What are Conservatives Really Afraid of When the President Talks to Schoolchildren?

obama and familyYesterday, I wrote a post at my blog that was something of a rant about the right wing’s campaign to keep kids home from school on September 8 when the President is scheduled to broadcast a web event to talk with them the importance of education, working hard and staying in school.

Brainwashing!  Indoctrination!  Filling our children’s heads with lies! The invectives came fast and furious from the ultra-conservatives with the announcement of the school-time speech and some schools are actually going to ban the talk.

It seems pretty innocuous to me, nothwithstanding all the fear that some are trying to generate about a supposed plot by the President to use this talk to turn our children into liberal converts.

Really?  Do people actually think this is part of an EE-vil plan? I’m sure that those who are behind this effort to take their children to the zoo instead of sending them to school know better, but they want to use this as another way to create more fear about Barack Obama.

I’m not the only shaking my head in disgust over the faux tumult.  As Julie Pippert points out at MOMocrats blog, there was no similar outcry by progressives when George W. Bush spoke to our school children about guns and drugs. I’m with Julie on this point — why this outcry? Why now?:

I’m also not comprehending why people are so outraged and concerned about the President addressing kids about committing to education. Of all the benign and potentially useful messages, this rates pretty high. I’m a lot less concerned about the possible messages here, than say the strange messages my kids have come home from school with about sex, drugs, music and religion (yes at public school). I’m also well-prepared to discuss this with them. I’ve read through the letter from the US Department of Education about this, and scanned the suggested classroom activities and discussion points.

For the first time, I’ve got a heads-up about a message being delivered to my kids as well as potential activities and discussions they’ll have about it.

I feel more and better informed than EVER BEFORE. I feel more a part of this than EVER BEFORE.

Cynematic, also at MOMocrats, raises an important aspect of this debate — this isn’t just a boycott over a difference of opinion.  This call for a right wing day of truancy is costing us all money, money that our schools can’t afford to lose:

But this is why the boycott has me steamed: my kid goes to a public school in California. Like many other states, our state’s budget is stretched thin. Public school dollars are based on attendance. In our case, when a kid’s absent from school for sickness or any other reason, our school loses $47/day. Per student.

[I]f this boycott becomes widespread, it amounts to a one-day systematic de-funding of your public schools and mine.

That hurts your kids and mine.

Down to Earth Mama, a former public school teacher herself, says:

Conservatives stood up, crying foul.  Several started a tea party movement to keep their children home on September 8th, calling it an indoctrination of  youth into the socialist agenda.  They are likening this to the recruiting of Nazi youth. They are complaining that Obama is subverting their authority as parents to sell his health care and big government plans, that he is recruiting them to be his army.

But I can argue, so what?  So what if he talks about health care.  So what if he talks about community organizing.  So what?  Are you so insecure enough in your influence over your own child that you are threatened?  Do you not want your children to learn?  Do you disagree with the pep talk?  Because, in all honesty, I would use it, regardless of what I saw, regardless of who was giving the speech, a republican or democrat, as a learning opportunity.

If this is what right-wingers really believe, I’m scared.  If, as I suspect, it’s not what they really think and that they are the ones trying to brainwash the easily persuaded that Barack Obama is sending subliminal signals to our children, then isn’t that as evil as they claim the President is trying to be?

When progressives tried to criticize George W. Bush, many in the GOP said we were being unpatriotic.  But the Fox News crowd wants us to believe that their criticism toward Barack Obama is merely an effort to protect their children from mind-control.

My question to all parents is this — when was the last time you were able to control the mind of your child of pretty much any age?  If a speech about staying in school and working hard is propaganda, and it convinces even one child to keep on studying, then that’s propaganda I can live with.

I’d like to think if I close my eyes and ignore these efforts they will go away when people realize the nonsensical extremism at work here.

But I know better than that.

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31 Responses to “What are Conservatives Really Afraid of When the President Talks to Schoolchildren?”

