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When the prez speaks, should students listen?

Today at noon the President of the United States will speak to schoolchildren about the importance of working hard and the value of a good education. Will your child be watching?

Personally, I'm thrilled that Obama wants to deliver this message. As most moms know, we could say the same thing over and over until we're blue in the face and it wouldn't carry the same weight or make the same impression on our kids as it does coming from a teacher, a coach or the leader of this country.

But nothing is as simple as it seems, especially here in Miami. I get why some Cuban-Americans are paranoid and fearful of long presidential speeches or policies that hint at socialism. If my grandparents came from a country where everything my family worked hard for was taken away and critics were imprisoned for speaking out, I'm sure I'd be looking over my shoulder, too.

But Obama is not Castro. And this is not Cuba.

Obama is not using this moment to turn our children into little "socialists." The secretary of education has already explained that Obama's speech will be a call for students "to take personal responsibility for their own education, to set goals, and to not only stay in school but make the most of it." Any doubters could read the speech itself online on Monday.

Of course, I'm not naïve enough to think that politics do not play a part in this speech. Sure they do – just as politics played a part when Republican President George H.W. Bush broadcast a noon-time TV speech in 1991 to students, encouraging them to work hard and say no to drugs. President Ronald Reagan did the same thing in 1988, when C-SPAN aired a Q&A with junior high school students, whose talk with the Republican president included questions about policies like taxes.

But – although Reaganomics almost squashed my dreams of graduating from college when my financial aid started to dry up – I still would want my kids to watch Reagan speak. Not only is a presidential speech a historical moment, it's part of the political process – the same political process that has made this country strong for 233 years.

You can disagree with what Obama stands for or says, but don't cover your children's eyes and ears. Kids are much smarter than we give them credit for. Whether you agree or disagree with Obama's tactics, every parent and teacher needs to seize this speech as a teachable moment. It's the most current of current events. And there's so much to cover here, from the First Amendment right to free speech to the subtleties of political maneuvering and ulterior motives.

Talk about the underlying meaning of Obama's message with your kids and, if you want, put it in the context of the current national debate on health care. Ask your kids, "Who do you think benefited more from today's speech – schoolchildren or Obama?" It's a fair question to ask. And you might be surprised by your kid's response.

A school's job is to stimulate discussion and help children grow into public-minded citizens. It's what makes democracy go 'round. As American parents, isn't it our job to raise not just responsible adults, but smart voters, too? Our government is fundamentally based on public involvement. Opting out should not be an option.