President Obama’s “Subversive” School Speech
Posted Sep 4, 2009

President Obama’s “Subversive” School Speech

by Sheila Musaji

The White House sent a letter to the nation’s schools letting them know that the President would give a speech to students on September 8th.  The letter discussed the topic of the speech:  “During this special address, the president will speak directly to the nation’s children and youth about persisting and succeeding in school. The president will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a press release: [“He will also call for a shared responsibility and commitment on the part of students, parents and educators to ensure that every child in every school receives the best education possible so they can compete in the global economy for good jobs and live rewarding and productive lives as American citizens…”

The information posted on the Department of Education site included a FAQ section:

“Q: What is the speech about?
A: The goal of the speech and classroom activities is to challenge students to set goals, work hard and stay in school. This isn’t a policy speech.

Q: Who came up with the idea?
A: The White House and Department of Education collaborated

Q: Is it mandatory?
A: No. The Department is inviting schools to show the address. The choice is entirely up to schools and their communities.

Q: Who did the letter announcing the speech go to?
A: The e-mail went out on Aug. 25 to districts (all 14,000+) and schools (as many of the 100,000+ public and private as we could reach).

Q: Would the administration be willing to release the speech in advance of its delivery?
A: Yes. The speech will be released on Monday and delivered on Tuesday.

Q: Has any other President done something like this?
A: In 1991 President Bush addressed the nation’s students on live television from an American history classroom at Deal Junior High, in Washington, D.C.

Q: How can I watch the speech?
A: You can watch it at 12pm ET on the WH website, on CSPAN or on the CSPAN website. It will also be available via satellite for schools. For more information you can visit

Q: If I miss the speech can I watch it later?
A: The speech will continue to be available on and on

Seems as if the President is taking some time out of his busy schedule to give a much needed pep talk to students - pretty straightforward stuff, and a great help for teachers and administrators struggling with high drop out rates.  Everyone else has tried getting this message across to the kids without a great deal of success. The speech will be released ahead of time so that parents and teachers can read it.  Three other Presidents have spoken to students in the past.  No one is being required to listen.  It is up to parents and local schools to decide whether the speech will be shown.  The topic addresses a serious educational issue.

It seems as if this should prompt lots and lots of gratitude from parents, teachers, and students.  And, a majority will probably react very positively.  That is unless they are frightened to death by the professional negativists.

Michelle Malkin, David Boaz, Gary Bauer, Jim Greer all got into the act as did just about every other conservative “personality”.  On talk radio and conservative blogs you can’t miss the negative terminology - using our children as guinea pigs - an unprecedented abuse of power - indoctrination - propagandizing a captive audience - children will be forced to watch - using our children as tools to spread liberal propaganda - spreading socialist ideology - indoctrinating our children.  Words like communism, socialism, fascism, indoctrination, and even hitler youth have been thrown around in the discussion.

Media Monitors has an interesting breakdown of some of the ranting which opens with this statement: “Numerous conservatives have claimed that President Obama’s upcoming September 8 speech about “persisting and succeeding in school,” along with classroom activities about the “importance of education,” will “indoctrinate” and “brainwash” schoolchildren. Conservatives have compared Obama’s address to Chinese communism and the Hitler Youth, while also calling for parents to “keep your kids home” from the “fascist in chief.”  And, Salon has a brief article on one of the really crazy outbursts.

Perhaps these folks are stampling their feet and foaming at the mouth because in the past, conservative Presidents have misused a speech to school children.  As Steve Benin pointed out:  “In 1988, then-President Reagan spoke to students nationwide via C-SPAN telecast. Among other things, he talked about his positions on political issues of the day. Three years later, then-President Bush addressed school kids in a speech broadcast live to school classrooms nationwide. Among other things, he promoted his own administration’s education policies.”  You can watch a video of Bush seniors speech here.  The proposed content of Obama’s speech certainly couldn’t have set off this kind of spiteful response. 

I have to agree with Joan Walsh about the motivation for this response:  “Wrong. I never imagined the outbreak of right-wing crazy that Obama’s gesture would provoke, and this time it’s hard not to see racism behind the hysteria. The message is “Obama’s coming for our children!” the standard cry against scary boogeymen in every culture. I mean, really, what besides Obama’s race could make him so scary to these people? That he’s a Marxist socialist fascist Nazi? I’d argue that the only reason those extreme epithets have taken hold goes back to reason No. 1: Our first black president is provoking some outsize and irrational reactions.”

The trouble is that this venom spewing has gone viral, and has prompted many parents and schools to become frightened and there are coordinated efforts to keep children home from school on that day, or to demand that schools don’t show the speech at all (even for students whose parents would like them to participate).    National Tea Party Coalition Announces “Hall Pass on That” for September 8th Presidential Address.  Curiously their statement shows that they haven’t read the official materials from the President and the Dept. of Education and are unaware that the speech will be available to everyone the day before the event.  Michelle Malkin has posted the hall pass information on her site and Glenn Beck is encouraging parents to keep their children home.  All of these folks are feeding off of each others paranoia, and spreading it to the general public.  Amazing that the President wants to talk to the nations children about the importance of staying in school and getting a good education, and these folks are encouraging the same children to stay home so that they don’t hear that “subversive” message. 

