Teaching Profession

UPDATED: Unions Respond to Obama Speech Controversy

By Stephen Sawchuk — September 08, 2009 1 min read

I checked in with officials at both teachers’ unions to get their sense of the Obama back-to-school speech brouhaha.

The National Education Association’s director of education policy and practice, Kay Brilliant (who surely has the best surname in the field since Margaret Spellings), said the union supports the thrust of personal responsibility, persistence, goal-setting, and achievement the president will discuss.

“I just find this whole thing amazingly curious,” she told me. “I think we’re disappointed that [the controversy] has taken on a political tone. We think this is an important issue, and as far as we can tell, it’s a neutral topic. It seemed pretty benign.”

The controversy itself could make for a teachable moment, she added. But it’s hard to see how a teacher could address it without fueling even more flames in communities where this has become a big deal.

The inexhaustable president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten (who’s traveling ‘round the country on a back-to-school tour at the moment) sent in this statement:

As an organization that represents teachers and school staff, we are gratified that the president of the United States is calling on students to stay in school and take responsibility for their education. These are the things we have called for our kids' role models to do. We are surprised to learn that people are trying to create a controversy around such a mom-and-apple-pie issue. Every member of the community has a role to play in education, including students, and President Obama is asking them take responsibility for their education."

UPDATE: Randi discusses the topic over at MSNBC, in this video.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.