Obama's Speech provokes controversy

On Tuesday, September 8th, President Barack Obama will address directly the nation's schoolchildren on the importance of studying hard and staying in school. The speech will be delivered live at noon on the White House's Web site and C-SPAN. It was released on the White House's Web site Monday. The address made no reference to politics or any divisive subjects that some foes had feared. Instead, the speech -- which is optional for districts -- urges students to work hard, set goals and pay attention in school.

"At the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world," Obama plans to say. "And none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities."

For several days before the speech was made public, parents and critics flooded some school systems with phone calls, objecting primarily to the lesson plans the Obama administration created to accompany the speech.

They were revised. Originally, the plans recommended students write letters to themselves about "what they can do to help the president." The plans now suggest the letters focus on "how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals."

Officials from several districts say they're not showing the broadcast partly because the first day is hectic. But calls from parents concerned the address could be political were a factor.

Rochester plans to tape the speech and make it available to high school students as an optional lunch activity Wednesday, a decision parent Mike Reno supports.

"The district did a good job of coming up with an alternative that says 'Look, the program will be widely available, but no one is forcing kids to sit through it,' " said Reno, 46, who has two children in the district and sits on its school board. But he said he wasn't speaking for the board. At Oxford Community Schools, Superintendent William Skilling said some parents threatened to withhold their kids from classes today if the speech was broadcast, The Detroit News reports

It was also reported, part of the controversy over the speech is predictable partisan reaction from Republicans, no different than Democrat objections to President George H. W. Bush giving a speech to middle school students in 1991 on the same subjects. There were also predictable Democrat objections to a speech by President Ronald Reagan to high school students in 1986. President Reagan's speech focused on national defense and taxation; the high school students were old enough to debate political issues.

Whatever any President says, it will be imbued with political overtones, but this time does have several differences. President Obama is not delivering a message to middle school students about hanging in there, or a speech to high school students on issues properly taught in civics classes. His message is being promoted by the Department of Education to ALL students, from 4 year olds in pre-school through 18 year old high school seniors. 4 year olds? It is difficult to come up with a meaningful message for such a broad age range, leaving the focus on the messenger, Seattle Post Intelligencer reports

In the meantime, Presidents George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan gave similar addresses, and both attracted a bit of controversy. But the reaction to Obama's planned speech has been heightened by the political fight over health care and economic issues and an effort by conservatives to organize opposition, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.