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Speaking to America’s School Children: The Real Problem

Our childrenWhat the heck is going on? The furious dialogue between liberals and conservatives about the president’s decision to address students – for the first time in 18 years – in their classrooms doesn’t seem to be about the same activity. How could two sides have such emotional, angry and diverse perspectives? And what does this mean for our country, which was purportedly going to become less divided following last November’s elections ?

A quick summary of concerns from the two perspectives:

As of two days before the planned delivery, the White House was attempting to allay some parents’ fears that the planned, back-to-school speech is an attempt to ply American children with liberal propaganda.

On Face the Nation, Education Secretary Arne Duncan stated that the president’s message was about “personal responsibility and challenging students to take their education very, very seriously.” He said that the Oval Office wants to see more high-performing schools, higher academic achievers, more college-bound students and more successful graduates.

Conservatives and critics were concerned that the aim of the speech was to recruit students to the liberal cause and brainwash them with socialism, based on the Department of Education’s “Menu of Classroom Activities” which was sent to schools and included the activity suggesting that school children write about “how they could help the president.”

CNN reports that conservatives were upset, even enraged, about the intrusiveness of a school-based address in an era of online access. Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer expressed his concern about the Oval Office using taxpayer money to indoctrinate children in a press release.

“As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology. The idea that school children across our nation will be forced to watch the president justify his plans … is not only infuriating, but goes against beliefs of the majority of Americans, while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power.”

There were those who remain perplexed with the resistance engendered by the president’s proposed address to students. According to Andy Ostroy, Huffington Post,

“President Barack Obama will address the nation’s school children in a speech promoting education, ambition, perseverance and the need to become civic-minded. It’s a terrific message designed to challenge and inspire today’s youth. But as expected, the issue has been hijacked by the right-wing lunatic fringe that’s either gone completely mad or lost all control of its racial bigotry. Either scenario is equal parts frustrating, infuriating, shameful and scary. Wild, unfounded accusations of indoctrination are flying at the president, and many children will be kept home from school to avoid the speech. It’s America’s Parents Gone Wild.”

The uproar over the speech is uniquely severe in Texas, where I live: the president’s plan to speak to public school students has elicited a full revolt among conservative Texas parents, many of whom are planning to keep their children home Tuesday if their children are required to listen to the presentation. At this point, numerous major school districts have arranged to allow students to opt out of listening to the broadcast on campus.

To revisit my initial query, what the heck is going on?

  • Might this strategic communications decision be part of an effort to boost Obama’s job approval ratings which have been on the decline this entire year?
  • And whose fears are real: those of conservatives or those of liberals?
  • Finally, how might this presidential address be used to bring together a nation that is rapidly dividing each week?

What are your suggestions? I’m hopeful that someone will be able to apply some sense to this insanity.

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