to stress academic achievement since 1991, when President George H. W. Bush spoke to students from Deal Junior High School in Washington, D.C.

    Democrats, of course, sang a far different tune when a Republican was preparing to address the nation’s school children.

    Then-House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Missouri) said, “The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the President.”

    To be clear, the Department of Education is only a tool of indoctrination when the Secretary of Education answers to a Republican President. When students are instructed to “help the president” and no doubt support his anemic legislative agenda, it’s a teaching experience – namely the lesson of political double standards.

  10. Connor
    September 3, 2009 at 7:39 pm #

    I’m raising my kids to be good critical thinkers, and then letting them come to their own conclusions.

    And you’re teaching them values, ideas, and facts that you believe to be true. Christian parents do the same. You may hold yourself up high on a pedestal because you urge your children to challenge what you teach them, but this by no means implies that I cannot and do not do the same. We all pass on to our children (yes, our children) information that we consider to be truthful; how well each parent does at inspiring that child to get his/her own confirmation of that truth is, of course, different for each parent.

  11. Amber
    September 3, 2009 at 10:06 pm #

    “Those parents who themselves have fallen prey to the propaganda will, of course, see no problem with their children participating in the same.”
    I must have fallen prey because I see nothing wrong with the President addressing our school children. I think it is great. Kids don’t know whether the President is Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal, right-wing, etc. They just know he represents our great nation and that he thinks they are important enough to talk to them.
    Do the questions say – “What does President Barack Obama encourage you to do?” No. They just ask, “What does the President encourage you to do?” It could be any President. Those same kids years from now may remember the President saying something important about school. They probably won’t even remember which President it was. Really, this is so not a big deal.
    It won’t matter anyway – I seriously doubt my child will see the broadcast at school.

  12. Clumpy
    September 4, 2009 at 11:23 pm #

    Think about it – our nation’s 11-year-olds, malleable as their minds are, will bounce back from this message, stay in school, work hard, and then at the age of eighteen abolish term limits and establish the eternal Obama junta, long may it reign!

    Now, sans sarcasm, children are already indoctrinated with the message that all of the big, strong adults around them have a special moral and intellectual authority that they lack. And, as somebody who watched countless hours of Channel One News as a kid and attended assemblies financed by Wilson and Pepsi, commercial indoctrination is ubiquitous. The type of reading comprehension exercise these kids were given is innocuous – they have little political power or understanding of political in-games.

    Connor makes a valid spheres-of-authority argument, though, as usual, most people are missing the point.

  13. Mark
    September 5, 2009 at 8:31 am #

    I wonder if he’ll expect a pledge of servitude from the children? – I Pledge Allegiance to Obama

  14. Carl Youngblood
    September 5, 2009 at 9:57 am #

    Connor, thanks for the heads up. I do want to call you out on your toungue-in-cheek assertion that atheists tell their kids to listen to Darwin. The flippant implication is that Darwinism and religion are incompatible. If that were the case, then the entire faculty of the Biology Dept. at BYU would be out of a job. There are plenty of faithful Latter-Day Saints and other Christians who believe in the theory of evolution by natural selection and feel that it is perfectly compatible with their religion. By asserting this false dichotomy you are doing a disservice to people who would otherwise be able to make a positive and significant contribution but falsely believe the words of people like you who claim that they must throw the baby out with the bath water.

  15. Josh Williams
    September 7, 2009 at 12:38 am #

    In my opinion you should Remove the first paragraph of this post in order to avoid playing the NAZI card…….

    Sorry, it’s just a huge pet peeve of mine.

  16. Clumpy
    September 7, 2009 at 3:18 am #

    I don’t think Connor Godwin’d his own argument by quoting Hitler, mainly because he was making a specific point and a connection and not just using it as an epithet.

    Nevertheless, in all seriousness and without sarcasm or negativity, I predict that Obama’s speech will have NO negative or propagandist effects upon our nation’s children, and has NO malicious or misleading intentions behind it. As somebody who watched Bill Clinton’s inauguration in first grade, was excited to receive certificates of fitness “signed” by him and still respects presidents I found extremely damaging as individuals I would have been enthralled as a youth to hear him speak on something he found important for me.

