Minnesota schools scramble to deal with Obama’s address to kids

President Barack Obama with daughters Sasha, left, and Malia at Alley's General Store in West Tisbury, Martha's Vineyard, Aug. 30, 2009.
REUTERS/Jason Reed
President Obama with daughters Sasha, left, and Malia: Obama will talk to school kids around the country Tuesday.

President Obama wants a friendly little chat with kids all over the nation Tuesday to encourage them to work hard in school, but some parents don’t like the idea.

Obama’s scheduled webcast and television address is drawing criticism from some conservatives who argue that the president is trying to indoctrinate students with his political beliefs. Parents in Minnesota and around the country are calling schools asking questions about the address, and school officials are scrambling to figure out what to do.

In Minneapolis Public Schools, which opened doors to students returning from summer vacation this week, teachers have the option of allowing students to watch the president’s address on C-Span Tuesday or play back a recording of a webcast of the speech.

“We think it is wonderful the president of the U.S. will address students about the importance of education. We hope our students will be inspired to succeed in the classroom by hearing this message,” Minneapolis Schools’ spokesman Stan Alleyne said this afternoon. “We do not view this as a political message. We would back any sitting U.S. president willing to work with us to motivate our students. Motivating students is not a controversial issue.”

But in Inver Grove Heights Community Schools, “the district has not taken a position” on the issue one way or another, Superintendent Deirdre Wells said this afternoon.

Wells acknowledged that the district has had “quite a number of” parents calling or emailing her office over the last two days asking that they be informed if their child will view the president’s address. Principals and teachers are being informed of the parents’ requests.

All of these parents have been “extremely considerate,” Wells said. “What they are saying is they prefer to have conversations at home with their child about any ideologies.”

But Wells said it is unlikely students will see Obama’s address because he is speaking on the opening day of school, and normally the first day is extremely hectic and busy.

 “Chances are almost zero” the president’s talk will be shown in Mounds View Schools’ classrooms as well, according to district spokesman Colin Sokolowski, because of issues revolving around it being  the first day of school. (Note that in many schools across the nation, school has been in session for a week or more.)

Also, in the Mounds View district on Tuesday, only sixth graders will attend middle-school classes and only ninth graders will appear for high school because it is a day for welcome and orientation of newcomers.  That means only one third of middle-schoolers and one-quarter of high school students will be in school Tuesday. Elementary school principals will preview the president’s remarks.

“Could a video [of the remarks] be viewed or shown at a later time? Absolutely yes,” Sokolowski said.    

According to MPR, school officials in Edina and Chaska plan to let teachers decide whether to show the address in their classrooms. Elk River’s school district spokesman said there will be a neutral location where student who want to view the speech can watch it.

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said today that Obama’s address is not a policy speech but rather made with the intent to inspire students to work hard in school.

Alleyne said schools throughout the nation were informed last week by the U.S. Department of Education that the president would address school children.

Teachers have been urged by the Department of Education to create lesson plans around the speech, using materials provided on the department’s website that encourage students to learn about Obama and other presidents.

Calling Obama’s scheduled talk with school children “positive, historic” and “important,” Education Minnesota President Tom Dooher today urged school superintendents to allow their students to hear the president speak. 

“The education of our students shouldn’t become a partisan pawn for those who are trying to score political points against the president,” said Dooher, head of the state’s largest teachers union.  This is the first such nationwide broadcast from a U.S. president to all of the country’s school children at once, he said.

Dooher also encouraged local teacher-union presidents to urge their superintendents to air the president’s address in classrooms.

The president has said he will “challenge students to work hard, set educational goals and take responsibility for their learning,’’ the labor official said.

Such inspiration is important to a well-educated population, Dooher said. He asked Minnesota’s superintendents to “use this teachable moment and not stand in the way of the president as he addresses America’s school children.’’

Cynthia Boyd writes on education, health, social issues and other topics. She can be reached at cboyd [at] minnpost [dot].

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Comments (23)

  1. Submitted by Ed Stych on 09/03/2009 - 04:44 pm.

    What MinnPost’s writers on this subject continue to miss is that the White House wants the students to “help the president.”

    Obviously, that can turn political, and some of the president’s ideas that he might want help on have been rejected by a majority of the country, according to polling.

    The White House is doing the right thing by pulling back on the “help” part:


    If it’s simply a rah-rah, “work hard” speech, I don’t have a problem with it. Might be good to bring in a Republican to sit alongside the president if the WH wants to avoid looking political.

  2. Submitted by dan buechler on 09/03/2009 - 06:22 pm.

    Ed what you might be missing is that many kids are naturally good and want to please their parents/authorities/whatever. It is help the “president” not help the dems., the obamas. Hey and if by chance he motivates some kids who needed a nudge or it helps the country (my god I am a patriot) all the better. He still has some rock star quality.

