The Furor Over Obama Speech Rolls On

By Catherine Gewertz — September 04, 2009 1 min read
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You hoped, perhaps, that the brouhaha over President Obama’s planned back-to-school speech would die a quiet and quick death? Sorry to disappoint you. It picked up speed yesterday (See this story by my colleague Dakarai Aarons).

Arizona Schools Superintendent Tom Horne* piled on, issuing a statement saying that the White House was encouraging schoolchildren to have a “worshipful” rather than a critical approach to the President’s speech, scheduled for a live broadcast Sept. 8 from an Arlington, Va., high school. Some districts and schools decided to block or delay the broadcast of the speech.

Apparently, the classroom activities offered up by the White House—one set for elementary school students and one for middle and high school students—were a key flashpoint for conservatives who lit up the blogosphere and parents who queued up at school, district, and state department of education phone lines in various places yesterday.

The White House already skinned back on one of the activities in the elementary school classroom activities, which had suggested that the children write letters to themselves outlining ways they could help the president.

There could be a troubling (or reassuring) sense of balance in knowing that this outrage isn’t just a conservative/Republican thing. As Dakarai’s story points out, Democrats, too, went ballistic in 1991 when then-President George H.W. Bush gave a speech to students at a District of Columbia middle school. You can guess: using children as political pawns, blah, blah, blah.

But that was before the Internet and blogosphere gave news the acceleration power of a Southern California brush fire. On this round, tons of folks at schools, districts, and state offices got their fingers singed. The receptionist at the South Carolina Department of Education office, for instance, handled lots of irate people, department spokesman Pete Pillow told me, and they weren’t assuaged once they were transferred to him, either. Because the department’s position is that districts should decide how to handle the speech.

Perhaps those who thought this would be a straightforward civics exercise were a little naive.

*An earlier version of this blog post mistakenly identified Tom Horne as Arizona’s governor. An alert reader brought this to our attention and we corrected it.

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School Connections blog.