The First Draft: Backlash against Obama’s classroom message

September 4, 2009

OBAMA/What could be more mainstream than the president of the United States addressing the country’s school kids on their first day in class after the Labor Day weekend? That must have been what White House officials were thinking when they set up a speech by Barack Obama for next Tuesday.

The theme, according to the presidential Web site, couldn’t be blander: work hard, be responsible and stay in school. Even the White House recognized the possibly low excitement level of the subject and in addition to a video promo by the president, there’s also one featuring NASCAR drivers, urging students and their parents to tune in.

BUSH EDUCATIONThat’s not how some parents — and political conservatives — saw it, especially in Texas.

Houston radio station KTRH made it the question of the day: “How do you feel about President Obama’s plan to speak directly to school children in an address next week?” Some parents worried the speech would be laced with politics and others were concerned that it hadn’t been reviewed by the state board of education, according to a front-page New York Times story. CNN’s morning news headline on the subject read, “Obama talk to my kids? No thanks!”

UPDATE: White House spokesman Robert Gibbs responding to the controversy says: “I think we’ve reached a little bit of the silly season when the president of the United States can’t tell kids in school to study hard and stay in school.”

At issue for some was a line in government materials made available to teachers that suggested students write themselves a letter asking what they could do to help the president. That was later deleted. Material from the Department of Education now suggests asking older students:

“Why does President Obama want to speak with us today?    
How will he inspire us?   
How will he challenge us?  
What might he say?”

CLINTONPresidents talking to students is nothing new. In fact, the classroom photo op is a staple of American political life. So why has this speech hit such a nerve? Is it the times? It it the economic climate? Is it a new turn in U.S. attitudes toward Barack Obama? Or something else altogether?

Let us know what you think.

Photo credits: REUTERS/Larry Downing (President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle at Capital City Public Charter School, Washington, February 3, 2009)

REUTERS/Win McNamee (President George W. Bush reads at Nalle Elementary School, Washington, February 9, 2001)

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (President Bill Clinton reads to children at the White House, December 19, 2000)


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That’s because McCarthy was right.

Posted by Connie | Report as abusive

By the way, since the issue of federal rights over states rights has already come up (alhough it digresses slightly from the topic at hand) the federal government has NO rights when it comes to my health care either. None. nada. zip.

Posted by Gary Ness | Report as abusive

It is interesting to me that so many people are saying that those who are opposing the President speaking to our children are only opposing because they are racists. I didn’t see those that opposed President Bush’s speech to school children in 1991 called racist.

Most of the recent protests against Obama basically show how uneducated, uninformed, and prejudiced many Americans are.Apparently these people have forgotten the mess that Bush got us into, the fraudulent election in 2000, the unnecessary war in Iraq, which has killed thousands of American soldiers,etc.These people’s actions are only going to contribute to this country’s deterioration and will eventually turn us into something close to a third-world country.Wake up!

Posted by marc | Report as abusive

All the misinformation, hypocrisy and hair-splitting on this non-issue is truly remarkable. For those who are clamoring for the federal govt to “stay out of your school district” are you also willing to forgo the federal funds your district receives via contitutionally provided state funding?For those wondering which districts the President wil be addressing and whether his message will be inclusive of private, parochial and home schooled students, “nationally televised” means just that that, anyone in the “nation” interested in tuning into C-SPAN during air-time or going on the internet are included.The President’s message is a generic one directed at ALL students that is meant to encourage them to “work hard” and be “responsible.” What is so conspiratorial about that? Give me a break. Can we just get over ourselves and focus on the REAL issues?By the way,HR 3200, all 1017 pages of the health reform bill passed by the House Committe of Ways and Means, is available online for anyone who cares to inform themselves on one such REAL issue.

Posted by just_the_facts | Report as abusive

I really can’t believe anyone thinks it inappropriate for the President of the US to address school children, to inspire them to achieve great things in their lives. He’s President of the US for crying out loud. It’s just that simple. Let him inspire the kids. When I was a student we listened attentively to ex-drug addicts tell us to be smart and live a good life. And you people are afraid of giving the President an audience with our children??Luckily, the children of our country are already inspired by Obama, and he doesn’t really need a special speech to affect that goal.What the kids will wonder, though, is why the grown-ups wouldn’t let the President talk to them…

Posted by SP | Report as abusive

I finally understand the furor after talking to a friend. Obama is super-popular among young people. Even little kids like and gravitate towards his charm. What better person to encourage them to work hard in school?Unless you are afraid that these kids will grow up to become voters that might not support you cause because they have been ‘indoctrinated.’ Parents live in fear that their children will not follow after them. And this fear often drives the kids away. If I was a 10th grader and my mom kept me home to prevent me from hearing Obama speak, the first place I go is youtube to get the illicit video (Study hard and do well in school). Maybe we’ll be lucky and studying will become the rebellious thing to do. What does this say about the parents?

