Thursday, September 03, 2009

Warning: A scary black man is coming to school and he wants to seduce your children.

Robertson and Conway: Giving Conservatism a Bad Name

In the early 1990’s, then US Congressman Larry Hopkins came to Cassidy School to speak to Marcia Foster’s second grade class. It never occurred to me to ask parents if they wanted their children to be excused from the event.

We were teaching children about our democratic form of government. That Hopkins was a Republican and the principal was a Democrat mattered not at all. He was our duly elected representative; he was there for all children; and we were honored. Parents came too and brought treats for the children.

It was a memorable visit. Like a grandfather on career day, he talked about his job and how important it was for every child to work hard in school. I’ll never forget that as Hopkins unfurled his gift to the school - a flag that had flown over our nation’s capital - a child “got sick” all over it. Old Glory saved Hopkins from tragedy. Hopkins’s aide was horrified. Hopkins was amused. I went to the laundry. That’s just life in the school business.

We flew that flag until it wore out.

For a number of years, during the Clinton and Bush (43) administrations, it was my privilege as principal to read a letter from those presidents to our “graduating” fifth graders as we awarded the President’s Academic Fitness Awards. Both extolled the virtues of education, reinforced the notion that hard work led to a prosperous America, and generally challenged students to go on to success in high school, college and in life. It never occurred to me to censor the letters in any way. They were messages from our president. Neither acted politically.

Since 2004, Secretary of State Trey Grayson has held 11 regional summits with hundreds of students and teachers arguing that Kentucky must “increase the civic literacy of our people.” Like Thomas Jefferson, Grayson believes that “civic engagement is essential to the success of a democratic government." Grayson's advocacy is not partisan. It is not meant to stifle speech. It is fundamentally American.

Now comes word that for the first time in history, President Barack Obama will conduct a televised/webcast address to America’s school children, at noon, on Tuesday September 8. The White House says, “the president will speak directly to the nation’s children and youth about persisting and succeeding in school. The president will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning.” The chat will be broadcast live on the White House Web site and on C-SPAN.

Suddenly alarms are sounding on the far right.

It is unclear who called whom, but both Steve Robertson, chairman of the Republican Party of Kentucky and WLAP 630-AM's conservative pundit Leland Conway called the president’s planned address “creepy.”

Conway and Robertson are concerned that such an event might bring partisan politics into the schoolhouse, so they decided to politicize the event. Conway advised parents to keep their children at home.

But what is truly outrageous here is their use of the word “creepy” to describe the address – imagery that is clearly intended to besmirch Obama in a personal, undeserved and vicious manner. By using language befitting a pedophile or some other depraved individual who might prey on children, Robertson and Conway have fabricated an illusion of the president that is totally without merit.

Moreover it is troubling that Conway - (H-L, 10/6/08) who has argued that there is little racism in Kentucky because you can’t prove otherwise - should evoke such fears about our first African American president harkens back to the Jim Crow days when white populist politicians stirred concerns over miscegenation – as if Obama is coming to despoil our children. This is outrageous.

Robertson and Conway should be ashamed of themselves – but I doubt they are.

There is, indeed, something creepy going on here. But it is not the president of the United States publicly addressing America’s school children. It is the depths to which the neocon wing of the Republican Party and reactionary radio pundits are willing to stoop in order to engender fear and widen the political divide.

This from the Herald-Leader, Photo by Charles Dharapak/AP:

Should kids hear Obama?

Plans by President Barack Obama to speak directly to the nation's schoolchildren Tuesday are sparking controversy in Kentucky.

Fayette County parents will receive a note from Superintendent Stu Silberman on Thursday explaining that the district will participate in the president's address and that parents can call the school if they have concerns. Parents can ask to have their children opt out of the planned noontime speech, and an alternative assignment will be arranged, provided that plans are made ahead of schedule. Other schools in the Bluegrass are following suit.

There were "between 25 and 50 calls" Tuesday and Wednesday to the Fayette County school district, according to Silberman. "We want to respect the office of the president and to respect parents as well," said Silberman. "We want this to be a good event."

Silberman said there are no plans for any discussions after the speech...

This from the Courier-Journal:

Holliday says schools should provide

alternative to Obama speech

Kentucky’s education chief told school superintendents Thursday that if they show President Obama’s coming address to students, they should provide alternative activities for children whose parents object.