    President Obama adds to the mix a moral authority that comes from being the first president in ages to rise into the power structure rather than from it, and an intelligence and sincerity that gives his message weight. The message itself should be uncontroversial, and the mere idea of children seeing it should not send us into hystrionics or turn into a wider issue.

    Again, a broad constitutional argument can be made regarding the government’s scope of authority, though I suspect many if not most of the most fervent complainers on this issue are motivated by traditional partisan bickery, fear and, yes, even those old boogeymen left-wingers keep citing in this presidency – closed-mindedness and unconscious racism. Have we changed as a nation since Bush Sr. did two of these school “firesides” and Nancy Reagan told schoolchildren to “Just Say No” or are we just determined to turn every little frickin’ innocuous gaffe or event into another opportunity to feed our paralyzing need to feel indignant and justify our own fences?

  17. loquaciousmomma
    September 7, 2009 at 12:24 pm #

    Clumpy: My biggest problem with the speech was the lesson plan asking students to write a letter to themselves committing to “help the president”. I realize that it has been removed due to the controversy, but without the controversy it would still be there. It just goes along with that creepy Demi/Ashton video “I pledge”. In fact, my concern isn’t even with what will happen from the speech Tuesday, which will be very little. My concern is the possibility of this type of thing becoming more and more accepted.

    Our focus should not be on the President, but on the republic and its health, not on furthering any presidents agenda.

    I can imagine a president with views similar to Ron Paul, speaking to the children and having them write letters committing themselves to helping further the principles of freedom and personal responsibility, or to commit to learning about and supporting the US Constitution. These are acceptable to me, supporting the president is not.

  18. Connor
    September 7, 2009 at 1:25 pm #


    The flippant implication is that Darwinism and religion are incompatible.

    It’s not that they are incompatible, it’s just that they often stand as polar opposites. Some theories reconcile the two (and I fall somewhere in the middle, believing that God used natural processes to bring about the world’s creation), but largely you have religious people leaning towards one end, and Darwinists leaning towards the other. It was more a commentary on what I believe usually happens, then what I think is historically correct.


    In my opinion you should Remove the first paragraph of this post in order to avoid playing the NAZI card…….

    I figured you would raise this objection, since it’s one you’ve raised before. While the Nazi card can indeed be used to make extreme comparisons between two people/groups, I think that it is likewise an extreme to argue that the comparison can never be made unless the person/group is the same in every way to Hitler (e.g. that innocent people are being slaughtered).

    Hitler did not rise to the scene as an oppressive dictator. He achieved power through promises, subversion, and flattery. To refuse any comparisons to these tactics with modern day examples is to open the door for and excuse the same tyrannical actions in the future, even though a modern dictator’s path may turn out to be different in many ways.

    In short, there is definitely a comparison here (the one I made) that is fully justified by historical precedent and modern example.


    I predict that Obama’s speech will have NO negative or propagandist effects upon our nation’s children, and has NO malicious or misleading intentions behind it.

    Just as it would be hard for me to demonstrate what effect this speech had five years from now as these children mature into adults, so too would it be impossible for you to demonstrate that it did not have any effect. Thus, we are chiefly left with an opportunity to discuss the propriety of such an event taking place at all.

    You state that the opposition might largely be to justify our own political preferences, and that it’s hypocritical to oppose Obama while not having done so with previous presidents. But this is different for each person. While others’ motivation may be partisan in nature, mine is not. So long as it’s a President speaking directly to the children of the nation, I oppose it. Why? See here.


    I realize that it has been removed due to the controversy, but without the controversy it would still be there. It just goes along with that creepy Demi/Ashton video “I pledge”.