Posted by reno | Report as abusive

You don’t want the federal government in your schools, well I don’t want the federal government telling me I can’t marry someone of the same sex!

Posted by John K -LI NY | Report as abusive

It is rather amazing that people in the US object so vehemently to their children encouraging their children, when they don’t seem to object to all the horrible programs their children watch on TV. An example would be shows like “Family Guy” or allowing them to idolize players in the NFL that kill dogs or are arrested and still allowed to play for millions of dollars a year. We in America think that is fine and allow our children to have those people as role models, however, we will fight like hell to prevent a positive message from a sitting president. WOW! We need to get a grip, America.

Posted by Del | Report as abusive

Regarding the previous comment by just_the_facts, to the effect that “For those who are clamoring for the federal govt to “stay out of your school district” are you also willing to forgo the federal funds your district receives via contitutionally provided state funding?”I fail to understand the relevance of this remark as it pertains to the President making an address intended to encourage school children in their education, which I believe is intself a good thing. Beats a football player on steroids lecturing on the issue.However, I believe the federal funds just_the_facts refers to are not arbitrarily printed as free money… Those funds reflect tax/fee/other revenue source (other people’s money) that the federal government has forced Americans to pay, and has now chosen to dole it back to the states or the people (at no more than 25 cents on the dollar) as blackmail to make the states toe the line in following federal social, educational and other miscellaneous mandates.Many people believe that those “federal funds your district receives” would have been better spent if left in the hands of the states or school districts in the first place rather than filtered through an aditional layer of Government that is only able to give out funds by constantly finding sources of new revenue. That’s called a “ponzi scheme.”

Posted by Gary Ness | Report as abusive

I’m sorry marc, but we can go around and around when it comes to fraudulent elections (MN Franken), so I won’t even open that can of worms.I’d be curious to hear some basis for this statement of yours:”Most of the recent protests against Obama basically show how uneducated, uninformed, and prejudiced many Americans are.”I could make a very strong case for the same, replacing ‘protests against’ with ‘rallies for.’ I hope you are reasonable enough to accept this as true, and recognize the uneducated and uninformed on your side as well (note: I’m assuming ‘your side’ here). Let’s be honest, if there weren’t wackos on each team, what would be left for the media to report?As far as presidents speaking to schools goes, I have no inherent problem. However, because of the extreme passion on both sides of the current health care debate, people are a bit more on edge than usual when it comes to political speaking events, and this has to be a factor contributing to the controversy. I will say, it’s hard to blame people for being a little concerned; Have you seen a speech of his in the last three months that hasn’t been pure agenda promotion and persuasion? Granted, that’s a large part of his job, but it’s hard for many people to imagine him simply speaking on the value of studying hard and being involved in extra-curricular activities (which may very well be his intention, I have no idea.)To conclude, I’ll borrow from marc’s post yet again:”These people’s actions are only going to contribute to this country’s deterioration and will eventually turn us into something close to a third-world country.”Only this time, ‘These people’ are our leaders in Washington (both left and right) who seem dead-set on bankrupting our country. To me, they are a much bigger risk than some protester at a town hall meeting.Happy Labor Day all!B

Posted by bmann | Report as abusive

I think many people may see President Obama as an ideologue or at least as another very liberal person with good intentions who wants to fix everything by throwing more money at it. This is what we\’ve tried to do with our medical system in the past. It has consistently made things worse. We don\’t need more health care. The cost now is astronomical. Way to much is being spent on preventable diseases like diabetes.We need prevention of disease through a healthy food supply, clean air, and clean water. That builds good immune systems. We need education on how to eat well apparently. We need the FDA to do a good job of defining what healthy food actually is. And we need a way for kids to have access to that food. We seem to have food corporations and pharmaceutical companies way to involved in government food and drug policies.