Some districts “have received requests for alternative activities from parents who do not wish their children to view the broadcast or webcast,” education commissioner Terry Holliday said in an e-mail.

Here are the scary remarks Obama made yesterday while visiting a charter school in Washington:

Capital City Public Charter School
Washington, D.C.
February 3, 2009

THE PRESIDENT: Well, listen, you guys, you've been terrific. Thank you so much for your hospitality --

MRS. OBAMA: -- your good questions.

THE PRESIDENT: -- your excellent questions.

MRS. OBAMA: -- your outstanding listening skills.

THE PRESIDENT: You're excellent listeners. And the reason we came to visit, A, we wanted to get out of the White House; B, we wanted to see you guys; but C, the other thing we wanted to tell everybody is that this kind of innovative school, the outstanding work that's being done here by the entire staff, and the parents who are so active and involved, is an example of how all our schools should be.

And what I've asked Arne Duncan to do is to make sure that he works as hard as he can over the next several years to make sure that we're reforming our schools, that we're rewarding innovation the way that it's taking place here, that we're encouraging parents to be involved, that we're raising standards for all children so that everybody can learn -- especially things like math and science that are going to be so important for the jobs of the future.

And so we're very proud of what's been accomplished at this school and we want to make sure that we're duplicating that success all across the country. So nothing is going to be more important than this. And the recovery and reinvestment act that we've put forward will provide billions of dollars to build schools and help with school construction. It will provide money to train teachers, especially in subjects like math and science that are so critical. And it will also give Secretary Duncan the resources he needs to reward excellent, innovative schools. And so we think it's really important for the country that we get that bill passed.

But thank you so much, everybody. Appreciate you.

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you, guys. This was fun. (Applause.)


Anonymous said...

As usual, a few adults (?) want to politicize something that, as far as I can tell, isn't political. I think it's a wonderful idea that the President of the United States wants to speak to our youth about the importance of education. Exactly how is that "creepy"? While I don't agree with the President on everything, his attempt to reach our young people in this way is admirable. I truly believe if he had the time to visit every school in the US, he would.

If parents want to opt their children out of an historic event such as this, fine. They should have that choice. However, it's too bad we can't opt out of the inane remarks of such 'leaders' as Robertson and Conway.

Pam Graham said...

Republicans acting up and throwing mud pies while the rest of the class tries to make the most of an excellent opportunity for inspiration.

All is normal.

Anonymous said...

"Besmirch Obama in a personal, undeserved and vicious manner"??? The man has the whole country abuzz over his affinity for cross-dressers and transvestites. Would you mind telling me what's NOT creepy about him addressing young kids?

Anonymous said...

I will be interested to see if he mentions "health care" in his non-political address ;-)

Anonymous said...

For a variety of reasons our President has lost the trust of the majority of Americans according to polls. For good reasons his numbers have dropped faster than any president in history. As a career principal and grandfather of five I concur with the Commissioner to permit alternatives to hearing our mistrusted President.

Anonymous said...

The original discussion guide for K-6 sent by the U.S. Department of Education did seem to build on the cult of personality surrounding the President. ("What can you do for the President?") Although the updated guide seems to be less political, I do have a problem with the federal government writing curriculum for local schools.

In my school I would not trust 30% or more of the teachers to lead a worthwhile discussion.

Anonymous said...

How silly all of this is! And now Holliday is telling teachers to provide alterantive lesson plans? Boy, did we do the right thing in hiring him.

Richard, I'm disappointed in your trying to shame those who don't like Obama with your "Scary Black man wants to scare your children" subtitle. Shame on you.

Anonymous said...

Next week after the President has read his speech from his teleprompter we will wonder what all the fuss was about. However, since the White House will not release his remarks in advance, one wonders if the teleprompter message was changed due to the nationwide fuss.

Anonymous said...

This dust up will likely get more parents into our classrooms to check out what is going on, which is positive. We need many more parents into classrooms regularly. Otherwise, we have government schools rather than public schools.

Richard Day said...

Thanks for the comments, but let me be clear.

My ironic "scary black man" quip was was intended to provide ironic counterpoint specifically to Robertson and Conway's assertion. It extends no further...except for maybe 4:42's comment above.

I found their "creepy" mischaracterization, in relation to school children, to be sufficiently offensive to warrant a stronger than normal response.

Too much, you think?

I believe the vast majority of Americans respect the office of the president even when they disagree with the man. At least I hope that's still the case.

Anonymous said...

