OBAMA GOES BACK TO SCHOOL
On September 8, in what the Department of Education is touting as a “historic” speech, President Obama will be talking directly to students across the U.S., live on the White House website. But some parents and conservatives are blasting the president, calling the speech an excuse to brainwash American children.
Last month, in an interview with 11-year-old student reporter Damon Weaver, the president announced his big back-to-school plan:
“Im going to be making a big speech to young people all across the country about the importance of education; about the importance of staying in school; how we want to improve our education system and why it’s so important for the country. So I hope everybody tunes in.”
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent a letter to the nations principals, inviting schools to watch the speech and included suggested classroom activities. But Jim Greer, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, came out swinging against the planned speech. An excerpt from his statement:
“The address scheduled for September 8, 2009, does not allow for healthy debate on the Presidents agenda, but rather obligates the youngest children in our public school system to agree with our Presidents initiatives or be ostracized by their teachers and classmates.”
NBC spoke with Katie Gordon, a spokeswoman for the Florida Republican Party, who said the partys “beef” is with the accompanying lesson plans. The guide for pre-K through grade 6 suggests questions students think about during the speech, such as “What is the President trying to tell me? What is the President asking me to do?”
The plan for grades 7-12 includes a “guided discussion,” with suggested topics: “What resonated with you from President Obamas speech? What is President Obama inspiring you to do?”
The Cato Institute, a public-policy research foundation, issued a press release entitled “Hey Obama, Leave Those Kids Alone,” criticizing the “troubling buzzwords” in the lesson plans:
“Its one thing for a president to encourage all kids to work hard and stay in school – thats a reasonable use of the bully pulpit. Its another thing entirely, however, to have the U.S. Department of Education send detailed instructions to public schools nationwide on how to glorify the president and the presidency, and push them to drive social change.”
Across the blogosphere, comments covered the spectrum, from critical to supportive, and from one student, a little anger:
“I sent my children to school to be educated NOT indoctrinated.” — justamom
“The fact that people want to keep their kids from hearing the President of the United States encourage them to do well in school shows a true level of ignorance.” — Firefey
“As an [sic] 9th grade student, Id like to say that 1. Im not sure why everyone is so scared that well all be brainwashed by the President … 2. My school is one that is not allowing us to watch the speech, and quite frankly, Im pissed.” — Willbw
Both Presidents George Bush and Ronald Reagan both gave speeches aimed specifically at students that were nationally televised. In 1989, Bush delivered a televised anti-drug speech, and Reagans 1986 commencement speech and Q&A session was “beamed over public television into 171 school districts,” according to the L.A. Times.
Its worth noting that schools are, encouraged, not required, to air the speech. The Houston Chronicle reports that one Dallas school district is leaving the decision to individual teachers. Susan Dacus, spokeswoman for the Wylie school district, says parents who don want their children to see it can opt out.
In an ironic twist, one Missouri school won be airing the speech because of a lack of funding. Michelle Baumstark, spokeswoman for Columbia public schools, told the Columbia Daily Tribune, “We don’t have the funding or the equipment to support that type of broadcasting.”