Should Obama Speak to Students?
By Rusty Surette, NEWS 9
OKLAHOMA CITY -- As President Obama prepares to give a speech to the nation's school children on Tuesday, parents and critics across the country are claiming there's a hidden agenda and some have even threatened to keep their kids home.
A majority of Oklahoma superintendents and principals said this came out of nowhere, but now they're caught in the middle of a firestorm over politics and pupils.
Some are furious that President Obama plans to address school children next week via a live stream on the White House's Web site.
"I just don't think that my child should be forced to watch the president," said parent Kimberly Martin.
A statement on the site said the President will urge students to take personal responsibility for their own education, to set goals, and stay in school.
According to an activity sheet produced by the U.S. Department of Education, teachers were encouraged to talk with their students after the speech and ask them, "What do you think the President wants us to do" and "Are we able to do what President Obama is asking us?"
Those questions have since been changed, but the attitudes have not.
KTOK radio host Mark Shannon and a slew of supporters said superintendents across the state should refuse to show the speech.
They said they fear the President's plan is to brainwash students with his ideologies.
"If they won't pull the plug on it, pull your kids out of school on September 8th. Just write them a note. Tell them they have socialist swine flu," Shannon said.
Schools across Oklahoma said they've been flooded with calls urging them to not show the speech. The State Superintendent of Public Instruction released the following statement in response to parents' concerns:
"Apparently, the White House and/or the U.S. Department of Education has communicated directly with school principals regarding President Obama's September 8 speech. The Oklahoma Department of Education is not aware of which schools are participating. We do suggest that reasonable accommodations be provided to any student whose parents object to their viewing of the speech."
Many parents parked outside an Oklahoma City elementary school agreed schools should have another option for students who will not be watching Tuesday's speech per their parent's request.
"There's too many things that he's doing that don't agree with America right now," said parent Diana Pierce.
Others strongly disagree. They said they're open to the idea of children hearing from the Commander-in-Chief.
"A lot of them don't get an education unless they do have somebody else influence them because their parents don't," said grandmother Frances Jones.
There's no mandatory viewing of next Tuesday's speech. Most school districts, including Oklahoma City, are leaving the decision to watch the speech up to the teachers. Many districts plan to send notes home to parents letting them know that if they don't want their kids to watch, there will be an another activity available for the students.
The White House has not yet released an advanced copy of President Obama's speech, but the Department of Education has produced two sets of curriculum for teachers to follow if they decide to show the speech, one for elementary schools and another for middle and high school students.
This is not the first time the White House has gone into schools. Other past presidents have spoken directly to students but not without controversy.
Ronald Reagan's 1986 high school graduation speech in North Carolina was televised to 171 other school districts, and President George H. W. Bush spoke to students on national television twice. Once was a 1989 anti-drug speech and another in 1991 on the importance of education.
Bush's '91 speech at a Washington, DC junior high was carried live into classrooms by CNN and public television. Democrats called the speech "political advertising" paid for with tax dollars.
Members of Oklahoma's delegation are debating over whether or not politicians belong in public schools at all.
Republican state representative Sally Kern released a stated saying, "No president, Republican or Democrat, should interrupt the educational process in this manner."
However, a few years ago, Kern said in a press release that she "wants all Oklahoma students to become more active in their state government." At that time, she was in charge of a program that put state lawmakers in classrooms to talk with students.
Kern's colleague, Democrat Joe Dorman, called that a double standard.
More on News9.com:
- Oklahoma Schools Prepare For President Obama's AddressTo Students