Obama Speaks to Schoolchildren: Colorado Schools & Teachers Respond

Update: We’ve received word that at least one of the Denver Public Schools — Southmoor Elementary — has reversed its previous stance NOT to show Obama’s speech, and will go ahead and show it live. No word yet on whether parents will be able to opt out. On a more arrogant note, Broward County Florida schools are not letting kids opt out at all.

So I write a little bit about President Obama speaking to school children, and I get more attention than possibly could be healthy for a five-year-old to get!

But I did want to take the opportunity to share with you a rundown of what my friends in the Education Policy Center have been receiving from some Colorado Front Range parents and teachers, including what individual schools have opted to do. First, the opinions of some teachers, gathered over the past couple days:

Teacher number one:

Clearly enough people have made enough noise already that the district is very aware of tying this in to curricular matter. If it IS just a rah-rah motivational speech, I’m not sure that that’s very curricular; and if it does devolve into politics, then we’re going to shut it off. In either case, I’m not sure there’s actually any purpose . . . other that [sic] Obama saturation.

Teacher number two:

I think it’s shameful propaganda and I won’t be showing it in my classroom, and if required to do so, will not show up to teach on Tuesday.

Teacher number three:

I have a tough time with a supposed supporter of public education (except for his own children) making a choice he had to know would cause such a stir in public schools. We spent about 20 minutes today in a special meeting discussing this issue, 20 minutes that could have been spent discussing curriculum and achievement issues. Was that the best use of our time? I think not, and I’m sure we’re not done with the discussions. Most of our staff could simply not imagine how anyone could be cautious or hesitant to have him speak to their children. My hesitation comes from the numerous examples (Cherry Creek, etc.) of teachers taking speeches, quotes, actions, etc. by their favorite politician and presenting them as “gospel” to be embraced wholeheartedly and not to be questioned. As an “insider”, I sadly know that to be the rule instead of the exception. I have heard many examples of students being rebuked and ostracized for expressing views that differ from their teacher, some in my own school. Can you imagine anything but glowing praise of this upcoming show?

Now, on to school announcements. First, Amy Oliver reports that Greeley’s University Schools (a charter school program) “will not be participating in Obama’s indoctrination of school children.”

According to a teacher in one Jefferson County school:

We had a meeting at my school today to discuss the issue. The bottom line: we’re showing it to all the kids whose parents want them to attend. The others will be sent to another room (library most likely to read) or they can simply stay home. The main justification was that, based on proposed speech notes, the topics he will cover fit in the curriculum very nicely (responsibility, staying in school, doing your best, etc.).

From a teacher in another Jeffco school:

our principal is not making anyone show it if it’s not related to their standards/pacing guide. The district is asking that teachers not show it live.

A principal’s statement forwarded verbatim from a parent in Douglas County:

We are writing today in response to many emails & phone calls that we have received regarding the anticipated speech by President Obama on the 8th of September. In the best interest of all involved, we willnot [sic] be streaming the speech into classrooms at Pine Lane Elementary.

It is our opinion that parents are the primary educators of their children and this opportunity presents itself in the context of parent as educator. Rather than having teachers and staff interjecting their interpretation of the president’s message, we would encourage you to watch the speech with your children and help them to make sense of the information in a way that aligns with you and the values of your family.

We know that no matter what decision we make regarding this event there will be some that will not agree. With this said, we hope that you will support our effort to respect the values of each person and family in our community.

An email broadcast announcement made by a principal at Jeffco’s Carmody Middle School to teachers:

Please read the following information from the school district that is being sent out to parents regarding Obama’s speech next Tuesday. In order to control the parent requests who do not want their child to see the broadcast, I would like to request that Social Studies teachers be the contact point person on each team. If other disciplines are interested in showing the broadcast, please see me so we can make sure to honor all parent requests. I have no expectation of whether you decide to show it or not- it’s up to your professional judgment. You may not stream it live due to network issues.

· I do need to know if you are going to show the broadcast and
· I need to know how it is being used in conjunction with your curriculum and standards.

From a Jeffco elementary school:

The media attention has now made showing the Obama speech to students a bit more complicated. The White House stated purpose of the event is to encourage students to take their studies seriously and focus on education. Needless to say, we are getting a lot of calls now that it has hit the news and there are different perspectives on the “political-ness” of the occasion.

Here is our current plan—It can change at any time as I’ve had 4 emails from the district in the last half hour.

We will show the speech in the gym as previously planned but—TIME YET TO BE DETERMINED AS THE DISTRICT WILL NO LONGER ALLOW LIVE STREAMING….

We will show it only in grades 4, 5, and 6.

We will have a letter going home on Friday which will allow parents to “opt out” their student.

Let’s agree to not use the classroom activities since they seem to be driving the concerns.

Parents wanting to keep their child home can, and it will be excused.

I will ask one teacher from each grade level to stay back to supervise those students.

I will figure out some “curriculum related” activity for those students to do—I’d love some help or ideas!!!!!

If you get calls or emails, please give parents the above information as appropriate and let them know we’ll be sending info home tomorrow in Friday Folders. We will also send out a School Messenger telling parents that as well.

And another Jeffco elementary school:

We have received several phone calls and e-mails this morning concerning the planned speech by President Obama next Tuesday to students across the country. We have been advised by our school district that the decision of whether or not to show the speech will be up to individual schools and their classrooms. At Fairmount, we have decided that we will not be broadcasting the speech school-wide but that individual classroom teachers will decide if the speech ties into their classroom curriculum and if they want to show it. The White House has assured us that ‘the intent of the speech is to encourage students to work hard, set educational goals and take responsibility for their learning.’ Any classroom activities related to the speech must be tied to the district’s curriculum.

You can be assured that we will be monitoring the speech closely and if the message moves away from the intent stated above, it will be turned off. If the message does stay on topic, we believe that it is an important message for all of our students to hear. As always, I can promise you that this will not turn into a political conversation or a sharing of political views in any of our classrooms.

Of course, this is just a sampling. But it has been interesting to observe the wide variety of reactions to the news of Obama’s school day address.