2nd 2009
Obama Speaks to Schoolchildren … Where’s the Real Local Control?

Posted under Denver & Early Childhood & Education Politics & Elementary School & Federal Government & High School & Independence Institute & Innovation and Reform & Middle School & Parents & Principals & Public Charter Schools & School Choice & Teachers & Urban Schools

Update 5, 9/8: The speech that went off today, and the lesson plans that accompanied it, were a lot less creepy and controversial than the original release. Who knows how much the uproar had an effect on that? Anyway, I commend to you two thoughtful perspectives on the whole episode: by Jay Greene at Education Next and by coolreformchick at Edspresso.

The good news about the President addressing schoolchildren across the nation? At least this time Congress won’t start an inquiry into it.

Update 4, 9/4: I have gathered and posted numerous responses from Colorado teachers and schools to Obama’s address to schoolchildren. Also, my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow explains what he told Denver Post reporter Jeremy Meyer that didn’t end up being quoted in today’s story.

Update 3, 9/3: Westword blogger Michael Roberts noticed me!! I’m glad he likes my sense of humor. I have a 5-year-old kid crush on him now …. Hope he also reads my latest on this topic.

Update 2: Jim Geraghty notes that the Department of Education has reworded the teacher’s guide to make it less offensive. A good idea … you think? Meanwhile, Douglas County School District south of Denver, the state’s third-largest school district, is allowing parents to opt out. Will others follow?

Update: Jim Geraghty of the Campaign Spot blog notes capitalization and grammar errors in the U.S. Department of Education’s teacher guide for the Obama speech to schoolchildren. That instills a lot of confidence!

The heebie-jeebies, that’s what it gives me, I tell you. Sure some of the bigger kids may just think it’s lame, but I’m kind of creeped out by the idea of the President of the United States giving a speech to all the public schoolchildren in America. When? Next Tuesday, September 8, at 10 AM here in Colorado, that’s when it’s supposed to happen, according to the U.S. Department of Education:

The President will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning. He will also call for a shared responsibility and commitment on the part of students, parents and educators to ensure that every child in every school receives the best education possible so they can compete in the global economy for good jobs and live rewarding and productive lives as American citizens.

Do I really need President Obama to take time out of my school day to tell me this? What about phonics? Multiplication tables? Science experiments? Learning about our nation’s Founding?

Like I said, it’s a little creepy. The exercises assigned by federal bureaucrats for teachers to lead discussions with elementary school and preschool kids (PDF) (there’s also a lesson plan for middle school and high schoolers) include things that parents rightly may see as stepping over the line:

*What do you think the President wants us to do?

*Does the speech make you want to do anything?

*Are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us?

At the very least, what the President and the Department of Education is trying to do looks bad. Some students and parents will feel uncomfortable participating in this unprecedented activity — maybe that makes September 8 a good time to observe those swine flu warnings and stay home.

What about teachers who have a problem with this? Or principals who get a lot of complaints from parents? Can they opt out? We’d love to hear from public school employees — especially in Colorado — who can tell us how this event is being promoted and addressed, and how they plan to respond. Please leave a comment below or send an email to teacher -at-

Finally, when the President is beaming in messages to every public school in the country, what does this say about the oft-quoted doctrine of “local control”? As my friends in the Education Policy Center are fond of reminding me, the best local control is parental choice.

But honestly, it’s just plain a bad idea to mix adult politics with kids’ education in this way. The picture of the sign I posted above may be a little tongue-in-cheek, but given the history with this President it’s hard to see September 8 in any other light.


28 Responses to “Obama Speaks to Schoolchildren … Where’s the Real Local Control?”

  1. Cathy on 02 Sep 2009 at 12:24 pm #

    You are right! This fellow can’t be compared to any other president in history due to his ties with extreme radical people and organizations. The people he’s appointing to his administration have known marxist and communist leanings. These things aren’t just made up by some lunatic. We have every reason to question his motives in speaking to school children across America while they are far away from their parents’ supervision and no opposing voice can be heard. Give me one reason I should trust this guy with my kids. Living in the White House doesn’t count.

  2. Allene on 02 Sep 2009 at 5:10 pm #

    I think he needs to get our country on track, the American way, not socialistic. Stay away from our kids. Stop taking vacations. Be a real president.

