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.

High Country News Classifieds