So, here is a report on what I noticed about their reactions to the speech in case you're interested in what 10th and some 12th graders thought of the speech.
My students represent a wide range of political beliefs from vocally conservative to strongly liberal and all the points in between. So, it's hard to generalize. The liberal kids reacted negatively to almost every word out of Bush's mouth while the conservative kids were quite favorably impressed. However, some of their reactions were pretty widespread.
Being teenagers who have had environmental concerns drummed into their dear little heads since pre-school, most of the kids were very positive about the things Bush said about energy conservation and his goal to wean us from imported oil. Though, in each of my two classes, someone noted that it was strange for Bush to single out Middle East oil when we get oil from other places. They had a point. It was an opportunity for me to introduce the concept of fungibility and how that applies to the oil market.
Several of them said that they thought Bush's idea of appointing a bipartisan commission to look at Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid was a really good idea and showed that he was reaching out to the Democrats. They're too young to realize that bipartisan commissions are a sign that the politicians can't figure out a politically viable solution themselves and that it's a sign of defeat rather than a hopeful initiative. They don't know that Bush has already had one Social Security Commission. Perhaps, the rest of the country will react the same way. Those who follow politics closely won't be impressed, but we're not the great majority of people.
Most of the kids characterized his speech as confident and optimistic. I think Bush's advisors would be quite pleased with that reaction. I guess that Bush's using the word "confident" several times in the speech paid off.
In the series of questions that they had to fill out while they watched, I had asked them what parts of the speech they thought would be controversial. Almost all of them remarked on the section where he talked about parents in the country being concerned about activist courts redefining marriage. But I noticed that when students brought up that line in each of my classes, the particular student stated that Bush had said that parents were worried about gay marriage. The point about "activist courts" just escaped their notice.
Several kids thought that he was being defensive about the NSA surveillance program and the liberal kids especially reacted negatively to what Bush had said. They thought it was all lies. The other kids didn't seem to care or bought Bush's arguments. That probably represented how the population at large feels about it.
Being kids, they noted that Bush is still saying "nucular." It always amuses me that kids who can't seem to master the difference between "its" and "it's" or "there," "they're" and "their," much less "affect" and "effect" should feel all superior about how the President pronounces one word. But if it comforts them to feel superior to someone with degrees from Yale and Harvard, so be it.
Mostly, the kids are struck by the theatrics of the event. They loved talking about the reaction shots of the Congressmen and women. They were very amused by the Democrats applauding themselves for stopping Bush's Social Security reform. They think it's hilarious that the Democrats wouldn't applaud some of the lines that he GOP would give standing ovations. For them, it's like watching a crowd at a sporting event. If they're Duke fans, they don't applaud UNC and vice versa.
They all noticed the reaction shot of Hillary Clinton when Bush defended the NSA surveillance program. You might remember that she smiled and shook her head slightly either in disbelief or contempt. The kids thought that that was quite funny and didn't seem impressed with her smiles. They also noticed that she didn't smile when Bush referred to her husband turning 60. They were all laughing at her. Given that most of these kids will be able to vote in 2008 (and are very eager to do so), she doesn't seem to have sold herself to this crowd.
Only about a third of them hung around to watch Governor Kaine's speech. As I was, they were quite distracted by Kaine's wayward eyebrow and loved trying to imitate it to show the kids who hadn't seen the speech. They thought his repetition of "there is a better way" was pretty lame. Some kids thought Kaine's speech was conciliatory and others thought that he was quite negative. In each class, some kids noted that Kaine talked about there being a better way, but didn't seem to tell us what that way was. Perceptive kids. One of my very liberal students who would be right at home at Daily Kos, was irritated that Kaine hadn't been more aggressive in criticizing Bush and felt that Kaine had missed an opportunity to really slam Bush. Other kids disagreed and thought that such an approach would have backfired and that Kaine was smart to play to the middle and not seem overly negative.
I had suggested to the kids that they sweeten up their viewing of the speech by predicting a word that Bush would use a lot in the speech and eat chocolate each time he said it. The ones who chose "freedom" were quite happy with themselves. Though one student said her mom drank a sip of wine each time. I wonder if her mom was quite sober by the end of the speech....
Overall, I'm always impressed by how much the kids seem to enjoy critiquing the President. I tell them to access their inner pundits and they do quite well. I know I'd sure rather listen to them than to some of the so-called pundits trotted out for these occasions.
UPDATE: The Anchoress records what one of her friends, a government teacher in a blue state, noted about what her students said about the State of the Union. It sounds just about what some of my students were saying.
“My kids thought it was hysterical when the Demos stood up and applauded themselves for preventing any change to Social Security. They said they were like Wyle E. Coyote, blowing themselves up. Also, when they chose to sit rather than stand when Bush defended the NSA program by saying we won’t sit around waiting to be hit again. The Demos made a bad impression on kids who will be voting in ‘08 and even, some of them, in ‘06. And they had nothing good to say about Hillary.”While I definitely have some students who think Bush broke the law with the NSA surveillance program, the consensus was that this is not a winning issue for Democrats. If high schoolers can figure this out, why can't elected officials? Many of my students have no intention of voting Republican, but they're not seeing anything from the Democrats to make them enthusiastic. And these are kids who want to vote and are excited about turning old enough to do so. In that, they're probably anomalous among young people today. If there is no longer the hatred of Bush to drive young people to the polls, the Democrats might want to think about creating a positive reason for people to want to vote for them, rather than simply voting against Republicans.