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Monday, September 7, 2009

18 Minutes of Presidential Message

A Historic Speech?

On September 8, in what the Department of Education is touting as a "historic" speech, President Obama will be talking directly to students across the U.S., live on the White House website.

The Department of Education is using the President's address to kick off a video contest titled, "I Am What I Learn," in which students are invited to submit videos of up to two minutes on the importance of education in achieving their dreams. (Joshua Rhett Miller,, September 2 2009)

"The goal of the speech and the lesson plans is to challenge students to work hard in school, to not drop out and to meet short-term goals like behaving in class, doing their homework and goals that parents and teachers alike can agree are noble," a White House spokesman tells ABC News, "This isn't a policy speech. This is a speech designed to encourage kids to stay in school." (, September 3 2009)

Showing the speech in schools is not mandatory, and some schools have already opted not to show the brief 18-minute speech. The Obama administration is releasing an advance copy of the address Monday. After that, it will be up to the parents and schools to determine how many students will hear it.

Arne Duncan, the secretary of education said Sunday on CBS's "Face the Nation" assured viewers that the President's message is not political. "The whole message is about personal responsibility and challenging students to take their education very, very seriously," he said. The White House assures Obama's speech will not be partisan but rather a chance for children to get "a little encouragement as they start the school year."

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, on Friday defended Obama's plan to address students. In proper context, former Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush also delivered similar speeches to students. No firestorm of opposition was ignited because of these addresses. At the time, Newt Gingrich then a congressman of Georgia, asked, “Why is it political for the President of the United States to discuss education?” (David Carr, New York Times, September 6 2009) In his address, among other things, Reagan called taxes "such a penalty on people that there's no incentive for them to prosper ... because they have to give so much to the government." (Alan Silverleib, CNN, September 5 2009) Paranoia Strikes Deep Once blood was drawn in the Obama health care debate, there were online and offline tools for tracking and feasting on weakness on multiple platforms. A conveyor belt of outrage developed (New York Times, September 6) With little coverage at first, the plans for the speech met little opposition. The outrage over other policies seems to have spilled over into the President's speech to students. Enter the media. The consumer Web took hold, Fox News, MSNBC, and a media ecosystem blossomed that amplified every debate into a frantic broadcast scrum. Conservatives, it should be noted, seem far better at the rather unwelcome task of being the party of opposition, with a very efficient apparatus that can seize on issues, both real and imagined, and turn up the volume and the heat right with it. (During the school speech furor, a commentator on Rush Limbaugh's radio show said the President was building a cult of personality analogous to Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-il.) This tendency toward rage can become almost reflexive, so something as seemingly innocuous as telling kids to stay in school soon becomes an attempt at indoctrination akin to Chinese labor camps. Many blame the firestorm surround the speech on White House lesson plan suggesting that students write a letter about how they could "help the President." (Vija Udenans, ABC News, September 7 2009) Meanwhile, Patti Kinney, a former teacher and middle school principal with 33 years of teaching experience, said she found nothing wrong with the lesson plans. "They're designed as a menu, so it doesn't mean you have to do everything," said Kinney, associate director for middle level services at the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Kinney continues, "You have to pick and choose which will work best for your class." Much of the paranoid fantasy is what's really behind the "birther" movement and the allegations that the president is -- take your pick -- a secret Marxist or a secret Muslim. It's the kind of fanciful anxiety that produces comments like this, posted on a conservative website this week: "Barack Obama and his left-wing Chicago machine regime are putting into place laws and institutions which will insure that there will never again be free elections in America." (Timonty Rutten, Los Angeles Times, September 5 2009) Censorship In Book Form In the United States, many books have been challenged by a variety of groups and agencies in order to prevent a particular work from being read by the general public. Since 1990, these titles are among the most-challenged books in America. ( "The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990-2000," American Library Association, Retrieved July 4 2007) I am proud to say I taught at least nine of these books during my high school English teaching career. 1.The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain 2. The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton 3. The Chocolate War, Robert Cormier 4. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley 5. The Catcher In the Rye, J.D. Salinger 6. Goosebumps (series), R.L. Stine 7. Flowers for Algernon, Daniel Keyes 8. Native Son, Richard Wright 9. The Pigman, Paul Zindel 10. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou 11. Lord of the Flies, William Golding 12. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck 13. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee 14. Kaffir Boy, Mark Mathabane
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