The First Draft: Backlash against Obama’s classroom message
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.
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?”
Presidents 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)