Posted by Keith Lyons | Report as abusive

It’s beyond my rational belief that there is so much time and energy devoted to the screaming whine of those who are threatened by the possibility that their children may hear something from the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES that will scar, scare, or otherwise harm their children. Certainly, it will be far different than they’re likely to hear in their homes, and that, as I see it, would be a seriously positive improvement in their lives.He’s our President, for God’ sake, not a dictator, a monarch, nor a socialist. He brings to our country the most diversified opportunity for ALL Americans to hear and see what the American agenda should be: encouraging all races, religions, nationalities, and citizens to bring learning, opportunities, and pride to bear for us all.Time to get those narrow-minded panties untwisted and move on!!!!

Where were all of these activists when the federal government imposed “The Chicken Fat” song on an entire generation of American school children? During the Kennedy administration, the President’s Council on Physical Fitness created this official workout song, sung by an insanefully cheerful Robert Preston, and distributed it to gym teachers who forced their impressionable pupils to do pushups and jumping jacks and arm circles in time to the music. The tune still haunts me. But a look at the national waistline suggests we did manage to overcome the brainwashing.

Posted by Jane | Report as abusive

@Gary Ness,I absolutley agree that the President’s impending speech has no bearing on the 8% the feds currently contribute to funding local school districts. I was Simply pointing out the unreasonableness of decrying federal involvement in matters of public education, particularly when the mission of the US Dept. of Education clearly states its primary function is to:”promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access.”(source: US Dept of Education c=gu)Simply put, political preferences aside, whether you voted for the guy or not, this President every before and after him, had/has an obligation to contribute to the fulfillment of this goal. A 15-20 minute speech won’t fix years of a troubled system, but I do agree it most definitely “Beats a football player on steroids lecturing on the issue” ;)Enjoy the long weekend!

Posted by just_the_facts | Report as abusive

typos…ugghh”this president AND every ONE before and after him, had/has an obligation…”

Posted by just_the_facts | Report as abusive

All the Obama naysayers out there need to get over themselves. Find your inner peace. Let it go. Just cannot admit that he is doing as well (maybe better) than any other Pres out there.

Posted by Elly | Report as abusive

This is the problem with American education; Not so much the teachers, or failing systems, but DUMB PARENTS.What parent in their right mind is actually thinking that President Obama would try to influence a FIFTH GRADER to support the health care reform issue? Please. Give him credit for being intelligent enough to know that children that age don’t even understand what’s going on (frankly, most of the protesting adults don’t either). This issue is so ridiculous, I can’t even believe it’s true.The parents that have stated their “fears” for what the president might inoculate into the minds of their precious young are cloaking their real fears and thoughts with supposed concern over congressional issues at hand. Under that thin veil, however, lies the ugly truth they would never want to admit to themselves or anybody else: they don’t want a brilliant Black man encouraging their son or daughter to work hard because how, then, are they to continue feeding them lies about minorities and their worthlessness to this country? How are they going to perpetuate the thought that minorities are treated the way they are treated in America because they are lazy and they bring it upon themselves? How are they going to sustain their argument that Obama single handedly destroyed the country’s financial stability (before he took office) and was the worst president this country has ever had if, God-forbid, their child looks up to him?I’m not jumping on the “if you speak against President Obama you’re a racist” bandwagon here, but the question is simply this: What other reason/excuse would you have for not wanting your child to watch him offer an encouraging, non-political message that is meant to inspire and assist them with placing importance on educational goals?To think, we presumed the “hard” part was actually getting him into office….

Posted by Kellee | Report as abusive

There are always going to be those people who like to stir up drama and make a big deal out of something. Why they do it, I don’t know.

Posted by frogfly | Report as abusive

So Obama wants to address America’s schoolkids next week, and the bat guano has hit the fan. The conservative crazies are screaming that he wants to indoctrinate America’s children into his Communist Hitler Youth so all concerned parents should keep their children home so they don’t get Teh Brainwashed by his seductive liberal wiles. Or something.As best as anyone can tell, Obama’s subversive join-me-and-we-can-rule-the-universe-tog ether message is something along the lines of “Stay in school, study hard, drink your milk, don’t do drugs” – it’s like an afterschool special without the goofy plot and stilted line readings. But the wingnuts are flipping out like Obama’s the Pied Piper of Berlingrad come to drown their children in the river Wiser.Setting aside the ludicrous notion that conservatives are infuriated that an excessively-pigmented Democratic president is the one delivering this alarming message to the impressionable youth of America, I can think of only two rational explanations for the uproar:1) 3,000 Americans died when the tough-on-terror-est president ever read “My Pet Goat” (upside down!) to just one room of schoolkids. Who knows what kind of terrible tragedy might befall us if a terrorist-loving Islamo-communo-fascist is allowed to address millions of them? One can only conclude that Obama has grown tired of waiting for his death panels and wants to start killing off honest, hardworking Americans right now.2) Education and learning are un-American. After all, if our children apply themselves to their studies, they might become too clever and knowledgeable to fall for lies and talking points, making them totally unsuitable as voters. Worse yet, they might even become so capable that they start taking job opportunities away from the people who should rightly inherit them!Either way, Obama’s insidious address is clearly a menace that must be stopped at all costs. Or at least get rebutted by Bobby Jindal.

