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President's back to school message

Mark Mardell | 20:12 UK time, Monday, 7 September 2009

The president is to tell America's school kids that many of them are nervous, probably wishing it was still the summer holidays, but when they are struggling they shouldn't give up. Maybe it is heart-felt. It is not only the children who are back at their desks, so are Congress and the president. And it is going to be a tough week.

But my sneak preview suggests that the nationwide address beamed into all state schools will contain little of the liberal indoctrination that his opponents warned about. Some parents are keeping their children away from school, fearful of political polution. But perhaps I am wrong that it is inoffensive: maybe "No-one's born being good at things" is close to communism, the instruction "I hope you'll all wash your hands a lot" intrusive big government.

Of course the fuss springs directly from one of the big differences between the US system and the British one. There would be a furore if the British head of governemnt, Gordon Brown, wanted to beam his message to schools: the opposition would demand a right of reply for a start. But if the head of state, the Queen, wanted to tell them all to work hard, few eyelids would bat.

The trouble is, the president is both. In each administration political opponents don't like it when a man they love to hate wants to earn kudos by behaving like the nation's father, but it's built into the system.


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