Gary is an author, trial lawyer, Mequon-area resident and town of Cedarburg supervisor. He is a columnist for the News Graphic and writes for several Wisconsin area magazines and is a national columnist with The American Thinker and PJ Media. He lives with his wife, Lisa, and has three sons ages 18 to 28. Gary won Ozaukee County in his bid for the Wisconsin Assembly's 60th District in 2011, but came up just 58 votes short.
President Obama’s speech to the nation’s schoolchildren on Tuesday created a firestorm. The speech was not seen by students in the Elmbrook School District, after parents threatened to pull their children out of school if it was shown. Wauwatosa students didn’t see the speech live, but Superintendent Phil Ertl allowed the district to tape the broadcast so teachers could determine if it’s something they want to show in class. Students of parents who didn’t want their children watching the speech were given alternate assignments. Many school districts in Texas, Illinois, Virginia, Wisconsin, Missouri and Minnesota also refused to show the president's address and many parents did not want their children politically indoctrinated.
More locally, Cedarburg School District issued a statement directing that if the activity fell within the board-approved curriculum, the individual teacher had the option of showing the broadcast with prior principal approval. If parents or students did not wish to participate, they were allowed to do exempt themselves without academic penalty. Mequon-Thiensville School District specifically refrained from promoting the speech and Superintendent Dr. Demond Means went even further, allowing teachers to show it only if the teacher could demonstrate a connection to the curriculum but “strongly encouraging teachers notto spend instructional time showing the speech.”
Why all the furor? What could be wrong with the President of America challenging students to work hard, stay in school, set educational goals and take responsibility for their learning? After all, there is historical precedent for presidents speaking to students. President George H. W. Bush did so in 1991 when his speech to students at Alice Deal Junior High School in Washington, D.C. about studying hard and staying away from drugs was broadcast to over 4 million students in 110,000 schools. In 1988, Ronald Reagan addressed and even took questions from students from four area middle schools from the Old Executive Office Building. The speech was broadcast live and later rebroadcast by C-Span and Instructional Television Network to schools nationwide on three different days. Why would parents, teachers, students, and even entire school districts have a problem with President Obama doing the same thing?
The answer itself is political. Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush were openly proud of America and what it stood for. They were not engaged in a clandestine effort to criticize and radically rewrite the America established by our founding fathers. During his address to the students, Ronald Reagan said, “To a degree never before seen in human history, one nation, the United States, has become the model to be followed and imitated by the rest of the world.” He told students that economic freedom, the freedom to work, to create and produce, to own and use property without the interference of the state, was central to the American Revolution. The problem with Obama’s speech for parents and school districts was that many could not imagine our current president saying anything like that.
Washington instructed teachers across the country to ask their students to write letters to themselves about what they could do to help the president. These letters were to be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals. The Administration later backed off of this strange lesson plan, saying that it was intended to be an “inspirational, pro-education message to America’s youths.” Another task for students was to engage in a discussion about what the president wants us to do.” Unlike Reagan and Bush, Sr., this president runs Camp Obamas where young people “receive real world organizing experience.” Naturally, skepticism ran high.
Reagan and Bush didn’t use code words couched in free market parlance to disguise Marxist tendencies and admittedly-redistributionist agendas. There were no You Tube videos depicting elementary school children reciting allegiance not to the country, but to the president, as there are today. There are those who would use the opportunity of Obama’s speech to indoctrinate our youth, and our president knows this.
Some parents are concerned about whether the president follows Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals as his strategy guide for implementing his policies. Compare Tuesday’s recommended lesson plan questions with the "Communication" chapter of Alinsky's book, which says, "He (the Community Organizer) will not ever seem to tell the community what to do: instead, he will use loaded questions." Many parents feel that both Obama and his admitted mentor, Alinsky, mistakenly view democracy's ideal as the achievement of "social justice" rather than – as Bush, Sr. and Reagan did - preserving liberty. The internet is loaded with photographs of early Obama teaching Alinsky's principles of "Power Analysis" and "Relationships built on self-interest" as clearly seen written upon the blackboard in these photos. And while he tries to back away from his radical mentor, the president is on record calling his Alinskyite experience "the best education I ever had." If he really believes that, wouldn’t he be doing himself and the country a disservice if he didn’t try to impart some of that “wisdom and truth” to the youth of Ozaukee County?
Many are surprised at the backlash and attention the speech received, arguing that when the president speaks to students about education, it shouldn't be a tool for the right wing. I would ask those people to consider how they would respond had President George W. Bush ordered teachers to ask students to write letters to themselves about what they can do to help him win the War in Iraq? When Bush, Sr. spoke to students in 1991, it was House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-MO) who said, “The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students. The president should be doing more about education than saying, ‘Lights, camera, action’.” On Tuesday, the shoe was on the other foot.
Despite my clear concerns over the vision our president has for our country, I believe our local school districts acted wisely in not banning the speech, but allowing individual teachers to make the call and giving parents peace of mind in knowing their child could opt out if he or she so desired. A president speaking to American students is a proud and patriotic exercise. The opportunity for our children to hear directly from our President is one which civics classes, if such things still exist, generally encourage. While concern over the event was neither unwarranted nor a figment of parents’ and school districts’ imaginations, it is sad that Tuesday’s civic opportunity devolved into a concern over political indoctrination.