  1. cynematic Says:

    How can the non-insane school districts and parts of the country (44 states who seem to be fine with the President’s school address) help calm down those who are wee-wee’d up about it?

    Also, since when were parents lemmings taking Glen Beck’s marching orders? Smells like indoctrination to me. Pot–kettle–black.

  2. Amanda Says:

    I’m curious as to how far in advance schools knew about this speech. My son is in Pre-K here in Oklahoma City (Moore, OK school district) and they have no school on Tuesday… I know this stupid state (extreme emphasis on STUPID) is as red as it gets, but would they seriously pre-plan alleged “teacher days” in advance knowing what was going to be happening that day?

  3. Dennis McDonald Says:

    In these bizarre comments about Obama’s speech I see not only a resentment of the results of the last election but also an underlying distrust for public schools and an unwillingness to take personal responsibility for childraising.

    When my kids were little and they came home talking about school, we talked with them. Maybe it was about a racist incident, maybe it was a teacher promoting a religious view different from our own, whatever. We talked with the kids so they had a clear idea of where we as parents stood.

    Maybe the schisms in our society are more severe than I would like to think. For example, will we see an increase in formation of private schools similar to what we witnessed during the civil rights era when white parents took their kids out of public schools to keep them isolated from black children?

    I used to think that in an increasingly pluralistic society that was unlikely, but now I’m not so sure. It’s in such environments that demagoguery takes hold and I’m hearing more and more each day along the lines of “us versus them.” This “keep the kids home from school so they can’t hear Obama” is just the latest example and I don’t know whether to just ignore it or to start thinking of ways to fight back before it’s too late.

  4. Corina Says:

    In all honesty, I am down right scared. The fervor is getting louder and louder and yet the right proclaims that it is the left trying to indoctrinate. Reason. Sensibility. These are things that we need going forward.

    Thank you for writing this and including me in your quote(even if it did make me realize I had punctuation errors in my ranting). I know that I can always count on you for reasonable perspective.

  5. Houseonahill Says:

    Fear is the only tactic they have left. It always seems to work for them, so now they have utilized it to its fullest capacity. Fear, hatred and unintelligible rhetoric seems to be all they can produce.

    They prefer when folks are not educated and are uninformed and I guess that includes their kids….so sad.

  6. PunditMom Says:

    Do you think they realize they are doing the exact thing they are accusing the President of doing?

    It does scare me that there seems to be an effort underway to actually prevent children from thinking about opposing points of view and approaching the world with an open mind. :(

  7. Eric Says:

    I will gladly send my daughter to school that day if I can get a heads up about what the speech will be about. To date, I have not seen nor heard of any outline provided by the White House or BO.

    Until that is supplied, my daughter will have the BOFlu on Tuesday.

  8. PunditMom Says:

    Eric, I’ve linked above to the information provided by the White House about the topic of the speech.

    I have to wonder, if everything was the same about this scenario except that the president was a Republican instead of a Democrat, would we be seeing this same level of upset or calls for keeping kids out of school? I don’t think so.

  9. PunditMom Says:

    And, I’m wondering, where is the similar outrage over movies, books, etc., that get used in schools without our permission? If we carry the concern to its logical conclusion, should there be parental approval of all content in public schools?

  10. kristina Says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I frequent a couple of message boards and the conservative rhetoric is down right frightening. I’ll admit that I was no fan of the last President and administration, but I never spewed the vitriol that I’ve seen since January. Thanks for having a place where I can keep my sanity. I’ll be visiting frequently.

  11. James Says:

    My daughter’s school isn’t even sure they are airing the speech… but they know we may ask for her to sit out if we choose.

    I will be reviewing what they release on Monday as far as “what’s gonna be in the speech” and if I deem it to be harmless, then sitting through it will be no big beef to me.