Michelle Cottle at the New Republic makes a lot of sense:

“More broadly, Obama is the leader of this entire nation. It doesn’t matter if you voted for him—or even if your head threatens to explode every time you think about him. He is the president, and, as such, it’s a big deal that he’s speaking directly to students about the importance of education. (Not teachers unions, you hysterics.) And, whatever one’s party registration, the idea that any child should be kept home from class purely so their parents can make a political statement about an apolitical speech is appalling. Is the idea that we should shelter children from any contact with or knowledge of any president we personally dislike? Maybe, during the years our preferred party is out of power, we should just pretend that the president doesn’t exist. That’s a healthy way to run a democracy.

Admittedly, Obama is smooth. But he ain’t smooth enough to wipe away an entire childhood of conservative teachings with one quickie speech about (all together now!) working hard in school. Buck up, all you deep-red wingers: Make the kids watch Glenn Beck afterward if it eases your anxiety. Have them genuflect before a poster of Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter. But don’t be so paranoid about what might happen if they’re briefly exposed to the sinister charms of a liberal president that you drag them down into your foxhole of craziness.”

I would think that any rational parent would be pleased with the message that President Obama plans on sharing with the nations school children - you can succeed, work hard, study hard, stay in school, make a contribution, take personal responsibility.  And, perhaps coming from a man who is of mixed race and was raised by a single mother and yet became President of the United States, his message will carry some weight with those who need to hear it.

In the real world that is not subversive at all.

UPDATE 9/5/09

Some Republicans are beginning to speak up against this craziness.  Chairman of CT GOP  -  Republican Gov. of Utah, Gary Herbert

UPDATE 9/6/09

Two more Republicans speak up - Lamar Alexander and Newt Gingrich

UPDATE 9/7/09

You can now read the full text of the speech at

Joseph Siegel posted an article that asks those for and against the speech to try to understand the other side.  The “critical” point one that he made was:  “Children were going to be asked to think about how they can help this President:

“Teachers can extend learning by having students write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals.”

(Note that the lesson plan has been changed to be more innocent).  I understand why the above original lesson plan seems innocent to Obama supporters, and why this same lesson plan threatens his opponents. I write this because I urge you to attempt to see both sides of this issue. If the concerns of opponents don’t jump out at you then switch your view and imagine what you would have thought if it was George W. Bush making this speech before the start of the school year in 2003. Now what do you think? On the other hand, if you are one of those concerned about this lesson plan, view it from the perspective of someone that does not have ideological differences with the President.

I have to say that it would make no difference to me who asked this question.  If my children had been asked how they could help George W. Bush, I would have told them to offer possibilities for different policies.  Has no one thought of this perfectly simple solution in a democratic society?

Sorry, but sometimes there is just no possibility of seeing another side of an issue.

Jim Greer has now changed his mind and will allow his children to watch the speech although he still defends his harsh words from last week based on the question about how students might help the President.

A few loudmouths turn Obama’s positive message into poison, James Ragland
Calls to boycott Obama’s speech to kids offer a disturbing lesson in paranoia, Tim Rutten,0,4285184.column
Cartoon: John Cole, The Scranton Times-Tribune
Conservatives Protest Obama’s Nefarious Plot to Have Schoolchildren Learn Things in School, Jamison Foser,
Full text of George Bush 1991 speech to students
Full text of Ronald Reagan 1986 speech to students
The history behind opposition to Obama’s speech to students, Peter Grier
How Obama’s School Speech Became “Propaganda”, Max Fisher
Media Matters: Glue? Check. Protractor? Check. No. 2 pencils? Check. Insane reaction to president’s back-to-school speech? Check.
The Obama School “Controversy:” Has America Gone Completely Insane, or Just Plain Racist?, Andy Ostroy
The Lies of Texas Are Upon You, James Moore
President Obama’s Video Address To Our Schoolchildren, Matthew Filipowicz

RACISM in reaction - Attacks on Obama Highlight Racism and Islamophobia , Sheila Musaji  -  The Death Spasms of American Racism, Sheila Musaji  - Is Conservative Obama-Bashing The New Racism?, Bakari Kitwana  - MSNBC’s Shuster on reaction to Obama school speech: “some sort of bigotry” may be involved  -  Obama Speech Controversy Is About Socialism? (Guess Again), Mary C. Curtis  -  Republican Critics of Obama’s School Speech Stoke the Fires of Bigotry in America, Mario Almonte 

Reaction to Obama’s school speech is tragic, sinister and sickening
Today’s Lesson: Undermining A Black Man’s Authority in 2009, Natalie Holder-Winfield
What is Obama flap teaching our kids?


Conservatives for Filthy Hands Kooky responses to President Obama’s innocuous speech, James Taranto
Is Conservative Obama-Bashing The New Racism?, Bakari Kitwana
Republican Critics of Obama’s School Speech Stoke the Fires of Bigotry in America, Mario Almonte