  3. Remainders: 15 lessons from inside the rubber room | GothamSchools on 02 Sep 2009 at 7:18 pm #

    [...] Suggested lesson plans (PDF) accompany the speech. Some are crying federalism foul. [...]

  4. mike on 02 Sep 2009 at 7:27 pm #

    What a joke- Obama lecturing our children about what it is going to take to be competitive in the future global economy. Obama’s own spendthrift policies surely will bankrupt our country and in doing so doom our children to a free-falling standard of living. Massive pork stimulus programs, give-aways, governent power grabs and trillions of dollars for huge increases in government obligations to fund expanded politically motivated entitlement programs will make it impossible for any person or company in America to ever be competitive in a future global market place. How can American’s be competitive in a future when the country’s entire GDP is being sucked out by foreigners to service Obama’s debt! Our kids may be better off learning self defense and how to forage and live off the land. The consequences of Obama’s policies will drive the US economy/standard of living to third-world status

  5. Sara Carlson on 02 Sep 2009 at 7:39 pm #

    Yeah – we are passing on this. All our school needs to do is take responsibility for the majority of the academics and keep my children safe. I, as the parent, can take care of the rest. the sense of responsibility, moral issues, global warming, healthcare and any other isues that arise are MY responsibility as I see fit.

    I think my son is going to be feeling “sick” on Tuesday and we will partake in an actual educational activity such as the Museum of Nature and Science.

  6. Sharon on 02 Sep 2009 at 7:39 pm #

    As a teacher, I would NOT interrupt instructional time for a PR moment for ANYONE! Why am I leary? The topics are not set in stone. I question if he is trying to sway adult opinions by gaining support in our most vulnerable citizens (the kids). (They can’t vote, only TRY to influence those that can, their parents)

  7. ROBERT on 03 Sep 2009 at 12:37 am #

    The President’s job description does not include inspiring the children of this country to do their best in school. If he wants to inspire children he should focus on the job he was sworn to do. I don’t want him anywhere near my kids.

  8. T Lindsey on 03 Sep 2009 at 9:39 am #

    It doesn’t matter Democrat or Republican, it is not responsibility of the President of the United States to speak with my children. That is my job. I’m the parent, my children are my responsibility. The schools need to do more than just offer an “Opt Out” option. The school administrators and teachers should be standing up in defense of our children and not allow this to occur. The message that the President will deliver is not the issue. The issue is the precedence that is set and what potential harm could be caused in the future. I’m not willing to gamble with my children’s future.

  9. Ashley on 03 Sep 2009 at 11:10 am #

    I agree with the teacher. My second and fifth grader come home with as much homework as I had when I was in high school (20 years ago). The “no child left behind” curriculum already leaves no time for any additional creative ways to teach our children. The teachers are so busy (by force of NCLB) feeding them the exact curriculum, there is no extra time for anything. Why should they interrupt what limited instructional time they have for Obama to make himself feel better, look good, whatever he is trying to do…When the president comes on regular tv (once a week) and interrupts their television time, my children want to go into the other room. Didn’t you when you were K-5? Give me a break! Please Obama…leave my kids alone. It is my job to teach them to do good in school and strive for excellence…However, my child who makes straight A’s already notices that the kids who do not make good grades still get a prize…Can anyone really determine what the message is? My daughter will probably get into trouble if the teacher asks…”What does the president want us to do?” She is old enough to get that things are not really going well in our country, economy, and schools.

  10. Ed is Watching » Obama Speaks to Schoolchildren: Private School Choice is the Answer on 03 Sep 2009 at 11:56 am #

    [...] I wrote about President Obama’s plan to address schoolchildren across America next Tuesday. I got so much response, I thought a quick follow-up was in [...]

  11. Lisa on 03 Sep 2009 at 12:54 pm #

    Has any other President in our history done this? With all the issues we face is this really the best use of his time? The public school is not (nor was ever meant to be) a platform for a political agenda. We will be opting out of the public school day as well.

  12. NYC teacher on 03 Sep 2009 at 1:26 pm #

    I see that my point of view is in the minority here… but i don’t see anything bad with this idea (yeah, maybe loosing instructional time). Many inner city kids hold Obama in high regard and could use all the encouragement that’s available to take their schooling seriously. If this helps make them think for a second about who to blame when they are failing, I’m all for it. Responsibility and importance of education unfortunately is not taught in every home, as much I wish it were. So what the heck, if they are willing to listen to Obama more than to their teacher, I would not mind.

