Obama Inauguration: "Don't Believe Everything Your Parents Tell You"

What would do if your child's teacher told your child "Don't believe everything your parents tell you."? Would you be angry? I was for a minute. But I decided to turn what should have been a teaching moment into...a teaching moment.

Update 1/27/2009: See the teacher's cordial response below.

That's why I wrote the letter below to my child's teacher.

I asked some of my work colleagues what they would do if something like that happened to their child. They encouraged me to personally confront the teacher and give her "what for". I initially determined that I would seek such a confrontation. But the more I thought about it, I realized that such a confrontation would very likely cause me to miss a teaching moment as well.

So for what it's worth, here's the letter.
Dear Miss [Name Redacted]:

I very much appreciate that you encourage your students to discuss political issues in class. It is healthy for students to understand that, just like there are various religious perspectives in the world, various political viewpoints exist as well, and that it's important to show respect to these varying looks at life. What I don't like is that, in reply to a student who disagrees with your political perspective, you say "Don't listen to everything your parents tell you." You're correct, by the way, that we shouldn't believe everything they tell us, but such a statement is almost always interpreted as mean sounding.

My daughter, [name redacted], tells me that such was the gist of a conversation between you and her this past Tuesday. I would have much preferred if you had turned the conversation into a teaching moment by saying something like, "I'd like to have you go home and visit with your family about why or why not they think President Obama will be good for America. Try to form your own opinion, and come back to our next class ready to discuss 2 or 3 of your reasons."

Had you done this, you, my daughter, and your class would have discovered that
  • I do not necessarily think that Barack Obama will be bad for the country. It depends on whether he has the fortitude to achieve some of his stated goals without buckling under to entrenched interests in Washington.
  • I do think that George W. Bush was bad for the country, primarily due to his invasion of Iraq and his hubris with regard to the rest of the world on the subject of terrorism.
  • I think that Barack Obama will be a much more inspiring leader than George W. Bush was.
  • I think that President Obama has some great ideas (closing Guantanamo Bay, getting out of Iraq, reducing taxes) as well as some that are not so great (man-made global warming, federal control of eduction and healthcare, and bailouts with money that government does not have).
  • My daughter's mother has a different opinion (in some ways) of Barack Obama than I do.
  • My daughter would have been able to come to class with several reasons to support both the pros and cons of an Obama presidency.
My daughter might still not have formed her own opinion by asking my wife and me how we felt about President Obama, but we would have planted a germ there that might perhaps encourage her to form one, and the next day in class you would have had a marvelous discussion. (By the way, we have talked about it, and if you'd like, I'll encourage her to make a list...)


So next time, instead of saying, "Don't believe everything your parents tell you," ask your students to "defend your answer." And then remember that almost any well-thought-out answer to a political question is to be respected as a good answer.

That's when real education happens.
There. Was I tactful? How would you have responded?

Update 1/27/2009: Here is how the teacher responded. I thought it was a great response.
Thank you for you letter and your involvement and concern in [your daughter]'s education. I agree with your opinions in passing up a meaningful learning opportunity for my students and will hopefully be able to use your suggestion to challenge students to go home and ask their parent's opinions in the future. I apologize if I singled [your daughter] out about her opinions and have let her know that I was not out to get her.

My aims for having this discussion after the inauguration speech was to help my students dispel the large amount of rumors they have heard about President Obama (I don't know where they receive their information but I have had students say some very inaccurate, inappropriate and racist things about the President) and teach them to find the source of facts or opinions before repeating them. I also like to encourage them to think and research to form their own opinions. I did not mean to discredit parents political beliefs and apologize for the language I used.

I also wanted to clarify that I did not have a political agenda as I spoke to my students about this. My objective was to foster a time that allowed the students to think, question and form opinions, if they choose, about government. To be honest, I am still largely undecided on where on stand on many political issues and politicians. What I do know is that it is very important to me to form my opinions based on education and facts. In encouraging this discussion I hoped to teach my students to open up their minds to the variety of information out there, rather than taking the opinion of a forwarded email, friend or even family member.

I hope I have not caused trouble at home, or lost your respect for me as [your daughter]'s teacher. I appreciate your response and criticism. Please contact me in the future with any other concerns.


  1. I think you showed remarkable restraint and tact. And it's a good response too.

  2. That was a good response. If the teacher takes offense at that it's not because of what you said.

  3. Frank, You did well, glad you posted this. With current issues rising to the front this last election I had to explain to my daughter that everything she is taught at school may not be the truth.

    If I were in your shoes I am afraid I may not have waited long enough to calm down, as you did, before visiting the teacher. Of course it sounds like your daughter is a little older than my 2nd grader.

  4. Yes, she is a bit older, and she has a strong-head and a reputation for such at school.

    I asked her if it would be okay with her if I were to write the letter, before I actually wrote it.

    We'll see if she lives up to her end of the bargain by delivering it to her teacher...


  5. This also reminds me of a testimony one of the youth in our ward shared. He was in his high school english class and the teacher decided to go through the different propositions on the ballot. He had the students stand on one side of the room if they supported the issue and on the other if they opposed. They would then hold a short discussion/debate on the issue. When Prop 8 came up this young man was on the support side with one other student and the other 28 kids were on the other. He had the opportunity to then be the sole voice, as the other student just stood there silent, to explain why traditional marriage deserved support.

  6. The teacher's comment would not have bothered me in the slightest. I don't want to children to believe everything I tell them, any more than I want them to believe everything their teachers tell them, their schools tell them, their bishops tell them, etc. The advice was sound, and I don't see any reason for parents to get upset.

  7. That said, I think you handled the conversation well, and may have helped the teacher consider a more tactful strategy in the future. Because no matter how true her words, the course you suggested would be more effective at teaching her students how to reason for themselves.

  8. Real education happens when commitment to find the truth is present. In contrast, it is not a real education to teach to fabricate well-thought-out, palatable, defensible, or provable theories or concepts.

    I wouldn't be upset about the teacher's statement. If we were capable to teach our children ourselves we would not send them to be educated by others. Unless the 'education' in the schools and universities is viewed as a necessary step providing weapons to our kids to be able to be successful in the rat race, or unless we do not have the time to 'educate' them ourselves.

    In general, a society, whose teachers are not treated with the highest respect, are often despised and chronically underpaid for educating and preparing the young, the future of the nation, is doomed to decadence, degeneration, and will end up in a deplorable condition. Unless the nation is rich in natural resources and is able to import educated, actually skillful, people from other countries.

  9. To daughter: Don't believe everything your teachers tell you, either-- think for yourself. And don't complain about other people behind their backs, or expect someone else to fight your battles for you-- do it face to face!

    Problem solved.

  10. This reminds me of something that came out during the last campaign. There was a teacher of an elementary class that was asking about who the kids were supporting for president. When one girl said McCain the teacher did her very best donkey impression.

    Frank, I think your letter is great. What concerns me is the possible arrogance displayed by the teacher's response. It may not be the case here, but some teachers can get a bit of a complex when it comes to their students.

    By saying, "don't believe your parents", the teacher is really saying only believe me.

  11. Cameron,

    Your comment reminded me that I had received a very insightful response from my daughter's teacher.

    I have added the response as an update to the main article.

  12. That was a great response. Your daughter seemingly has an awesome teacher.


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