Obama's speech to students


Whipped up by right-wing talk shows, conservatives are criticizing President Obama's back-to-school speech -- which will "challenge students to work hard, set educational goals and take responsibility for their learning," according to the U.S. Department of Education -- as "indoctrination." The Associated Press reports that:

Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna requested additional information from the U.S. Department of Education earlier this week before offering guidance to schools and notifying parents.

And here's an excerpt from a report from the Denver Post:

"I don't want that man talking to my children," said Crista Huff in Douglas County, who has three daughters in school. "Look at other leaders who had socialistic policies and chose to talk to children; this would include Hitler, Stalin, Lenin and Castro. I will keep my kids home from school that day and we will re-read the Declaration of Independence."

Part of the furor comes from a blunder by the Obama administration: lesson plans to accompany the speech originally included a recommendation for students to "write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the President."

"That was inartfully worded, and we corrected it," White House deputy policy director Heather Higginbottom said in an interview with The Associated Press.

I can imagine how I would feel if the lesson-plan directive had come down from the previous administration. As Republican Bob Schaffer, chair of the Colorado State Board of Education, reminds us:

"The president has no management or curriculum authority in state public schools. Public education is clearly in the domain of the states...I hope all of these people who are cheering and supporting this precedent-setting event will feel comfortable when the next president justifies his political communication to the kids."

There is a question is about whether the speech will be "political." But it's clear that simply giving the President time to speak directly to children in a classroom setting is seen as political by some.

I remember my parents' outrage about the Weekly Reader when I was in elementary school -- avid Democrats, my parents didn't like the two-page "newspaper" handed out to students every week, often featuring President Eisenhower being "political." For me, it was the DARE program that infiltrated public schools during my daughter's elementary years. Brainchild of the controversial former Los Angeles police chief Darryl Gates, Drug Abuse Resistance Education was forced on students around the country, although it has been found ineffective in curbing drug abuse and may actually increase it. The idea was for (armed) police officers to come into the schools and lecture kids as young as the second grade about drugs. When I objected -- because police (no matter how well-meaning) are not qualified to teach my child about health or drugs, and because the DARE program doesn't work -- the principal looked at me like I came from Mars. Even though she couldn't understand my concerns, she allowed me to take my daughter out of the classroom when the weekly session came around.

All this is to say, we and our children are bombarded by information that's "objectionable" on a daily basis. And  kids are subjected to a lot of propaganda we don't even know about. My grandson related that one of his public school teachers told him "rainbows are God's way of apologizing" -- in this way we found out that the teacher was freely proselytizing on the public dime.

Here's the thing: if we agree that God is sending down an apology, we won't care about the teacher's remark. If we like President Obama, it's okay for him to address our kids. Bob Shaffer is speaking directly to the point when he says that we should be deciding these issues on principle -- not personal opinion, or prejudice.

Obama's scheduled school speech
Ed Quillen
Ed Quillen
Sep 05, 2009 12:49 PM

    Thanks for this thoughtful piece, and for your courage back in the D.A.R.E. days.

    I had two daughters in grade school then, and I'd just finished co-writing a book about cocaine (The White Stuff, published by Dell in 1985, and long out of print).

    While researching the book, I learned plenty of chemistry and biology, and also discovered that American medicine is best understood as a branch of sociology -- i.e., this year's fad miracle drug is next year's scourge of humanity.

    So I figured my kids would learn quite a bit in "drug education," but when I asked them what they'd learned, they couldn't come up with anything. They didn't know upper from downer from bender from twister, an analgesic from an antihistamine.

    At the next meeting of the local school board, I pointed out that I'd written the book on cocaine, and mentioned that my kids seemed to be learning precisely nothing in D.A.R.E. -- they didn't even know what the initials stood for. So why was the school wasting time on it?

    The board turned to the elementary principal, who said the program was "imparting holistic refusal skills," whatever that means.

    Even if President Obama provides "political indoctrination" rather than a "stay in school and do your homework" homily, so what?

    Do they think he has laser eyes and mysterious powers that can be transmitted electronically, so that grade-schoolers will march home next Tuesday singing "Solidarity Forever," "The Internationale" and Joe Hill's "Pie in the Sky"?

    If Obama did have such awesome persuasive powers, wouldn't he deploy them to convert Republican senators to the cause of health-care reform? Or to convince the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan to lay down arms?

    And if schoolchildren were indeed that susceptible to instant indoctrination, why must their teachers spend hour after hour, day after day, week upon week, on the multiplication table, the parts of speech, the states and their capitals, etc.?

    But I suppose there are reasons for right-thinkers to worry. If kids start reading, they could grow up knowing better than to take talk-radio seriously.

Obama's Speech to school children
Deb Meager
Deb Meager
Sep 09, 2009 08:25 AM
Your article addressed the subject well. I'd like to add an opinion from the Midwest, a small, mostly white, rural-suburban community in Ohio. While typically Republican, our district voted in favor of President Obama. Before the Obama speech to the schools and without time for parental input, our school superintendant made the decision to "not interupt the school day" with his speech.

My daughter, a high senior, top of her class with many academic honors, couldn't even watch the President of our country speak during her lunch period because they blocked CNN!!! Talk about censorship. But hey, as long as they keep the Disney channel playing on the lunchroom TV, all is well.

I would like to ask all those who favored the censorship, "What are you afraid of? That the kids will think for themselves?"

We had George W. Bush and his right-wing agenda shoved down our throats for eight years and his policies are still wreaking havoc in our country and abroad. For example, his "abstinence only" education brought Catholic teachers to our public school to teach sex ed. Teenagers were told that condoms don't work; do you know how many kids in this high school have unprotected sex because they don't think condoms work?

President Obama wanted the ears of the young people in this country so he could remind them that hard work and self-respect build a strong country. Seems pretty tame compared to the previous administration's brainwash. Shame, shame, shame on the Republican party for letting their fear lead their actions, and to the school district leaders for not respecting the intellect our our youth.
Obama speech
Patrick Hunter
Patrick Hunter
Sep 09, 2009 09:23 AM
Encouraging children to do well in school can be controversial. Some years ago congress was debating the funding of traveling libraries in rural areas. A republican politician was mortified. He said that people would be finding out things about the world and that was going to make it too difficult for them to be governed.

I think the debate that is going on in this country is at the bottom about how we should think and act. Are we going to open our minds and hearts or keep them closed? Are we going to join the rest of the world, or are we going to create our own little version of reality?

It is no accident that only about 9% of scientists in a recent survey identified themselves as Republicans. The conservative mind is not made to do science. Beliefs rather than facts are the bedrock for conservatives.

Conservatives are fundamentally opposed to compulsory universal education because their children will be exposed to information that stands in direct contrast to conservative principals and beliefs.