  3. Submitted by david granneman on 09/03/2009 - 06:47 pm.

    hello all
    if you are wondering why some parents are upset about president obama broadcasting into their schools you need to watch this video


  4. Submitted by david granneman on 09/03/2009 - 06:49 pm.

    i forgot to say the previous video was shown to elementary kids during class hours in utah

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/03/2009 - 09:03 pm.

    The hysterical nature of many republicans continues to amaze me. We have a president who wants to promote education and they’re afraid. Simply amazing.

  6. Submitted by Joe Johnson on 09/03/2009 - 10:14 pm.

    I would bet my soul Paul’s reaction would be different if Former President Bush was giving the speech.

  7. Submitted by Aaron Klemz on 09/03/2009 - 10:21 pm.

    Yep, Obama’s going to use his mind ray through the television to mass-indoctrinate the captive audience of children into his Socialist Fascist Cult of Personality. Get a grip, please.

  8. Submitted by david granneman on 09/03/2009 - 10:29 pm.

    hello all
    what do the words SERVE PRESIDENT OBAMA have to do with education. it seems the president is desperate when he need to speak to an audience that truely was born yesterday.

  9. Submitted by Thomas Edman on 09/03/2009 - 10:47 pm.

    MinnPost —

    I expect much better from you!

    The headline, and story line, should be “Minnesota Schools Scramble to Deal with Conservatives Campaign Against Obama Speech.”

    Tell the real story, please.

  10. Submitted by Ann Spencer on 09/03/2009 - 10:54 pm.

    I didn’t think our political discourse could get any more inane than the “death panels”, “Nazi policy”, “pulling the plug on Grandma” rhetoric at health care town hall meetings, but this latest “controversy” takes the cake.

    Have we become so poisonously partisan that the President of the United States can’t give the nation’s schoolchildren a back-to-school pep talk without evoking near-hysteria from some parents? I understand some conservative commentators are urging parents to keep their kids home from school on Tuesday, to “protect” them from Obama. You’d think the man was a dangerous pedophile instead of the father of two daughters who obviously mean the world to him. The reaction is so over-the-top that it makes me wonder if some of these folks are actually unhinged.

    I guess “helping the President” is an incendiary concept to some, though my guess is that it was intended to instill a sense of service (“I can help the President by working hard in school and volunteering in my community”) rather than to promote specific policies. In any case, that language has now been removed from the DoE website.

    We have a significant racial achievement gap. The example of a black President who embodies the opportunities that a good education can unlock could be a very positive thing for all students, but particularly young African-Americans.

    Big, important adults like the President don’t usually pay much attention to kids. One would think that a President who cares enough to use the bully pulpit to urge kids to work hard, have goals and stay in school would be applauded by all. Not in our deeply divided country. How sad.

  11. Submitted by Ann Richards on 09/04/2009 - 01:34 am.

    I watched the video, I didn’t hear anything that wasn’t compatible with the Mormon teachings and I can imagine their using this video. I suspect- but you do not say- it is the pledge part you are having trouble with, it cannot be the part of wanting a ‘culture of education not ignorance’ is it? The Obama pledge comes from the beginning ‘the loneliest job in the world’ I am just amazed that parents feel so insecure about their kids hearing a message from the President that this becomes partisan. We cheapen the office.

  12. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 09/04/2009 - 06:41 am.

    Mr Granneman,
    Closed-minded views on either side are anti-intellectual. From a psychological perspective, this entry reminds me of the defense of projection, where individuals disown a part of themselves that they find unacceptable, and “project” that characteristic into someone else. Just saying…

    Faith-based belief cares not for rationality or evidence-based belief. In fact “scientific evidence” is also feared. Scientists believe in evolution because there is so much supporting evidence; therefore scientists are all Atheists, and they are trying to mold your children into Atheists, filling their innocent minds with *facts*.

    In short, Obama is their worst nightmare – “There goes the neighborhood.” And therefore they have to fight to try to restore 1953 America.They also realize that within a generation or two the United States will become majority-minority.

    Hopefully, the attempt to restore 1953 American will not turn into an attempt to impose 1933 Germany.

  13. Submitted by dan buechler on 09/04/2009 - 07:30 am.

    Yo parents get a grip. Like man I woke up today listened to eminem while finishing off a violent video game. Watched a little cage fighting while slurping down my breakfast of coke and chips. Went outside saw a roach (you know what I’m talking ’bout) and a condom least the whore’s r praticin safe sex. Put on my ipod fantasizin bout britney she got it. God I love my life hangin out wit friends past curfew. I could live this way forever and ever and ever amen.

  14. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/04/2009 - 08:33 am.

    //I would bet my soul Paul’s reaction would be different if Former President Bush was giving the speech.

    The problem with ideologues is they can’t imagine that EVERYONE else isn’t an ideologue like themselves. Had Bush ever cared enough about education to give students a beginning of the year pep talk I would have been delighted.

    //what do the words SERVE PRESIDENT OBAMA have to do with education.

