September 6th, 2009
04:24 PM ET
6 years ago

Duncan: 'Silly' to keep kids home to avoid Obama speech


Education Secretary Arne Duncan, pictured here in a February file photo during a visit to a D.C. charter school with the first couple, said Sunday it would be 'silly' for parents to keep their kids home from school on Tuesday when the president is set to address the nation's schoolchildren.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images/File)

(CNN) - Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Sunday that parents threatening to keep their children home Tuesday to avoid President Barack Obama's planned nationwide speech to school students were being "silly."

Appearing on the CBS program "Face the Nation," Duncan said the 18-minute speech would be posted Monday on the White House Web site so people can read it before its scheduled Internet broadcast to schoolchildren on Tuesday.

Duncan emphasized it is up to school officials whether to include the speech in the day's activities, and that the message of the speech was to encourage children to finish school.

"That's just silly," he said of anyone planning to have their kids stay home because of the speech. "They can go to school. They can not watch."

The speech is about "the president challenging young people," Duncan said in response to protests by conservatives that it would be used to force the president's political agenda on students.

Last week, conservative parents and some Republicans reacted harshly to news of the speech.

"Thinking about my kids in school having to listen to that just really upsets me," suburban Colorado mother Shanneen Barron told CNN Denver affiliate KMGH. "I'm an American. They are Americans, and I don't feel that's OK. I feel very scared to be in this country with our leadership right now."

Some school administrators have decided to show the president's speech, while others will not.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a possible contender for the GOP's 2012 presidential nomination, said Sunday that Obama's speech would disrupt an already-hectic first day of school for many students.

"I think there's concerns about the disruption," he said on CNN's "State of the Union," calling the scheduling of the speech a "little ham-fisted" by the White House. "There is also concerns about is this going to be done in an appropriate manner. I trust and hope that the White House will have a content that is not political and they're not using the public school infrastructure for that purpose."

Duncan, however, noted Obama's speech is not unprecedented. President George H.W. Bush delivered a nationally televised speech to students from a Washington D.C., school in the fall of 1991, encouraging them to say no to drugs and work hard.

Some of the controversy involved a proposed lesson plan created by the Education Department to accompany the address. An initial version of the plan recommended that students draft letters to themselves discussing "what they can do to help the president."

The letters "would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals," the plan stated.

After pressure from conservatives, the White House distributed a revised version encouraging students to write letters about how they can "achieve their short-term and long-term education goals."

Duncan said Sunday that the passage was poorly worded.

At least one conservative backed the idea for a presidential speech to students.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told "FOX News Sunday" that Obama's speech is a good idea if the message is a positive one about completing school. Gingrich said people would be able to see for themselves by reading it on the White House Web site on Monday.

"If that's what it is, then it is good to have the president of the United States say to young people across America, 'Stay in school, study, and do your homework,'" Gingrich said.

–CNN's Rebecca Sinderbrand contributed to this story.

Updated: 4:24 p.m.

Filed under: Education • Popular Posts • President Obama
soundoff (102 Responses)
  1. Jon

    These repuglicans are just plain crazy.


    Besides, most of them spell it as SPEACH, not speech. That's a sure sign of their intelligence.

    September 6, 2009 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  2. Mike

    not like kids today pay attention to anything other than their text messaging anyway...

    September 6, 2009 01:34 pm at 1:34 pm |
  3. Kent in CA

    When parents decide to play politics with their children's future, they are teaching their children a new kind of tyranny. Isolating children from diverse inputs, as a result of rampant hatred and fear is precisely how the Nazi party took control of the impressionable minds of a generation.
    The correct appproach is to send your child to school so that your child can gather diverse inputs. Then, sit down with your sons and daughters and discuss it calmly and free of fiery passion.
    When a child learns that it is ok to close his mind, then he is at the highst risk of tyrannical manipulation, and he will never be free.

    September 6, 2009 01:36 pm at 1:36 pm |
  4. Kevin in Ohio

    It is not "silly" to protect our children from indoctrination. The materials associated with this seemingly innocent speech were carefully crafted by left-wing idealogues, intent on having children "pledge allegiance" to the almighty Obama.

    September 6, 2009 01:39 pm at 1:39 pm |
  5. Tom

    What a hoot! You really are lacking a life if you think the purpose of Obama speaking to our children is a political ploy. Oh no!!! There might be subliminal voices being spoken to our children at the same time saying "eat your wheaties and vote democrate". I think the fact that we'll have a President that can actually speak the English language will help our children. Oh I'm sure the republican racist would reather have that well spoken cowboy idiot Bush do the talking. Get a life objectionist republicans...continue to honor the likes of Glenn Beck, Hannity, Coulter and lets not forget that fine outstanding example of a pumpkinhead Rush!!!

    September 6, 2009 01:40 pm at 1:40 pm |
  6. Is it 2010 yet?

    He can speak at schools, no problem, HE HAS A GREAT STORY, but the LESSON plan was the issue and are you SHEEP aware that the Democrats (Gephart and company) hammered Bush senior when he spoke to the classes in 1991 (WITH NO LESSON PLAN involved) or does that not matter to you sheep?

    Bleat away fools.

    September 6, 2009 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  7. horace

    this is the so silly the mother insisted that she is an american so are her kids as if the president is not an american so they don't have to listen to him an 18 mins speech WOW! they are using this situation to undermine the president I did not like bush but I had no problem with him speaking to the kids in school.

    September 6, 2009 01:47 pm at 1:47 pm |
  8. Jenn, Philadelphia

    This is another example of this President's inexperience and, perhaps, evidence of why he should have spent more than 2 years in the Senate before thinking he was ready. His ideas may be good, but his delivery stinks. Politics is a contact sport and this Administration keeps getting bloodied.