I am saddened that you, sir, have been the person that has turned this discussion into a racial context. I cannot find any aspect of Robertson's or Conway's comments that can even be remotely linked to a racial slur. Linking this discussion to racism makes YOU appear to be the racist. I don't see any relationship to skin color or genetic background in this discussion, other than your outlandish assertions.
Furthermore, your entire tone and context, specifically referring to your "pedophile" comment, strikes me as very discrediting to an educator such as yourself.
Shame on YOU!

Anonymous said...

In Fayette County, we should be criticizing Stu Silberman. Once again, Stu, eager to keep his chokehold on the community, says he wants to honor parents and the office of the presidency at the same time! There he goes again, playing both sides of the fence.

Then, Silberman refuses to allow any discussion of the speech afterward. His backpack letter was pathetic. How dare the superintendent say he doesn't want to turn this into a political event. Those of us in public education, and at Central Office, know that everything that goes on in a school is political, including the upcoming Obama speech.

I have no problem with kids watching the speech, but
the decision to show the Obama speech should have been made by the site base councils, not by the savior, er, superintendent.

Anonymous said...

The White House will be releasing the President's speech on Monday....I hope all of those folks that find the thought of his speech "creepy" and are fearful of what he will say will take the time to read it.

This should be a non-issue.

Richard Day said...

Perhaps you are unaware - Mr Conway has discussed racial matters at some length on the air and in print. In that context, I find his mischaracterization to be suspect.

I see by this morning's papers that others have made this connection as well.

True, my tone was more harsh than usual.

Anonymous said...

True, my tone was more harsh than usual.

That tends to happen when one focuses on the messenger and not the message :-) Could also explain why most people tens to post anonymously.

Richard Day said...

I assume enlightened self-interest in most cases, and cowardice in some others, explains why folks choose to post anonymously.

Working educators, particularly principals, are vulnerable. Everybody needs the work but who needs the grief?

I also understand parents who may fear being branded as some kind of trouble-maker in their child's school being reluctant.

Those who are not connected with the schools...not so much.

Anonymous said...

Those who are not connected with the schools...not so much.

Easy for someone who works in an "academic" institution to say. Let's say you are just a regular "joe blow" who works in a regular job that is run by one of Stu's loyal disciples. Don't be so naive Richard ;-) You have the luxury of academic freedom...most people don't.

Richard Day said...

My academic freedom is still on training wheels...but I suppose I'll get used to it. Then, look out. I may go theorize something.

And true, I never worked with Stu, but ask around; I have a long record of saying things out loud.

Wow! So Stu can get Joe Blow fired from his non-FCPS job?


I'm going to have to reassess. They may not be paying him enough.

Now it's 'bout time for my afternoon nap. : )

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Dr. Holiday for allowing parents to opt out their children. Good thing he did that or Tuesday probably would have been a slow attendance day. Many people don't want Obama speaking to their children because they don't trust him. Why, or let's see, he's taken over the banks, taken over the auto industry, attempting to take over or control the internet, attempting to take over everyone's healthcare. And then there is his new Green Czar, Van Jones, a self-proclaimed communist. If anyone would just listen to Van Jones himself, no ring wing conspiracy, they would run. Obama says we need a domestic army, as funded and powerful as our military, for what? My kids will not watch him without me there...period. Several states have decided to not show it at all. Kudos to them too.
Stop trying to turn everything into a racial arguement. People simply don't like the man or his beliefs or the people he is surrounding himself with, not his ethnicity!

Anonymous said...

For the record, I regularly contribute to this blog.

I have several graduate degrees and I work at Central Office. I think I can speak for most bloggers when I say that we post anonymously because we do not enjoy the level of academic freedom that Richard Day will once have after he is granted tenure at EKU.

I know I serve at the pleasure of Mr. Silberman, an "educator" who does not like educators to be embroiled in controversy.

Anonymous said...

I, too work at FCPS and have my own opinions.

Richard, you know as well as I do how at works in Fayeyye County Schools. When you are perceived as a political liability, a tenured teacher is moved from her job in a classroom and given a "teaching" job in the same building which involves floating into another classroom. I've seen it done far too many times, therefore I really can't sign my name.

Richard Day said...

Sure. I push folks to speak out, but I admit, I understand the need to be anonymous.

Stu might have viewed my input very differently than others did. He certainly took Diane Wiles down - on a free-speech-related issue - in the same year Harrison's scores jumped 12 points.