    Typical. Take a video that was produced by a third party without Obama’s participation and has absolutely nothing to do with the current situation and conflate with a attempt to promote education. The aforementioned video is irrelevant, it was neither a White House production, nor is there a plan to air it. Obama is going to give an entirely different speech.

    Having said that, one has wonder at the reaction to the “Pledge” video in the first place. One would think that every American would realize that living in a free country one might occasionally run into people with different points of views and priorities; it’s not the end of the world, THAT’S America. Apparently instead of teaching their kids how to live a free country with a diverse citizenship, Republicans want insulate their children from any ideas or perspectives that don’t absolutely conform to their own. This promotion of intolerance over respect and dialogue has unfortunately been the hallmark of the conservative movement for decades. It has created successive generations of intolerant and fearful conservatives who chase imaginary threats rather than confront real issues. Remember when fluoridation was a communist plot? Don’t you people ever get tired of being wrong?

    Of course, one can’t help but note the irony, the same folks who inserted “Under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance and have been fighting to keep prayer and the Ten Commandments in the schools for decades are suddenly worried about ideology showing up in the schools. Rich indeed.

  15. Submitted by dan buechler on 09/04/2009 - 09:30 am.

    I can tell you something about floridation fights it drove a woman scientist out of office. What a shame.

  16. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/04/2009 - 10:41 am.

    I’m not going to try and explain anything to anyone, that’s a hopeless cause.

    Rather, I’d like to point out how the country’s immediately negative reaction to Obama’s little schoolroom chat illustrates just how deeply, irrevocably divided this country is….and how unpopular Barak Obama has become in such a short time.

    Gosh, I just wish people had taken the time to research his background before heading to the voting booth. This tactic is straight out of Bill Ayers’ pedagogy…the grasshopper has learned well from the master.

  17. Submitted by John Roach on 09/04/2009 - 11:37 am.

    This is a very sad commentary on the “conservative” movement. It has become utterly dependent on its mythology of “Obama as the devil”.

    An address of this sort—which Bush I also did on October 1, 1991—is incompatible with being able to maintain the myth. If their children listen to, watch and discuss the President in school, “conservative” parents cannot control the message. Who knows what ideas their children might be exposed to? Even worse, what if their children were asked to perform a critical thinking exercise regarding those ideas?

    This is anathema to the shameful and un-American thing that “conservatism” has become since America elected a President that they cannot accept.

  18. Submitted by Ann Merriman on 09/04/2009 - 01:49 pm.

    Right on point, John. I also want to check up on all these parents threatening to remove their kids from school and all the superintendents that are really the ones bowing to political pressure from the right, when military recruiters show up in their schools to speak with students. They’ll accept enlisted personnel or an officer in their schools because if they don’t, they’ll lose their Federal funding, but they won’t let the Commander in Chief in his role as President and father of two young girls encourage the kids of the United States to stay in school and work hard. These scared people, particularly the ones in Minnesota, can get over their fright if they just really sit down and clear their heads of the hatred and racism they must feel but mostly won’t acknowledge, but I won’t hold my breath. This can’t be about hating Liberals or Liberalism, since the President is such a Moderate Centrist. I’m a Progressive Liberal and I’m so far to the left of President Obama that he can’t see me other there – and I’m not a scared citizen like these regressives – I’m a cynically hopeful one.

  19. Submitted by Terry Hayes on 09/04/2009 - 04:36 pm.

    Ann Spencer–beautiful post. You said it all, and eloquently. Thanks

  20. Submitted by Ann Merriman on 09/04/2009 - 04:55 pm.

    Let me join Terry Hayes and say thanks to Ann Spencer for such a great post as well. Spot on, particularly for the purposeful misinterpretation of the “help the President” comment – the right wing knows what it means, but they see an opportunity to cause another rift and jump on it at the expense of America’s kids. They insist that the Republican Party if the “Party of Family Values” – I know better.

  21. Submitted by Ann Merriman on 09/04/2009 - 07:50 pm.

    For the scared conservatives, below is a link to a verbatim re-print of President Reagan’s address to students in 1988 and remember, Bush 41 spoke with America’s school kids about his education policies, not about staying in school and succeeding like President Obama is going to do.


    So, which party is “indoctrinating” students to their way of thinking? it surely isn’t the Democratic Party.

  22. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 09/06/2009 - 10:10 am.

    By the way, does anyone remember what George Bush was doing on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001? Does anyone remember any liberal outcry?

  23. Submitted by Rebecca Hoover on 09/06/2009 - 12:09 pm.

    Honestly, I am so tired of the conservatives complaining and complaining. If they spent a little more time helping others instead of themselves they would not be so irrelevant. We all know, for example, that the head of the UnitedHealthGroup, Denny Hecker and Petters were big Republican contributors. As it is, their continued harping alienates more and more people by the day.

    That said, I do wish Obama would learn that “silence is golden”. His speaking out on everything from flu shots to you name it means he is over-exposed and downright boring. Obama is quickly become an Oprah of sorts. Please advisors, tell the Obamas we do not need them to be part of our lives every day.

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