Obama Speech To Students Sparks New Controversy

When kids all across the country return to school Tuesday, some will see a welcoming message from President Barack Obama and some won't.

Obama's planned address to students has touched off yet another confrontation with Republican critics, who have battered the White House over health care and now accuse the president of foisting a political agenda on children.

The president will speak directly to students Tuesday about the need to work hard and stay in school. His address will be shown live on the White House Web site and on C-SPAN at noon EDT, a time when classrooms across the country will be able to tune in.

Schools don't have to show it. But districts across the country have been inundated with phone calls from parents and are struggling to address the controversy that broke out after Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent a letter to principals urging schools to tune in.

Districts in states including Texas, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Virginia and Wisconsin have decided not to show the speech to students. Others are still thinking it over or are letting parents have their kids opt out.

Some conservatives, driven by radio pundits and bloggers, are urging schools and parents to boycott the address. They say Obama is using the opportunity to promote a political agenda and is overstepping the boundaries of federal involvement in schools.

"As far as I am concerned, this is not civics education — it gives the appearance of creating a cult of personality," said Oklahoma Republican state Sen. Steve Russell. "This is something you'd expect to see in North Korea or in Saddam Hussein's Iraq."

Arizona state schools superintendent Tom Horne, a Republican, said lesson plans for teachers created by Obama's Education Department "call for a worshipful rather than critical approach."

The White House plans to release the speech online Monday so parents can read it. The president will deliver the speech at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va.

"I think it's really unfortunate that politics has been brought into this," White House deputy policy director Heather Higginbottom said in an interview with The Associated Press.

"It's simply a plea to students to really take their learning seriously. Find out what they're good at. Set goals. And take the school year seriously."

She noted that President George H.W. Bush made a similar address to schools in 1991. Like Obama, Bush drew criticism, with Democrats accusing the Republican president of making the event into a campaign commercial.

Critics are particularly upset about lesson plans the administration created to accompany the speech. The lesson plans, available online, originally recommended having students "write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president."

The White House revised the plans Wednesday to say students could "write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals."

"That was inartfully worded, and we corrected it," Higginbottom said.

In the Dallas suburb of Plano, Texas, the 54,000-student school district is not showing the 15- to 20-minute address but will make the video available later.

PTA council president Cara Mendelsohn said Obama is "cutting out the parent" by speaking to kids during school hours.

"Why can't a parent be watching this with their kid in the evening?" Mendelsohn said. "Because that's what makes a powerful statement, when a parent is sitting there saying, 'This is what I dream for you. This is what I want you to achieve.'"

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, said in an interview with the AP that he's "certainly not going to advise anybody not to send their kids to school that day."

"Hearing the president speak is always a memorable moment," he said.

But he also said he understood where the criticism was coming from.

"Nobody seems to know what he's going to be talking about," Perry said. "Why didn't he spend more time talking to the local districts and superintendents, at least give them a heads-up about it?"

Several other Texas districts have decided not to show the speech, although the district in Houston is leaving the decision up to individual school principals. In suburban Houston, the Cypress-Fairbanks district planned to show the address and has had its social studies teachers assemble a curriculum and activities for students.

In Wisconsin, the Green Bay school district decided not to show the speech live and to let teachers decide individually whether to show it later.

Florida GOP chairman Jim Greer said in a statement he was "absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama's socialist ideology." Despite his rhetoric, two of the larger Florida districts, Miami-Dade and Hillsborough, plan to have classes watch the speech. Students whose parents object will not have to watch.

The Minnesota Association of School Administrators is recommending against disrupting the first day of school to show the speech, but Minnesota's biggest teachers' union is urging schools to show it.

Quincy, Ill., schools decided Thursday not to show the speech. Superintendent Lonny Lemon said phone calls "hit like a load of bricks" on Wednesday.

One Idaho school superintendent, Murray Dalgleish of Council, urged people not to rush to judgment.

"Is the president dictating to these kids? I don't think so," Dalgleish said. "He's trying to get out the same message we're trying to get out, which is, `You are in charge of your education.'"


