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Respecting Presidents

This is a post from National Fatherhood Initiative’s Executive Vice President, Christopher Brown.

I’ve thought a lot recently about the value Americans place on respect and the role that parents and the media play in communicating the importance of respect to our nation’s children.

What brought this issue home to me recently is the behavior of my daughter’s high-school classmates during a speech that President Obama gave last week to students across the country.

This isn’t the first year that the President has delivered a speech to the nation’s school children on the importance of school and a good education. While President Obama has made it an annual address, previous Presidents also addressed our nation’s school children on the importance of school and a good education (including both George W. and George H.W. Bush).

When Obama first started his speeches, I thought it strange that parents were given a form they could sign to “opt out” their children from hearing the speech. Why would I not want my child to hear the President of the United States deliver a speech on the importance of school and getting a good education? Perhaps only that I have an unfounded, paranoid fear that the President would deliver a partisan speech and that, as a result, my child would be co-opted into a way of thinking that I disagree with. If a President had that level of influence, I’d tell him to talk about the importance of eating your vegetables.

At any rate, my daughter reported that her classmates were so disrespectful—hooping and hollering and calling the President names—that she couldn’t even hear parts of the speech. She was genuinely disgusted with the behavior and wondered why these kids—some of whom are her friends—would show such disrespect simply because they don’t agree with or like the President (similar stories emerged of a lack of respect for President George W. Bush as well)

Should we be surprised by this behavior? Not when we live in a nation that has become so polarized politically that words like “respect” and “compromise” and “moderate” have become nostalgic words, at best. In a media-saturated world in which partisan radio, TV, and Internet outlets have grown in number and influence, it is critical that fathers teach their children that they can respect and disagree with someone at the same time without attacking the person’s character.

Fathers have much more influence on their children than any President, and they should help their children develop values necessary for a democracy to thrive, such as the values of compromise and common courtesy. In fact, one of the core values of NFI’s 24/7 Dad™ program is to respect others, teach children to do the same, and extend respect through common courtesy—a cultural value that appears to be slowly, sadly disappearing.

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