    September 6, 2009 01:48 pm at 1:48 pm |
  9. J. Al Randall

    Those denigrating a speech by the President encourageing staying in school, getting an education and working hard need to get out of the sandbox and grow up! Do they really support the continuing dumbing and lazying of America?

    September 6, 2009 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  10. Coherent1

    Duncan, it's not silly. It's foolish. We all know that the loud conservatives have created a false-focus because they know how to roil up their base. If there were deep troubles with the president's decision to speak to the children, why add falsities to your stance? Answer: because there is certain mindset in America that rather hear a lie than the truth; it's the birther mentality, live and well. But unfortunately, it has to happen this way. There has to be a clear distinct opposition so they won't be able to hide within the Independent Party like the Dixiecrats did within the Republican Party. They can't help themselves to this foolish behavior. They really think they're standing up for what's right. Oh well.

    September 6, 2009 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  11. Connie, Indiana

    Silly season. For god sake don't encourage our youth, why do that? Isn't that the problem now, that there is practically no one encouraging the kids...I think this is nit-picking to advoid the issues that this country is facing...forget the economy, the health care that this country is solely lacking, but lets jump on the "band wagon" about the President talking to young people about accountability for their education..

    September 6, 2009 01:52 pm at 1:52 pm |
  12. Mickey, New York

    But Repubs/Conservs ARE silly, silly!

    September 6, 2009 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  13. Palin 2012 - 2014 1/2

    I don't care if they keep their kids home for a year!! They are already brainwashed, anyway!

    September 6, 2009 01:53 pm at 1:53 pm |
  14. Nunya

    Morons breeding and raising more morons.

    If their kids don't learn any more in school than they apparently did, then they have nothing to worry about anyway...

    September 6, 2009 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  15. Pepou

    Right wingers are like ostriches. Hide your head in the sand ... Pitiful. And I pity their children too !

    September 6, 2009 01:54 pm at 1:54 pm |
  16. PALIN/BACHMANN 2012!!!

    Parents shouldnt just keep their kids home the day of Obamas speech they should keep them home every day! Public schools are socialism!!!!

    September 6, 2009 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  17. rachel

    Well kids who parents disagree with the president no matter how silly it is shouldnt be forced to watch, but Duncan is right they don't have be kept out of school they can be sent to study hall or something, although I am not sure when listening to presidental speech became part of the reading writing and arthemtic requirements of school.

    September 6, 2009 01:55 pm at 1:55 pm |
  18. Ed Maurice

    It's one thing to want to shield your children from bad influence or from inappropriate content or behaviors. It is entirely another to want to shield your children from the President of the United States, a man elected to office by Americans, and the embodiment of the nation's patriotism and, now, equality. Shame on any parents who are considering keeping their children home from school just to keep them from seeing a 20 minute speech by President Obama.

    September 6, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  19. RR

    Whoever the Obama cheerleader who proposed children write letters saying how they can "help President Obama," or that they write about how "President Obama inspired them," needs to be locked back up in the White House's political wing.

    There was NO need for a lesson plan to be sent out. If they had left the lesson plan off, there would be no more controversy than when Reagan or GHW Bush gave speeches to schools, and liberals complained.

    September 6, 2009 01:56 pm at 1:56 pm |
  20. FL

    I'm conservative, but my son will go to school and if they play the speech, he will watch it. I'll read it online and we will discuss it at home if his school does opt to show it. No big deal, as long as they keep politics out of the speech as they say they will.

    September 6, 2009 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  21. Reagan was wrong

    I give up.

    Last fall I thought there was hope, but now I realize there is none. Half the country is hopelessly trapped in a haze of Glenn Beck-fueled paranoia, and the leaders of the other half, for some reason, are eager to capitulate to the lunatic half.

    It really is all hopeless. The ugliest byproducts of capitalism have become too entrenched, and the citizenry has become too bloated and complacent. I used to think Obama could pull us back from the edge, but now I'm not so sure.

    September 6, 2009 02:00 pm at 2:00 pm |
  22. Gohi

    I encourage every single democrate and all grassroot movement for Obama to watch the schools that planning to prevent our children to watch and listen to President' speech. If that hapens, let's take our kids from those schools send them somewhere else. Let's show to those crazy that we are crazy as well. Enough is enough. Let's get in action now. Nobody in this world has the monopole of violence. They shoudn't push into that.

    September 6, 2009 02:03 pm at 2:03 pm |
  23. Denna

    Of course it is silly to keep the kids out of school because of the President's speech. Why is it that former presidents Bush and Reagan can talk to the kids, but not President Obama. Hello you conservative sheep! He only wants kids to succeed. The conservative stance is almost as communistic as they claim President Obama' s speech would be socialistic.

    Ironically, if President Obama had said that this speech was only for minority stuents, i.e. black and hispanic students, the conservatives would have been livid. They would have demanded that this speech be presented to all schools or none. Maybe that's the approach that President Obama should have taken. That way, all of the children would have benefited

    September 6, 2009 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  24. Observant

    Our government should focus on keeping its promise to the American people. As of today's date tht hasn't happen. We listened to the candidates campaign promises and look where it got us...NOWHERE..Deep debt, high unemployment, need I go on.

    I will be signing the letter to place my child in an alternate class, not because it's Obama's speech, I would do the sae if it was Bush's speech. I don't want anyone dictating their political views to my child. I am an independent and am hoping that my child can view all material and make her own decisions when he/she reaches the age in which he/she becomes aware of the politlical climate in American.

    Obama, get to work on creating jobs and let us parents inform our own children.

    September 6, 2009 02:04 pm at 2:04 pm |
  25. Angela in Denver

    I am fed up with these Republicans. I have personally had enough and don't see good in any of them.

    September 6, 2009 02:05 pm at 2:05 pm |
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