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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by Rick Location: New Bern on Sep 9, 2009 at 08:17 AM
    My Grand kids watch Obama yesterday. They made it through without crying and fear.They are the same precious kids when they got home as they were when they left for school.Not one of the 3 came home any more or any less of an angel or tyrant than what they ever are,but the 7th grader informed me the President was black.I will not write what else he said to me about the President,but I now know I have to really be concerned about the people that he is around.It would be foolish to say that racism doesn't exist when it comes from the mouth of our children.He learned this from someone besides my family and it is sickening.Obama should be respected because of his accomplishmets he has made in life.He was born at a time when "mixed" children were considered by many the scum of society.I am proud of my fellow citizens that have grown past this and can give honor where honor is due.I'll let GOD bring the fire and brimstone and teach my family to love all men till GOD choose to do so.
  • by PJ Location: chocowinity on Sep 9, 2009 at 07:45 AM
    HMMMMMMMM WITN, your comment boards are getting better than the rants and raves on craigslist. About as good "Days of our lives".
  • by Jackson Location: Deep Run on Sep 9, 2009 at 07:10 AM
    To: usa. I am not an Obama supporter, but when you do not speak or write properly, the left position is solidified. It is Muslim not Muslin. Muslin is a type of fabric. "obama have not been to church since he won." You may want to purchase "hooked on phonics".
  • by Nikki on Sep 9, 2009 at 04:25 AM
    Derek, I was not pushing beliefs, I was simply putting Bible quotes to explain my side, and try to help people understand my side. I would never push my beliefs, because Christians should not push them, they pray for others and leave it to God, that hopefully he will lighten their heart. I also want to say I prayed hard for everyone on these blogs last night because there is so much hatred and anger over this, it is ridiculous. I apologize to anyone that felt like I was "pushing" that was NOT my intention, that is not what I want people to think Christians do. I also want to say President Obama did give a good speech and my kids will see it. My point was simply this, I wanted to see it first, just like any movie or tv show. If that offends people, well that's their problem, not mine. God Bless You All!!!
  • by Derek Location: Greenville on Sep 9, 2009 at 03:43 AM
    Nikki - you aren't pushing beliefs? and how many bible quotes have you posted on here?
  • by Bill Location: Greenville on Sep 9, 2009 at 01:20 AM
    Dear President Washington, It will astound you to know that one day the President of the USA will be able to address all of the nations children, live on a viewing screen in each classroom. Holy crap Batman, fill that bowl back up and pass it here ! Sorry Boy Blunder, this green is still under review.
  • by Anonymous on Sep 8, 2009 at 06:15 PM
    What middle ground did left wingers seek during the past 8 years?
  • by usa Location: home on Sep 8, 2009 at 05:31 PM
    TO AGAINST , SAME OLD BLA,BLA BLA,, 2010 , 2012 REAL CHANGE BABY!!!!! obama have not been to church since he won ,why? cause he cannot find a race hater preacher like he had , when this man's term is up watch him turn back to the MUSLIN FAITH , YEP !!! MUSLIN FAITH says if you cannot be muslin than you shall die , read it !! this man is a liar and con -artist , watch him give a speech wed -nite but say NOTHING !!!! BLA BLA BLA !!!
  • by william Location: rocky mount on Sep 8, 2009 at 04:02 PM
    A more pathetic display of arrogance, hatred and bigotry I do not think we will ever see. There is absolutely zero desire on the part of right wingers in this country for a middle ground on any issue. I think that we are losing this country but it is not from people like President Obama, it is from people of any ilk who refuse just to listen to other people's ideas or opinions on a subject. Terrorists won't destroy this country before we do it ourselves from within.
  • by Curtis Location: NC on Sep 8, 2009 at 03:33 PM
    There has been a lot of hoop-la,about the Speech to Children.This is the same atmosphere behind the healthcare debate.This is nothing more than hatred,anger,over the Presidency.The fact that Obama is in there.People try to hide behind there particular kind of politics,other wise known as the silent evil of so called good folk.If these were mostly black folk doing what these whites are,doing in these segments over healthcare,and education.Blacks would be called un-american.We have not witnessed,such disrespect for a sitting President,be condoned by the masses.
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