    It’s not so much Obama I’m concerned about, it’s the teachers. Far too many opportunists would use the speech to begin their own personal political narrative and THAT would bother me far more than a “stay in school” message.

  12. James Says:

    What I find odd is that a “hoorah” speech about staying in school needed suggested classroom material.

    If your teacher needed to be fed teaching materials to discuss a “Stay in school” speech by anyone… they don’t need to be teaching.

  13. Daisy Says:

    I’m rather insulted that people think teachers would use the President’s speech as an opportunity to teach their own personal liberal agendaa. One, any teacher doing so would risk being fired. Two, public school policies are very clear on teachers using any political material to teach. Three, we’re teachers. We teach children to hear and read and think about content, analyze it, and then reach conclusions. Good teachers teach children how to think, not what to think.

  14. PunditMom Says:

    James, how much involvement do you have in the selection of the curriculum at school? Or checking on the politics of the teachers who teach your children? I really just don’t see how allowing our children to listen to the President can be bad.

    My daughter heard George W. Bush speak plenty –

  15. Bitsy Parker Says:

    I’m glad there are enough people tackling this issue because personally it overwhelms me and I’m mentally unorganized on how to attack it.

    The Tea Parties too make me crazy, yet they are so ridiculous that I ignore them (except I wrote a post this morning about how I ran into tea party participants last night at a restaurant. Not pretty!)

    So, for all the bloggers taking-on this issue, thanks.

  16. Jozet Says:

    My kids weren’t in school when the Bush speech was aired, or I would have had concerns about that one, too. I’m completely amazed with this “but George Bush did it, and no one complained!” line of reasoning. My question is why didn’t anyone complain? Also, since when is “George Bush did it” a compelling justification for anyone else’s similar behavior. I’d say that fairly much, doing the exact opposite of everything the Bush’s did would be a good place to start.

    My main concern about all this is the ed.gov questions. The are heavy on the “what” and very little on the “why”. They don’t allow much room for kids to dissect and analyze the messages and determine for themselves whether this is a good message to act on, and why. It doesn’t matter that I subjectively think the message will be a good one. Kids overwhelmingly are not taught critical thinking which utilizes higher-order cognitive skills; what they get pretty early on is that no matter how much teacher says to think outside the box, on the test there are only one or two right answers. The ed.gov questions ask pre-questions such as “How will the President inspire” which is a fairly heavy-handed leading kids by the nose to let them know that they aren’t with the program if they get to the end of the speech feeling uninspired.

    My of my liberal friends have stated that even if Sarah Palin were President and delivering the speech, they would allow their kids to watch and then debrief at home. Well, that’s wonderful for those kids who have parents who will debrief and encourage to ask questions about the questions themselves. However, in some places, kids have trouble getting their parents to take an interest in the fact that they are even in school, let alone fill in the blanks with analyzing media messaged. And believe me, that prospect is the one I’m really concerned with.

    The Obama administration has the opportunity to really push kids to think, not only about education and responsibility, but to challenge them to analyze for themselves the message being handed to them. Surely, Obama’s message will pass the test – so why not really allow kids to delve into it critically before acting on in the classroom? I’ve run this even by my most hysterical conservative friends, and the “Hell ya, of course” answer was resounding.

  17. Jozet Says:

    And here’s a great response to the question of “What’s wrong with just letting the President address kids directly?” I second this, almost every word.


  18. Kristen Says:

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with the President speaking to the kids. It is a fantastic opportunity to encourage kids at the beginning of the year. It’s when they roll out a guide which includes “what can you do for your PRESIDENT” that is the problem. Joanne, if Bush had done that, you would have seen RED. I would have seen RED. Because as an attorney, I would have thought that anyone who is dumb enough to put something like this out there on paper has issues. You might be thinking “what can you do for me” as President, but you probably shouldn’t have the Department of Education issue an agenda saying it. And to say now that it could have been worded better is ridiculous. You know as well as I do that that stuff like this is vetted an INSANE amount of times by an INSANE amount of people.

