As a sign of our partisan times, Google News shows more than 5,000 articles have recently appeared concerning the suddenly controversial speech President Barack Obama is giving next Tuesday to students across America. Many conservative pundits and parents have decried the speech, saying Obama will use the occasion to promote his “socialist agenda.”
The speech text will be posted online at whitehouse.gov the day before the President speaks to students at a Virginia high school.
According to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Obama will discuss the importance of education as the new school year begins. “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,” Duncan said in an Aug. 26 letter to school principals.
But many critics are not persuaded. As reported today by eSchool News, the head of Florida’s state Republican Party has attacked Obama’s address, saying the president wants to push a “socialist” agenda on children.
Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer issued a press release Sept. 1 headlined, “Greer Condemns Obama’s Attempt to Indoctrinate Students.” Greer told the Associated Press that if the speech is simply a feel-good message about the importance of education, he doesn’t object to that. But he said he doesn’t trust Obama to stick to those points and said the president should not address children unless parents can review the speech ahead of time.
In Greer’s press release, he says, “As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology” and “I do not support using our children as tools to spread liberal propaganda.”
As noted in the New York Times, previous presidents have visited public schools to speak directly to students, although few of those events have been broadcast live. Mr. Obama’s address at noon EDT, will be streamed live on the White House Web site.
The first President George Bush, a Republican, made a similar nationally broadcast speech from a Washington high school in 1991, urging students to study hard, avoid drugs and to ignore peers “who think it’s not cool to be smart.” Democrats in Congress accused him of using taxpayer money – $27,000 to produce the broadcast – for “paid political advertising.”
Herb Garrett, executive director of the Georgia School Superintendents Association, told the Times that many of his members felt that the controversy had put them in an awkward situation, vulnerable to attacks from conservative talk-show hosts if they open up instructional time for Obama’s speech, and open to accusations that they have disrespected the president if they do not. “It’s one of those no-wins,” Garrett said.