  13. University Schools says no to Obama | The Amy Oliver Show on 03 Sep 2009 at 4:23 pm #

    [...] the decision up to individual teachers.  The administration’s official statement on Obama’s really bad idea is below: [...]

  14. ArmyWife on 03 Sep 2009 at 8:45 pm #

    There is some historical precedent for presidents speaking to students in nationally televised addresses. President George H. W. Bush did so in 1991 and President Ronald Reagan even talked politics with students in 1988. What’s the big deal?!

  15. Norris Hall on 04 Sep 2009 at 5:11 am #

    As far as Im concerned we don’t need a black man telling our children to stay in school.
    If Obama wants to preach that message he ought to be doing it in black schools where kids get pregnant at 13 and where 50% of them are too lazy to finish school anyway.

    So why is he feel the need to preach to our kids?
    We do just fine, instilling in our children a sense of responsibility and a work ethic.
    We don’t rely on the government for handouts.
    Our kids don’t get preferential treatment
    There are no quotas for our kids.

    Obama was right when he berated his black brothers to be better parents and not to abandon their children.

    He should keep his nose out of our schools and preach hard work and good study habits to his own people.

  16. L. Molczyk on 04 Sep 2009 at 10:11 am #

    It’s not as if our president hasn’t personally addressed our school children before..Following in the shoes of George Bush, I think we should set aside Sept. 11th as the annual “President speaks to school children day”

  17. Ed is Watching » Obama Speaks to Schoolchildren: Colorado Schools & Teachers Respond on 04 Sep 2009 at 11:17 am #

    [...] I write a little bit about President Obama speaking to school children, and I get more attention than possibly could be healthy for a five-year-old to [...]

  18. Lori on 04 Sep 2009 at 9:42 pm #

    PLEASE understand that we have an opportunity to make this a referendum on the management of our school districts. OPT OUT is not the answer!! Superintendents, principals and teachers should not allow an outside force to distrupt their school districts, their schools or their classrooms with unvetted curriculum. Just Say No as many Littleton schools have! Make your superintendents and School Board Members accountable to you and your children.

    Opting out creates a divided playground and bitter feelings. I should not know a teacher’s political affiliation, (though you can guess it) nor should they know mine and my (high school) child’s.

  19. Kristin on 05 Sep 2009 at 12:48 am #

    If you substituted “John McCain” for “Barack Obama,” I wonder if these parents would still have a problem with the President of the United States giving the nation’s children a speech that hit the same highlights (study hard, stay in school, et. al)? Good grief, he’s NOT the first president to address the nation’s children. Since the federal gov’t DOES provide funding for schools, it makes sense to me that the gov’t would have some interest in the students it is educating, even if states and districts do have local control, etc. I don’t worship our president, but I really don’t see the problem with my children listening to a msg from him. I’m not so insecure with the way I’m raising them that I can’t let them listen to anyone who I might not agree w/100%. In fact, we often listen to talk radio programs and discuss why or why not we agree w/the host and callers. I want them to learn that it’s OK to listen to someone you don’t agree with, and for them to learn how to formulate and defend their own opinions. I do trust that if a classroom discussion ensued, that their teachers (who are awesome) would lead an age appropriate dialog (although I’m sure there are some that wouldn’t) void of propaganda. Seems like a good mix of local control to me…the president speaks, the teacher (who I know and trust) uses her best judgment to discuss w/the class (or not, maybe they’d just listen and then go to PE?!) and then we would also talk about it at home, and perhaps I would even attend and listen along w/my kids. I really feel like parents are making this a WAY bigger deal than it really is!

  20. Tanya Broussard on 05 Sep 2009 at 5:21 pm #

    Wow, it is truly amazing to read some of the “reasonings” behind opposing the president speaking to our children. I actually read through all of the comments above to view the arguments for and against President Barack’s speech being shown to school-aged children. I am a school teacher myself, and I wanted to hear and understand both sides of the issue first. Unfortunately, both sides were not fairly represented here.
    To use this platform as an excuse to post your own pitiful, racist points of view is intolerable and pathetic. If you truly have an opposition against President Barack speaking to our children, then say so, but use better reasoning that specifically defends your position. Don’t seize this moment as your opportunity to berate any group of people. Your words of hate take up the needed space from those that truly have arguments worth defending.
    If your school district has issued the the OPT OUT policy, and the parents still decide to keep their children home because of it, how unfortunate. President Barack’s message is about keeping children in school, not about making excuses for them not to go.
    To keep children from not going to school because the parents do not like who was elected as president or because parents don’t like the political views of the president is very sad. Ironically, these actions teach our children the wrong message, not the part about students watching the president give a speech about the importance of education. When we tell our children that they are not going to school because the President of the United States of America will be talking to children, we are telling them that we do not have to respect the man in the position that we have elected. As I tell my students that I teach, we all have the right to disagree with one another, but we owe it to each other to respect one another.