    Here’s the deal. You give the kids a rah-rah speech about education on Tuesday and you save the agenda shilling for (yet another) prime time speech. A place where you as a parent are sitting directly beside your kids and you can have a real-time discussion about what is being said.

    And enough with the “fear-mongering” and “Fox News Talking Points.” The majority of the views expressed by the opposition are in direct line with their political part(ies). It’s like saying all the progressives are using MSNBC talking points.

    We should totally do a book club, Joanne. Atlas Shrugged? Come on. I promise we would drink a lot of wine and laugh a lot.

  19. Pamela Fuller Says:

    I responded to this issue on another page??? NewB. What setting do I use to put you on my friends list or do I ask your permission? Love your page!


    Also, I like you format design, mine is space limiting, do you have to have a domain?
    Thank you for your time!

  20. Ken Says:

    The pathetically low level of national discourse we’re seeing surrounding this issue is sad. That certainly includes some critics of the speech, who are indulging in freak-show rhetoric. But to be direct, it also includes defenders of the speech — including this post, and some comments here — who conflate all opposition in with the crazies, belittle anyone who disagrees, and refuse to engage arguments. That’s regrettable.

  21. Jozet Says:

    Sort of rounding up my thoughts, I think the people who wrote the original ed.gov questions should be tarred and feathers. Well, maybe honeyed and feathered. Those questions were a little creepy (to use the vernacular) and I think it was not a far leap for some people to wonder, “Well if those are the questions….”

    And I think Obama would have been smart enough to know this. However, I’m sure he’s not in charge of dotting every i on his education people’s work.

    I think the original critiques of the questions were more than fair, and I think the new questions are…passable, if not overly energetic. All this could have been averted if the speech has been released earlier. There’s little to quibble with. It was the air of mystery and then asking people to “just believe” that became a problem.

  22. Gentry Says:

    I normally don’t write political posts on my mommy blog, but this one sparked it up in me. I live in a very conservative pocket of the country and my superintendent has complained he has been unable to get anything done in the past few days due to the public outcry over this speech. It motivated me to write my newest post political!

    Seriously, George Bush was in an elementary school on 9/11/2001 promoting a literacy program when intelligence pulled him aside to inform him of the 1st plane going into the World Trade Center. Presidents talk to school children. Publicly elected officials and representatives go to schools all the time to talk about the importance of citizenship and basic Civics 101. This is NOT an unusual thing for a President to do. I have never seen such unwarranted fear, hysteria, or judgment among people. Do you think they ever write the networks letters of complaint when a junk food commercial is slipped into “vulnerable young minds” during children’s programing?

    I am so fired up about this!

  23. PunditMom Says:

    Jozet, What questions did you think weren’t good ones? I agree, I want our kids to be doing critical thinking and think it would be great if there are kids who disagree with the President to let him know that.

    I didn’t hear any similar outrage when Sarah Palin talked to school children during the campaign and incorrectly told a bunch of elementary school children that if she was VP, she’d be in charge of the Senate and could use that position to introduce legislation. :(

    As two girls from Central Pa, we agree that the Obama should encourage our children to be critical thinkers. That is one of the biggest goals I have for PunditGirl — to get from her education more than the ability to spout back facts (which is pretty much all we got back in “the day”) and be able to analyze and think for herself.

  24. PunditMom Says:

    Kristen, First, I have to say that I know we disagree about a lot, but I truly respect your views and want to continue to engage with you about them. Funny thing is, I LOVE Ayn Rand and be honored to be in a book club with you to read Atlas Shrugged (I’ve already read The Fountainhead), especially if there is wine involved.

    As I have read and sifted through the comments here and over at BlogHer on this issue, I keep wondering if this all isn’t much ado about nothing? Why should it be wrong for the President to talk to children. OK, maybe they made a blunder with the lesson plan — was that Obama or some well-meaning underling?

