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:
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:
AFTER READING TO THE SECOND GRADE CLASS
Capital City Public Charter School
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.)