    Agreed. So often with political actions we are prone to look at them free of any context or broader perspective. This isn’t about the (largely innocuous) speech Obama will be giving, but rather about the fact that he’s giving a speech to public school children at all. This is not a decision that was made just because Obama thinks it’ll be fun; he’s a man who is short on time and has plenty of people vying for his attention. If he’s doing this, he’s doing it for a very specific reason.

  19. Clumpy
    September 7, 2009 at 1:55 pm #

    Connor, due to your track record of analysis you have a moral authority that doesn’t lead me to suspect your motives on this issue.

    In fact, I think we might actually be in agreement regarding the insincerity of most on this issue. I give more credence to a Paul or a Barr’s opinion on this issue since their analysis comes from true beliefs, though I trust the opinions of the new wave of faux-libertarians about as much as I trust their unbiased, calmheaded views of Mustardgate or Barry’s “Kenyan” origins.

  20. Clumpy
    September 7, 2009 at 2:08 pm #

    So yes, I believe in general we’re being trained by our political and media leaders to become a nation of intellectually dishonest whiners because that’s what most of the opposition behind this issue is doing. I also think that only about 10% of the opposition to the type of healthcare reform our President is proposing is legitimate, and that the media are acting reprehensibly by voicing and amplifying the idiotic talking points they themselves created further as news.

    The problems are essentially the level of corporate influence over our discourse, the inability of people to discuss an issue on its own terms rather than just making up nonsense (because they’re politically motivated and nothing else) and the media’s tendency to think that all opinions have equal value and to report lies as news without context. That said, I tend to value intelligence and reason even if I disagree ideologically with the speaker, which is why I still respect Obama on the now-rare occasion he sticks to his principles, while I think Sarah Palin’s rise to the public view is a symptom of our shallow sickness.

  21. Josh Williams
    September 8, 2009 at 12:17 am #

    Thanks, Connor.

    I figured you would raise this objection,……

    The Hitler Youth is only the most obvious example. Do more research.

    It is a valid example. I do realize you are not deliberately trying to capitalize on negative emotional associations with NAZI’s and Hitler.

  22. loquaciousmomma
    September 8, 2009 at 9:32 am #

    I just started reading Dwight D Eisenhower’s book Peace with Justice and almost choked when I read this excerpt:

    Any man who underestimates the importance of the American teacher in world affairs is misleading himself. Under our system, high governmental policy expresses the considered will of the people, and the will of the people in the last analysis, is compounded out of the convictions, the idealisms, the purposes fostered in the classrooms of the nation’s schools. What you teach is what the country does.

    This was in a speech he gave to Columbia University in 1950.

    Education has been a political tool since it became compulsory.

  23. Connor
    September 8, 2009 at 1:26 pm #

    Here’s more context to the story I linked to in comment #9.

  24. Preparedness Pro
    September 10, 2009 at 4:54 pm #

    Our focus should not be on the President, but on the republic and its health, not on furthering any presidents agenda.

    Absolutely. The “I Pledge” celebrity video that was shown in a Utah school last week is another example of the direction this Administration is slyly attempting to go. The president is OUR public servant, and not the other way around.

  25. Clumpy
    September 11, 2009 at 1:27 am #

    Yes, this administration is subtly attempting to get people to produce videos without their knowledge and show them to people! It’s really sneaky the way that Obama had absolutely nothing to do with the video, and only makes it worse that he would somehow influence people into producing videos completely independently from his administration and showing them to kids without Gayle Ruzicka’s approval.

  26. Connor
    September 24, 2009 at 9:46 am #

    More praise of Our Great Leader from the children who are taught to love him:

  27. Bonner
    October 1, 2009 at 4:03 pm #

    Orrin Hatch has been going to public schools for years. He gets it so why shouldn’t our president?

  28. Chris
    November 18, 2009 at 11:27 pm #

    Oh please. Stop posting videos of kids singing about Obama. Of course it shouldn’t be happening. I agree that it’s wrong, but Obama never encouraged it. What are you trying to prove?

    I thought his speech was great. It’s didn’t drive any political philosophies into anyone. I know a few troubled kids who could have really benefited from it.

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