    Let me know when the book club is, because I’ll be there with a bottle of wine, the book and a big hug — because I really do consider you to be my friend, Kristen.

    One thing you are wrong on, though, is that I would not have seen RED if Bush II had done the same thing and PunditGirl had to watch. Yes, I opposed him with every ounce of my Democratic being, but I have always been careful to make sure that my daughter has respect for whoever the President is. And, yes, I would have had a talk with her after the speech to see what she had taken from it.

    I really do believe part of this is about fear-mongering, though. Because, really, does anyone truly believe Obama is going to be sending subliminal signals to children to make sure they register as Democrats when they’re 18?

  25. PunditMom Says:

    Ken, this post does NOT suggest that people who question the President’s speech are crazy — what I do question is why the uproar? If the Right wing hadn’t started making such a big deal out of this, I would bet that most schools would have made a decision one way or the other depending on scheduling and most kids wouldn’t have thought twice about it.

  26. Jozet Says:

    The questions as they stand now are a little tight around the edges and don’t go too far beyond the “what did he just say?” Important, yes, but not very high on Bloom’s Taxonomy.

    The K-6 pre-questions are actually a little less nose-leading than the 7-12 questions. I do have a problem with the question that assumes that kids should listen to elected officials, well, just because they are elected official. I’m hoping there will be more in-school discussion as to what credentials any speaker offers that supports their authority to speak on a topic. “Because she’s President” is okay when talking about one person speaking on a specific topic, but I always dislike when glamour or novelty alone are the things that hit kids between the eyes first. I’d like to see more delving into questions as to how the speaker offers credentials (and Obama does) and to what effect. I absolutely think that elementary school kids can tackle this kind of discussion, and honestly, the younger the better when it comes to honing these skills.

    I’d also love to see more questions as to how the President uses the media form, what effect it has on kids, and why. I like complete transparency and critical thinking when it comes to interfacing with media, and this speech would be a sort of “safe space” to introduce those skills as they pertain not only to political figures and media, but also “messages from higher up” altogether. Maybe they do this is 5th grade civics, or something. That’s where my oldest is now.

    The after speech questions just need some tweaking. It may seem obvious to some kids that

    “Does the speech make you want to do anything?”

    has a possible “no” answer, but it’s a bit clumsy. Kids will know that the answer they are supposed to give is “of course!” Of course, it’s the President talking. Some kids might say “nope”, but with risk. A better question might be

    Does the speech make you want to do anything? Why not or why? If not, how might the president written a speech that pertained more specifically to kids in your school or town?


    What parts of the speech really caught your attention? How did they make you feel? Were there any parts that were difficult to understand? How could the speech have been better?

    For “Are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us?” again, what kid is going to say “no” other than the smart aleck? It’s a bit…disingenuous.

    For the 7-12

    “Teachers may post in large print around the classroom notable quotes excerpted from President Obama’s speeches on education.” Mmmmmm…I’d rather have good quotes about education from other sources, too. (Especially, some women.) Absolutely no threat of then seeming to much like an advert. This one seemed like a no-brainer. The risk is that some will say, “Oh my goodness, that Obama is comparing himself to John Dewey! How dare he!” But I’ll risk self-aggrandizement via association over the appearance of a political commercial. Most people who complain already think he’s a bit egotistical. What they are looking for is “VOTE OBAMA”. The posted excerpts seem too close for comfort.

    “Based on these excerpts, what can we infer that the president believes is important in order to be educationally successful?” Again, that’s what the whole coming speech is about. This seems like overkill. Better to talk about other leaders, too, and cover more bases to potentially catch more kids in the net.

    Pre question: How will he inspire us?

    My first thought was “Well, let me hear the speech first, and then I’ll decide for myself whether I’m inspired.” However, if some teacher wants to spin this as a study in classical persuasive rhetoric and later begin a discussion as to what forms were used and whether or not they were successful, etc. I’d be so happy, you couldn’t even stand me anymore.

