Obama Speaks to Schoolchildren … Where's the Real Local Control?

Update 5, 9/8: The speech that went off today, and the lesson plans that accompanied it, were a lot less creepy and controversial than the original release. Who knows how much the uproar had an effect on that? Anyway, I commend to you two thoughtful perspectives on the whole episode: by Jay Greene at Education Next and by coolreformchick at Edspresso.

The good news about the President addressing schoolchildren across the nation? At least this time Congress won’t start an inquiry into it.

Update 4, 9/4: I have gathered and posted numerous responses from Colorado teachers and schools to Obama’s address to schoolchildren. Also, my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow explains what he told Denver Post reporter Jeremy Meyer that didn’t end up being quoted in today’s story.

Update 3, 9/3: Westword blogger Michael Roberts noticed me!! I’m glad he likes my sense of humor. I have a 5-year-old kid crush on him now …. Hope he also reads my latest on this topic.

Update 2: Jim Geraghty notes that the Department of Education has reworded the teacher’s guide to make it less offensive. A good idea … you think? Meanwhile, Douglas County School District south of Denver, the state’s third-largest school district, is allowing parents to opt out. Will others follow?

Update: Jim Geraghty of the Campaign Spot blog notes capitalization and grammar errors in the U.S. Department of Education’s teacher guide for the Obama speech to schoolchildren. That instills a lot of confidence!

The heebie-jeebies, that’s what it gives me, I tell you. Sure some of the bigger kids may just think it’s lame, but I’m kind of creeped out by the idea of the President of the United States giving a speech to all the public schoolchildren in America. When? Next Tuesday, September 8, at 10 AM here in Colorado, that’s when it’s supposed to happen, according to the U.S. Department of Education:

The President will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning. 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.

Do I really need President Obama to take time out of my school day to tell me this? What about phonics? Multiplication tables? Science experiments? Learning about our nation’s Founding?

Like I said, it’s a little creepy. The exercises assigned by federal bureaucrats for teachers to lead discussions with elementary school and preschool kids (PDF) (there’s also a lesson plan for middle school and high schoolers) include things that parents rightly may see as stepping over the line:

*What do you think the President wants us to do?

*Does the speech make you want to do anything?

*Are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us?

At the very least, what the President and the Department of Education is trying to do looks bad. Some students and parents will feel uncomfortable participating in this unprecedented activity — maybe that makes September 8 a good time to observe those swine flu warnings and stay home.

What about teachers who have a problem with this? Or principals who get a lot of complaints from parents? Can they opt out? We’d love to hear from public school employees — especially in Colorado — who can tell us how this event is being promoted and addressed, and how they plan to respond. Please leave a comment below or send an email to teacher -at- i2i.org.

Finally, when the President is beaming in messages to every public school in the country, what does this say about the oft-quoted doctrine of “local control”? As my friends in the Education Policy Center are fond of reminding me, the best local control is parental choice.

But honestly, it’s just plain a bad idea to mix adult politics with kids’ education in this way. The picture of the sign I posted above may be a little tongue-in-cheek, but given the history with this President it’s hard to see September 8 in any other light.