We’ve become accustomed to the Orwellian from the Obama administration. The “Employee Free Choice Act” takes away the secret ballot, the “economic stimulus” created no jobs, and healthcare “reform” will impose rationing of care, especially for the elderly.
But the White House announcement that President Obama will give a speech to schoolchildren next Tuesday (and the Department of Education’s plan to ensure children “learn” from it) goes beyond Orwellian: it’s practically Soviet.
Fortunately for the children of this nation, American parents like to have some say in what their children are being taught. The same spirit — and some of the same people — that prompted the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition to protest the president’s stimulus plan has launched HallPassonThat.com, a website to centralize a counter-movement to the president’s speech.
It all started when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent a letter dated August 26 to “encourage” school principles nationwide to sit their students down in front of Obama’s speech, which will be broadcast from a high school in Arlington, Va. at noon eastern on September 8. A packet of suggested “classroom activities” accompanied the letter, divided into two helpful resources separated by grades.
Children from kindergarten through sixth grade, suggests the Department of Education, could write down points from the speech in which the president is asking them to do something. After the speech, teachers are encouraged to ask students, “What do you think the president wants us to do?”
Older kids — in grades 7-12 — are the subject of a more elaborate lesson plan. Teachers could post quotes from other Obama speeches on education and ask students to discuss, based on those excerpts, what Obama believes they need to do to be successful in education.
After the speech, the 7-12th graders are supposed to be asked questions such as, “What resonated with you in President Obama’s speech? And, “Is the president inspiring you to do anything?”
Conservative writers started spreading the word and in media outlets from Texas to Wisconsin, reports spread that concerned parents were flooding local schools with calls, forcing their districts to scramble for a response. By the evening of September 2, a White House spokesman announced the revision of the “inartfully worded” material and called the uproar an “honest misunderstanding.”
The misunderstanding has nothing to do with words, according to Dana Loesch, spokeswoman for the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition and one of the first parents to sound the alarm on her blog. “The crux of this argument is parental rights,” Loesch said. “We have an educational hierarchy in place to vet this stuff: a school board that has been voted on by parents, a school district [that] parents pay into with their tax dollars.” Loesch pointed out that the Department of Education essentially “leap-frogged” over the system by sending the materials to principals.
Missouri’s Lieutenant Governor Peter Kinder called it “government intervention” in a statement released September 3. The statement said, “The distribution of teaching curricula from the White House to the classroom clearly usurps the authority of our local school boards and school administrators.”
What Obama says during the speech itself matters less than the fact that — in earlier speeches as well as this one — the Obama administration is targeting school students to listen and learn political lessons.
“There’s a huge emphasis here on submission to the government,” Loesch said of the lesson plans, which were produced by the White House Teaching Ambassador Fellows. “There’s absolutely no focus whatsoever on how the government actually is elected to serve the people. I find it incredibly ironic that this administration is actually bypassing the rules in order to give a presentation to kids to tell them how to follow the rules.”
HallPassonThat.com is an attempt to raise awareness through links, resources and news about alternatives provided by various school districts, according to Loesch. “We want parents to be aware that they have choices,” she said. They recommend that parents secure a “hall pass” for their children to opt-out of the presentation, rather than pulling their children out of school for the day.
The opt-out option is something both conservatives and liberal parents should want, Loesch said. Concern, in this case, is nonpartisan.
By way of contrast, in 1991 when George Bush Sr. addressed junior and high school students in a similar live broadcast, Democrats in the House protested loudly. "The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students," House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt said at the time.
The White House hopes that schools will gather “special assemblies” to watch the speech on September 8, and has even recruited NASCAR drivers to advertise the speech in a PSA available on the White House website. Just in case principals and teachers don’t fall into line with the government plan, perhaps they can convince the children themselves. The president’s PSA, in which he uses himself as a good example for the importance of education, could provide inspiration in the “I Am What I Learn” video contest, which will be narrowed down by the general public on You Tube, and then judged by a panel that includes the Secretary of Education. Entries should explain “why education is important and how their education will help them achieve their dreams,” according to the lesson plans.
Unfortunately for the president, the contest is only open to students aged 13 through twelfth grade. Otherwise Obama would be a shoo-in as winner.