Bowing to pressure from some parents in the area, the superintendent of the Fergus Falls school district in west-central Minnesota is directing teachers not to show President Obama’s live “Back to School” speech to students next week.
The decision comes as a sudden national debate about the speech emerges. While some say the speech is unprecedented, in 1991 the roles were reversed: A Republican president gave a speech to school children that Democrats blasted.
Instead of airing the speech live, the Fergus Falls school district will tape the address and preview it first.
“It is always appropriate to preview curriculum, movies, videos, etcetera, before using them for instruction,” Supt. Jerry Ness wrote in a letter to parents on Thursday. “If the message stays in the spirit of its intent, faculty will have the option to use it at a future time and date when they feel it is appropriate as part of a lesson or to encourage their students.”
Ness continued, “Staff will be required to inform parents that this will be shown in their classroom and parents will be invited to attend or to allow your child to opt out of this lesson with no negative consequences.”
The decision not to show the speech live comes as a number of schools are dealing with irate parents who do not want their children exposed to Obama. “This kind of political access to the minds of our young people smacks of propaganda and Big Brotherism,” wrote one parent, according to the Washington Post.
Rep. John Kline, representing the southern suburbs of Minneapolis and St. Paul, was named ranking Republican on the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee in June. He sent a letter to the White House on Wednesday asking that text of the speech be released for review before next week.
“While I commend the President’s focus on academic achievement and educational excellence, I believe this unusual approach to reaching out to our students would be improved if he provided parents and educators the opportunity to review the information in advance of the event,” said Kline. “This would allow teachers and families to make fully informed decisions and engage with students on this topic as they see fit.”
Conservative commentators have had a field day with the controversy. Sean Hannity said that “it seems very close to indoctrination.” Fox News commentator Monica Crowley said, “Just when you think this administration can’t get any more surreal and Orwellian, here they come to indoctrinate our kids.” High-profile blogger Michelle Malkin said that “the left has always used kids in public schools as guinea pigs and as junior lobbyists for their social liberal agenda.”
And while many are calling Obama’s speech (and the resulting outrage from the right) unprecedented, it really isn’t. President George H. W. Bush held similar appearances with students, appearances that the Democrats blasted as “paid political advertising for the President.”
Fergus Falls’ Ness said in his letter that Obama’s “message will focus on studying hard, to have high aspirations and to be good students.”
But he added, “Our office has received a few calls about it from concerned parents.”
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