THE FOLLY OF USING CURRENT SPEECHES TO TEACH ENGLISH
Fortunately, I no longer teach in a place where I am forced to use a preselected textbook. When I did for many years as I taught freshman composition and literature survey courses in various units of the Georgia State University System, I found myself searching for a diminishing list of classic texts. At one university I had to follow the department chair’s orders and include departmental “objectives” on my syllabus, including a better understanding of “race, class, and gender.”
I was reminded of those days when a sample copy of the Norton Reader arrived in my campus mailbox last winter. As is typical of most readers and English textbooks, more and more of the authors were left-wing ideologues.
One thing that was new was the inclusion of works by a sitting president. As I did more research and looked at other publishers I found that not only were President Obama’s writings being taught as hallmarks of rhetoric, but candidate Obama’s had been included in previous editions, as well.
Recent events remind us of the folly of using the works of current political leaders. Among those is President Obama’s speech, “A New Beginning,” delivered at Cairo University on June 4, 2009, and included in the Norton Reader.
The claim of a “New Beginning” did not make it so, as we have witnessed in a 9/11 attack on our embassy in Libya, the assassination of our diplomat there, and the murder of three other Americans with him, as well as of anti-American protests and killings across the Middle East. Charles Krauthammer was one of many columnists who had occasion to refer to the speech in a column titled “Collapse of the Cairo Doctrine.” He wrote that in 2009 “Obama promised ‘a new beginning’ offering Muslims ‘mutual respect,’ unsubtly implying previous disrespect.” Krauthammer noted that over “previous 20 years, America had six times committed its military forces on behalf of oppressed Muslims, three times for reasons of pure humanitarianism (Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo). . . .”
Such omissions and errors, however, are not pointed out in the Norton Reader. Instead, they are allowed to stand, and the topic questions steer students to simply praising the speech and following Obama’s call to “remake this world.”
The test of time should be applied to speeches by politicians, regardless of their political affiliation. These speeches then should be read in light of the historical events that followed.
My Dissident Prof Guide Book on the Cairo speech is intended to help students analyze the Cairo speech by providing rhetorical analysis, historical information, and context regarding presidential speeches—from the past. It is one way to counter the pervasive bias of textbooks published by giants, like Norton.