  21. Pattie on 05 Sep 2009 at 7:22 pm #

    “What about phonics? Multiplication tables? Science experiments? Learning about our nation’s Founding?” What about history? What about civics? What school DID you go to, that those things weren’t part of your curriculum?

    To the above poster: “Superintendents, principals and teachers should not allow an outside force to distrupt their school districts, their schools or their classrooms with unvetted curriculum.” Sorry, but that’s one of the most insane statements I’ve heard yet. Hello. The PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES IS NOT AN OUTSIDE FORCE. He is the head of the country you live in. Oh, and by the way, the same government that FUNDS those schools. The fact that you don’t like him does not lessen his position. And it sure doesn’t make him an “outside force.”

  22. Joey on 06 Sep 2009 at 9:46 am #

    Ask those who are old enough to vote and WE will gladly TELL you what we think! STOP USING OUR KIDS FOR YOUR POLITICAL AGENDA. THAT GOES FOR ALL POLITICIANS!!!!!

  23. Bob on 06 Sep 2009 at 10:50 am #

    Now let me see–”If we don’t agree with what they say, shout them down, don’t let the speak.” Does that sound familiar? “Burn these books, they have a bad word in them” “Block the signal of voice of America, if the people heard it, that would be dangerous”
    This is CENSORSHIP, my friends. “Wash their brains by only letting people hear safe things.” Don’t allow the children to think that the president might care about their future. Unless of course that president is named Bush or Reagan. Are we afraid of indoctrinating our children that staying in school or working hard is good for them.
    Don’t give in to the thundering babble of a few reactionary media Hitlers- Show that Freedom of Speech applies to everyone, even the president.

  24. Ben on 07 Sep 2009 at 11:42 pm #

    Many of the commenters I think have missed the point by ignoring the original lesson plans that accompanied this announcement. It’s not the President speaking to schoolchildren per se, but the cultish tone of the original lesson plans. Now that the plans have changed, I don’t think it’s such a big deal anymore.

    And to all those who seek to draw a parallel with speeches made by Reagan and George H.W. Bush to schoolchildren, first note that these Presidents were political opponents of the NEA — unlike Obama. I think that might explain some of the difference in reaction.

    Also, regarding those earlier speeches, does the data exist for anyone to compare how many schools & classrooms actually agreed to air the respective addresses of each President? I think that would be interesting information that would add more substance to the debate.

    Many of the commenters also have missed the subtle attempts at humor in the original post here, but I digress….

  25. Bobby on 08 Sep 2009 at 4:15 pm #

    You people are only calling him a Socialist because that’s what you hear from bitter replubicans on TV. If they referred him to as something else, you’d be referring to him as whatever their saying and so on. Half of you’ll probably don’t even no what a Socialist is, you just repeat what to hear by some bitter republican on TV or social network. People hate his proposed healthcare policy, but haven’t even read it, LOL. That’s what happens when the US become to lazy to read like they used to and instead rely on sound bits or something they heard on the streets.

  26. Sheila on 08 Sep 2009 at 4:20 pm #

    “the cultish tone of the original lesson plans. Now that the plans have changed, I don’t think it’s such a big deal anymore.”
    It never was a big deal to begin with.

  27. Independence Institute: Jon Caldara » Wednesday Wrap-Up on 09 Sep 2009 at 9:27 am #

    [...] Care, Transparency ***Our 5 year old education blogger, little Eddie, made quite a splash with his thoughts on Obama’s speech to school children. It evidently struck a chord with one of the [...]

  28. Ed is Watching » Hey, Betcha Didn’t Even Know Obama Addressed Students Yesterday on 15 Sep 2010 at 12:48 pm #

    [...] last September. Remember the big brouhaha about President Obama’s speech to schoolchildren? I commented on it a few times. To me the big deal was the creepy notes created by the Department of Education [...]

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