    For the 7-12 after-speech questions, there don’t seem to be many that offer the possibility that the speech didn’t succeed. Which okay, after reading it, it’s a fine speech. But, I don’t generally like bassackward reasoning for not thinking critically. The way most of the questions are worded, it’s going to be the brazen student who fesses up that they weren’t particularly inspired or that the speech as given had weaknesses. More questions like “As a persuasive speech, how did the speaker either succeed or miss the mark?”

    “What are the three most important words in the speech? Rank them.” I’d rather tweak it as “What three words does the speaker think are important? What support does he give to convince you that these concepts are important? What different words would you add, and why?” Again, a bit more…probing.

    Listen, I don’t think these questions were “vetted” well, and I don’t think that any teacher is going to go by the book on this. And mostly, I realize how picky a lot of my post, but that’s what I do instead of playing Sudoku: I’m a pill. However, with these questions out there first, yeah, I think people were going to slide pretty quickly – or more quickly – to wondering just how the speech might spin. And since Reagan did get political in his speech, well…it could happen.

    The original question asking Kindys to write to themselves as to what they could do to help the President was possibly the most mouth-watering to those who were looking for a beef. And evidently, the question writers later agreed. For a speech focusing on internal locus of control being the key to success, that question was out of place. Also, looking to pick a fight for pretty much no good reason.

    What else did you ask me? Oh…Sarah Palin. Well, I think people should have been outraged. I think we’re some of us too polite for our own good. Some of us too mouthy, but that’s a different problem. Maybe we’re too polite and then the venting builds up and we go ape nuts. There is a way to express a critique without getting all ugly about it. (I remind myself daily.) By the time Sarah Palin was two steps in the water, she was undergoing a complete character/personality slaughter. Maybe going after her speech seemed redundant? Obama’s speech is a nationwide in-school offering, so there’s also a larger direct audience being affected….there’s that. I can guarantee, if Palin were coming to a school near me – especially during a campaign year – I’d be rarin’ to go with the same questions and critiques.

    Because, fact is, I am going to debrief my kids and teach them to question the questions. You will too. However, some kids don’t get that at home, and for, I will assume, good reasons that have a lot to do with basic physical and emotional survival. When you’re grasping for any stability, and the fortitude to question the questions takes a steady rock to stand on, well, one can sort of understand how “sure answers” are what one would look for first. That’s good when Obama is giving the speech he is giving; but maybe not so good when other people are giving a speech. However, to not question the questions just for consistency sake, just because it hasn’t been done before, doesn’t mean we can’t start here and set precedent. If kids learn the skill, who saying who they’ll use it on next. Ehem.

    I know there are people who are tearing Obama’s speech apart and not Palin’s speech because those people actively dislike blacks and think that women trying to be politicians is just plain cute and who listens to a girl anyway? I mean, I know, I know, I know…..

    But damn…could you imagine if some truly “let’s really analyze this” questions were in the ed materials? My cranky righty friends are emailing me telling me they think the speech is fine and possibly also dandy. If the ed materials (which came out first) offered even a few questions a bit more obvious in the way of “let’s really listen to this and work this speech”, I honestly think there may have been a through the looking glass moment and possibly even some across line hugging. I think that.

  27. Jozet Says:

    And this:

    “If the ed materials (which came out first) offered even a few questions a bit more obvious in the way of “let’s really listen to this and work this speech”, I honestly think there may have been a through the looking glass moment and possibly even some across line hugging. I think that.”

    That is me trying to generate a plot to use this talk to turn children into liberal converts. Obama, no. Me? I’m nefarious.

  28. Kristen Says:


    I was talking about if Bush asked the students what they could do for him as the President. I wasn’t referencing him speaking to students. Just to clarify. My problem is with the “agenda,” prior to revision.

    Wine. Lots of wine.


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