Getting a Hall Pass on President Obama's September 8th Address

BlogHer Original Post

Thursday I worked with a group of grassroots activists to launch, the alternative to the Department of Education's decision to bypass each state's, each school district's educational hierarchy to deliver the president's September 8th address. I announced it on national television Thursday morning. 

So far, critics, the same critics who've sent me hatemail telling me that I should burn in hell for mucking up the status-quo by altering the diverse thought quotient, the ones who've said that they wished harm would come to my two small children because of my politics, have more to be upset about with this. There are two reasons why parents across the country are upset with the action of Education Secretary Arne Duncan to send materials directly to principals and teachers, none of which can be attributed to slanderous charges of racism (again? Seriously?), or dissenters being Amish, or preferring to brainwash our children, sacrifice animals, and then later re-create the last meal of Christ with animals we sacrificed in our backyards.

Reason #1
There are reasons why elected school boards and superintendents were established, a reason why parents are notified in advance of presentations, assemblies, field trips, and changes in curriculum: to better administer to the student body, to protect the student body, to better keep busy parents engaged in their children's academics, and to preserve parental rights.

I've spoken with several teachers from several school districts across the country, in email and on air, most who were too scared to allow their names to be used for fear of a reprisal that would cost them their jobs, who explained that they felt "taken aback," "surprised," and "put out" by the materials sent by the Education Secretary. Their response was unanimous: there are precious few hours in the day needed for the three Rs to spend on a speech - the context of which people are unaware, only that it's vaguely about education - and post-activities which included directives such as: “Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president," later hastily changed by the White House after the parental uproar.

Reason #2
This brings me to the scope of the speech and materials given. The White House says that the president wants to speak about doing good in school. Great! Kids hear it all the time, I don't see the urgency in taking time away from schoolchildren to reiterate a message that has become almost a daily affirmation in today's pop-culture. We really have no idea as to the details of the speech; the president has set a precedence of not using the most awesome judgement when it comes to wording things. What if his teleprompter were to break?

I read the materials on September 1st when I first wrote about the address; I came to the same conclusion of many other parents: the focus of the materials is on how the people can serve the government. Obeying your leaders is fantastic and all, but only if it's reciprocated. Considering that the campaign arm of this president recently called many of these parents "domestic terrorists" in a tribute to 9/11 does nothing to convince people that this respect is viable, two-way street. What we have here is a massive dose of irony: the president breaking the rules to lecture students about following the rules.

The materials miss a golden opportunity to teach kids that THOSE ELECTED are, by the Constitution, the ones to serve the people, to help the people by executing the will of the people. The materials, from what is available to download, could have seized upon how we are a republic, and how teamwork in the context of that liberty leads to wonderful things.

It's against the law in certain states for people to advocate truancy; I snarkily hit on the topic previously, exercising my First Amendment right to do so. Nationally, with the Nationwide Tea Party and, we're advocating for parents to accompany their children to school that day - if their child's school is one showcasing the address - and for students to get a hallpass on the presentation to go to their libraries and learn about the establishment of the country, the balance of power in a republic, and the intention of our Founding Fathers. We presented a list of action steps to start the process and downloadable resources for parents. 

Since launching this initiative, we've been inundated by email from parents informing us that they've contacted their schools, inquired about the address, and requested an alternative if the school elected to show it. Thousands of parents across the country have taken these actions; in the cases where the schools overruled their concerns, they expressed their frustration at being frozen out of the decision-making process.

As a result, the number of schools electing to not show the address is growing; the Quincy School District in Quincy Illinois held an emergency board meeting after parents deluged the administration with complaints and concerns about being totally taken by surprise (all of this happened in an incredibly short period, mind you) and Quincy became the first district in the country to drop the address as a whole.

The schools within each district are free to make their choices independently and many of them have chosen not to air it, mainly because of the teachers' concerns I mentioned above and because of parental frustration. Several people have asked me what I think of school losing money over students skipping the entire day; my response is that it's not the parents' fault if a school, like the Tempe Elementary School District #3, chooses to endanger those dollars by excluding parental input and mandating such a presentation. We all learned cause-and-effect in school.

I'm not exactly sure why the White House keeps saying that this is the "first time a president has addressed students," because it's not. Past presidents have addressed students before and followed proper protocols to do so (I remember my mother signing a permission slip for Bush's 1991 address as I was political, even then); twice from Ronald Reagan; he took to the airwaves after the Challenger space shuttle exploded before the eyes of millions of schoolchildren who were watching it live on television in their classrooms. I was one of those kids, a tiny elementary schoolgirl who wondered what had happened to all those astronauts on board, including that teacher Christa Mcauliffe? He spoke complete remarks about education, drugs, and nuclear disarmament.

The second address was from George H. W. Bush, his remarks are here, and Democrats were enraged. Missouri's own Dick Gephardt, at the time the Democratic Majority leader in the House, stated:

"The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students and the president should be doing more about education than saying, 'Lights, camera, action.'"

Said Partricia Schroeder, a Democrat from Colorado:

[the speech showed] "the arrogance of power and that the White House should not be using precious dollars for campaigns when we are struggling for every silly dime we can get for education."

Should Reagan have gotten political in his speech? Perhaps, although he talked about what the country had already done rather than his agenda. Of course, neither he or Bush had videos like this, either. It also depends on your perspective of whether or not you think your parents' dissent is "domestic terrorism," "unAmerican," and "evil-mongering." Any president who allows his campaign organization and members of his party to smear the parents of these kids in such a fashion deserves every ounce of suspicion when speaking to school children, be he Democrat or Republican.

Here is what Obama had to say about surrogates, just in case.

President Obama Speaks At AFL-CIO Labor Day Picnic

I'm not sure if I would keep my kids at home or show up at their school to lead a discussion about the Bill of Rights in the school library if my kid's school chose to participate in this. A lot of people ask me why I homeschool; this is one of several reasons why. However, my 8-year-old will choose before 7th grade whether or not he wants to enroll in school and quite honestly, moves like this from the administration and the Department of Education aren't exactly stellar incentives to encourage me to stop homeschooling.

Regardless the method of education - I don't even really think that this is about education OR politics. If the president can keep his agenda out of it, fantastic. Even better if he had allowed for parents to participate in the decision-making process instead of springing it on them. I personally feel that this is a parental rights issue. We've already had one such battle here in Missouri last spring over parents' rights with regards to education. Our Department of Education needs to take greater care in respecting the rights of the parent. Had this been demonstrated by our Education Secretary and this administration, do I think that the response would have been different?

I do without a doubt.


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