Posted by Eli | Report as abusive

Boogey boogey!That’s what this is all about. Create a boogey man, and beat him. Really, that’s all the republicans can do right now. He’s going to pull the plug on Grandma! Stop him! He’s lying about raising taxes on Middle class, stop him! He wants to turn your kid into a Socialist, stop him! Obama never was going to do any of these things, but if Republicans can make you believe he was, and he doesn’t, they claim they stopped him when he was never going to do what they say he was going to.

Posted by TDG | Report as abusive

TDG, unfortunately the people he has surrounded himself with through out his political career, are capable of, and have advocated doing exactly what you say he is not about.You are a sum of the people you hang out with,and he will not get away from this projection irrespective what you or any other of his surrogates suggest, the mold is set.He is who he recommends he is Van Jones.

Posted by brian lee | Report as abusive

After the President of the United States speaks to school children about the value of education, Republicans will make opposing comments extolling ignorance.See:http://notionscapital.word ssage-to-our-children/

The type of people opposed to Obama’s speech are the same people who aren’t receptive to learning that their past republican heroes did the very same thing. If anything, I’ve seen parents using their hapless children as political tools: 6/politicizing-our-kids/

One of the suggested questions that could be asked of Obama as outlined in that Dept. of Education document is “What would you like to tell the president?”.Is there a teacher and classroom out there that would unanimously tell Obama “release your birth certificate”?If they could ask this, then I might approve of Resident Obama speaking to my son. Otherwise, thanks but no thanks.

I wouldn’t want my children looking up to Obama, McCain, Bush, Clinton… Any of them except perhaps Ron Paul! I would not want my children to grow up being inspired by Obama and furthering their interests by studying his ideals and adopting his mind set. Obama is no friend to America’s freedom nor is he a friend to our Constitution which he is sworn to defend with the BEST of his abilities. “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” That’s what our country needs, someone who will live up to the oath fully. Obama is a horribly bad example of what the President of the United States of America should be.

Posted by jason | Report as abusive

Perhaps some of you conservatives should read this.  /07/laura.bush/index.html

Posted by Eric H | Report as abusive

Eric. That’s the great thing about the Bush’s, they are hospital and never talk negatively about anyone. President Bush was like that, regardless of the attacks against him, throughout his presidency. They are decent people who are not like the liberal left who make personal attacks at every opportunity to force their agenda and discredit any conservative.I applaud Laura Bush (always have). She isn’t a Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama who talk down America and Americans. Mrs. Bush is a class act.Undoubtedly she does not agree with everything, but she knows firsthand the demands of the president of the United States and will not denigrate the position like those on the left have, time and time again…

Posted by TC | Report as abusive

Our school here in IL chose not to air the speech. There was small demonstration but it was done in good taste and there were no major incidents.Personally, after reading the speech and it turned out harmless, it’s okay that he spoke to the nation yeaterday…However, after I voted NO that I would rather not have my kids daily education interupted in on line poll. One of my old high school aquaintances made what I thought was disturbing remark on my facebaook page:”I just finished watching the speech with my 8 year old and afterwards he asked me if he could go read for an extra half hour to become a better student. Can you believe the nerve of the president to encourage this type of behavior in my eight year old. Should we hang him or lynch him? Get a life Mike!”Gee, I guess if you’re a parent that relies on a politician to motivate your kids then you’re also the one’s that are first in line for the hand out… My kids don’t need ANY politician to motivate them. They have their Mom, me and their TEACHERS to do that. If their teachers cann’t do it, then they need to find another profession… “Weel, the world needs ditch diggers too…” Judge Smails ~ CaddyshackAfter I removed him from what I thought was my “friend” list he messaged me: “No big loss for me! I hope you enjoy your right wing racist life!”Good choice of words in a “friendly debate” I thought…Why is it that the Left always turn a friendly debate into personal attacks?Signed,”the God fearing, bible clutching, gun toting, right wing racist”

Posted by Mike | Report as abusive