Obama’s student speech plan draws adult criticism

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, September 8, 2009

While President Barack Obama has announced he will give ahistoric speech Tuesday – one aimed at reaching the nation’s youth- some of the nation’s grown-ups have taken exception.

Nationwide, there has already been great debate over theissue.

There are teachers and parents who are pleased to have thespeech, which will take place during the school day, as a part oftheir children’s curriculum. And there are those who see it as achance for the president to indoctrinate children with valuesespoused by his administration.

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The speech will be broadcast live on the White House’s Web siteon Tuesday, Sept. 8, at 11 a.m. The U.S. Department of Educationhas released study and participation materials for teachers to usein their classrooms to make sure children understand what they haveheard in President Obama’s speech.

In Brookhaven, School District Superintendent Lea Barrett saidshe has made the speech an option that is available to teachers whofeel it fits into their curriculum. She said she received an e-mailfrom the Department of Education detailing the possibilities andlinking to the study information.

“What I did was sent that e-mail to principals and told them toshare it with their teachers, and if they can work into theirlesson plans, then they can watch it that day in their classrooms,”she said.

The Lincoln County Public School District released a statementsaying only certain classes will be allowed to watch the speechlive, though other classes will be able to watch a recorded versionat the teacher’s discretion.

“Because of our limited access, only US History classes andspeech classes will be able to view a live broadcast of PresidentObama’s presentation via internet,” the release read. “Video/audiowill also be recorded and available as requested.”

Meanwhile, a spokesman said Brookhaven Academy students will notwatch the speech in class.

Barrett said she can see the value of the speech, as in thepast, the country’s leaders have usually addressed the adults ofAmerica.

“I think that I read this is the first time the president hasever addressed school children, and some of our older studentswould recognize and appreciate that,” she said.

While some outlets have reported that it was the firstpresidential speech to students, the Associated Press reports thatRepublican President George H.W. Bush made a similar address toschools in 1991. Bush drew criticism then from Democrats who saidhe was making the event into a campaign commercial.

Districts in states like Texas, Missouri, Virginia and othershave decided not to show the speech, while others are allowingparents to let their children opt out.

Some conservatives are urging schools and parents to boycott theaddress, saying the president is promoting a political agenda andhas taken things beyond where a government’s involvement in schoolsshould end.

So far, Barrett said she has not received a lot of feedback onthe idea of showing the speech in Brookhaven schools.

“I think we had one call from a parent asking if we were goingto do that,” she said. “For some of the younger classes, this mightnot be relevant, they might not relate.”

White House officials insist the speech is only aimed atencouraging children to make the most of their educationalopportunities. But some parents are taken aback by the lesson plansthe administration created to accompany the speech, whichoriginally recommended having students write letters to themselvesabout what they can do to “help the president.”

Barrett said she could see the speech being important in ahistory or civics setting, or possibly for an English class tostudy speeches.

“President Obama has put a lot of stimulus money into education,it is important to him,” she said. “I think he has a genuineconcern for the state of education in the United States, and hewants to see students succeed.”

The White House plans to release the speech online Monday soparents can read it.