by John Fitzgerald | September 7, 2009 • We note with amusement the consternation over President Obama’s planned speech to the nation’s students about persisting and succeeding in school that will be broadcast Tuesday at 11 a.m. on the White House website and C-SPAN. That the nation’s leader would think enough of education to offer a pep talk to students seems a worthy thing to do. That the nation’s Department of Education has offered ways for teachers to use the speech as a learning tool also seems like a perfectly reasonable thing to do. That the president has simply made the address available to schools and not, as some have said, required students to view it also seems perfectly reasonable.
And yet the speech has drawn an enormous amount of attention. Here’s a list of Minnesota newspapers that localized the story: the Star Tribune, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, the Brainerd Dispatch, the Fargo-Moorhead Forum, the Fergus Falls Daily Journal and the St. Cloud Times. Add to these MPR and MinnPost and various other radio and Internet outlets and you have a tsunami of concern in Minnesota about the president’s speech.
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So what’s the big deal? There is no big deal, of course. It’s what one author coined “the silly season.” It’s a period of the year when nothing much is going on and the news cycle is dry. Now conservatives are using it to plot and argue rather than to offer substance to the public policy debate.
It’s the silly season. This is what leads Gov. Pawlenty to question President Obama’s motives. The Star Tribune quoted the governor suggesting the speech is a tool to gather names and addresses of youths across the nation by asking them to write to the president. Sadly, there is no such request. Also, Pawlenty suggested the speech be offered voluntarily, yet viewing the speech is not required.
The Star Tribune also reports the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Anoka-Hennepin school districts are leaving the decision up to teachers and principals.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press reports the Inver Grove Heights district will allow teachers to show the speech, but only if parents are first notified either by mail or e-mail. It’s a policy the district uses when classroom material is deemed controversial.
The North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale district has instructed schools not to show the address only because of difficulty of showing it to students on the first day of class. Principals in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan school district have been instructed not to alter the school day to show the speech.
The St. Paul school district will rely on the judgment of principals whether or not to air the address. South Washington County Schools will show the president’s address to its students but will allow students to opt out of the viewing.
MPR reports teachers in Edina, Eastern Carver County, Hopkins and Lakeville can watch the speech in their classrooms as long as they respect the wishes of students and parents who don’t want their kids seeing it.
In Brainerd, students won’t be watching Obama’s speech live, but that’s because the district’s new video use policy requires that all video presentations be previewed before being shown to students.
Pequot Lakes schools will record the address and make it available for teachers to show in the future in their classrooms.
In Pillager, all students will have the opportunity to watch the speech if they want to.
In Moorhead, each teacher can decide whether or not to show students President Obama’s speech.
Fergus Falls students won’t see the speech live. Administrators will tape the speech, review it after school Tuesday and possibly show it to students Wednesday morning.
The Rocori School District will let schools decide whether to show what Superintendent Scott Staska called a historic broadcast. Dale Gasser, superintendent of Sartell-St. Stephen school district, said the first day of school is too busy to take time out for the speech. The same holds true in Sauk Rapids-Rice, Superintendent Greg Vandal said.
In St. Cloud, staff have been instructed not to disrupt first-day plans just to show the speech but said it can be recorded and replayed later.
“I think it is a good message,” St. Cloud Superintendent Steve Jordahl said. “It could be something they remember for the rest of their lifetime.”
We trust that the President of the United States has a relvant message for our young people. And we trust that teachers will use the speech as a learning opportunity for students. To expect anything less would be silly.