As the text of Obama's speech to school children is released, many people are wondering "What's the big deal?" Everything he says seems perfectly reasonable. For instance, who wouldn't agree with this: "What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future."
Reaction to Obama's planned speech to school children Tuesday has evolved, however, along with the actual assignments to be presented and possibly the message itself. Many parents across the country have joined a "National Keep your Kids at Home Day," while others say the whole issue is "silly."
Brazoria County school districts have similarly diplomatic plans for handling the controversy: They are either leaving the decision up to individual teachers, or recording the speech for possible showing at a later date. All districts are offering to allow children to "opt out" if they bring a note from their parents. Children who do not come to school Tuesday will be counted absent.
Like other school districts in the area, Alvin ISD will record the speech and determine if it aligns with curriculum before showing it to students. Alvin Superintendent Robby McGowen said, "While I definitely respect the office of the president, I believe this approach buys some time for parents to listen first and for teachers to review it for relation to the curriculum."
"When did having our country's leader as a positive role model become a bad thing?" asks Manvel teacher Jennifer Thompson-Rogers. A few parents who have left remarks on Facebook would agree with this sentiment.
However, many parents in the local school districts have voiced concerns over the speech. Shirley Brothers at Alvin ISD said 34 parents had called the school district offices as of Friday morning. A source at one local school estimated that between 50 and 100 calls were received last week. Parents' emails to individual teachers may also be significant.
Few parents would disagree with the actual content of the speech. Obama encourages kids to do their homework, pay attention in class, read, get involved in extracurricular activities, volunteer, stand up for kids who are being bullied, and take care of themselves. He even mentions that they should wash their hands often in order to avoid getting the flu.
The disagreement, according to online posts, involves the intent behind the speech, rather than that actual words delivered.
Obama supporters point out that both Reagan and George H.W. Bush gave speeches to school children. Reagan's speech was delivered at the end of his second term and allowed students to ask questions, and Bush's speech was delivered in Sept. 1991. Although these speeches had the potential to be delivered live to students, most classrooms did not have TVs and no one interviewed for this article could actually remember seeing or hearing about these speeches. Additionally, neither speech was accompanied by recommended classroom assignments.
According to a Washington Post article on October 3, 1991, at the time of the Bush speech, House Majority leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.), said "The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students [sic]."
Education Secretary Arne Duncan has been quoted as saying the uproar against Obama's speech to school children is "silly." He does acknowledge that part of the originally proposed lesson plans were "poorly written" and have been changed. The original assignment for elementary school children included the questions "What can you do to help the president" and "Why is it important to listen to the president."
Several websites (including www.worldnetdaily.com) are reporting a legal challenge to Obama's speech, citing the United States Code that governs the Department of Education and its relationship with the individual states. Lawyer Mathew D. Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel and dean of Liberty University School of Law, explains that the federal government, as represented by the Department of Education, has no authority to interfere with the curriculum of local school districts.
Staver's critique cited 20 U.S.C. § 3403, which states, "No provision of a program administered by the Secretary [of the Department of Education] or by any other officer of the Department shall be construed to authorize the Secretary or any such officer to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system." More information about the U.S. Code can be found at http://uscode.house.gov/.
Obama's critics, such as Glenn Beck, Michelle Malkin, and various bloggers, are voicing concern that Obama is "ingratiating" or "endearing" himself to America's youth in an attempt to build a civilian army of volunteers. The concerns date back to July 2008 when Obama deviated from a prepared speech and said, "We cannot continue to rely only on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives that we’ve set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded." Critics point out that the best place to start building such an army is with the youth of America. Excerpts and analysis of this statement can be found on www.americanthinker.com, among other places.
In the transcript of tomorrow's speech, however, Obama expresses concern for the future of America:
"You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy."
He talks a good deal about himself in the speech, as well: "I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse."
Obama ends his speech with "God bless you, and God bless America."
As parents, students, and school districts all across the country wait for the controversy over this speech to play out, one thing is becoming apparent: People have strong opinions about it, leading to good discussion and debate, but these strong opinions are also contributing to the growing chasm between conservatives and liberals, sometimes causing disagreement among family members and friends, many of whom are taking sides for the first time in their lives.