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. foxglove

    The GOP will go to any length to try to destroy the many good this President Obama is attempting. Why in God's name you would not want to hear him say stay in school and study hard. Is this not sound advice. What plant are these people living on. That is pure sound advice from a Democrat or Republican.

    Thier action are absolutely un-American.

    Baltimore, MD

    September 6, 2009 02:06 pm at 2:06 pm |
  2. stormerF

    It may be silly,but what it really boils down to is,a lot of people do not trust Obama. He has promised and lied so much,it is easy to see why people do not trust his judgement.
    Just look at who he has surrounded himself with,And whom the Stimulis program has helped? The very rich or the very poor.

    September 6, 2009 02:07 pm at 2:07 pm |
  3. Mike

    To keep your kids home is just plain 'stupid'. And for the parents 'not' to participate in the talk and discussion is also 'stupid'. President Barack Obama just wants the best for his daughters and 'your children', and your next door neighbors children. This man, our president, is one of the best 'role models' for being a father and parent, that have seen in a long time. He just wants the best for your children. Then its up to you.., the parent. Mike in Montana

    September 6, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  4. Ken Glenn

    Why don't the people who have an objection to a president telling our kids to work hard and stay in school just "man up" and say the real issue is our country having an African-American President. Stop hiding behind everything that he proposes and just say what the real issue is.

    September 6, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  5. mike

    Will the White House lesson plans be posted as well?

    September 6, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  6. kevin


    "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."

    Ah, another thinly veiled attempt to question Obama's birthplace obviously. By saying that she and her kids are Americans she's pretty much implying that she doesn't think Obama is.

    I don't see whats so scary about a school speech. After all, many many other presidents have done it.

    It'd be nice to see the Republicans start being a bit more constructive rather then just being roadblocks, speed bumps, and obstructionists at every chance they can get. If all they can do is delay, then what alternative really are they promoting?

    September 6, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  7. g

    this is stupid so much hate in usa these people would have no problem with president of nra talking to there kids the us is so done

    September 6, 2009 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  8. Glen Shouse Jr., Georgetown, Illinois

    I think the actions of anyone to keep their child from school for a whole day to avoid 18 minutes of encouragement from the President is rediculous. To deny your child any words of encouragement to me is neglectful of that child. I never fault a parent for being concerned for their child and what they might be exposed to, so I encourage them to review the posting by the White House of what will be said before making a final decision instead of using politics as a deciding factor in your judgment. Let's start thinking for ourselves.

    September 6, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  9. AThomas

    Parents that oppose students viewing the President's speech at school are being irresponsible and naive. Our kids smarter than we give them credit for. I think those parents are more afraid that their kids will see the hypocrisy and bigotry being displayed in their own homes. Get real parents! Where are these parents on "Back to School Night" and at PTA meetings? Do you even know what your kids are learning in the classroom everyday? Probably not which is why there is a 30% drop out rate in this country. Who better to talk about education than the President–where was the outrage when former Presidents were speaking to school children?

    September 6, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  10. Dorothy

    Conservatives are out of their minds!!! School children should be honored that the President of the United States thinks it's important to talk to them and encourage good education and doing your best. How closed minded and fearful are these folks???

    September 6, 2009 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  11. Ken

    How far are the wingnuts going to take this? Trying to sabotage Obama's presidency with the pretext of protecting their values. I would think if this parents were smart, they would actually let their kids watch the speech then later on at the dinner table in the evening discuss it with their kids then anything that does not align with their values, set that straight. It's foolish for some parents to try and brainwash their kids instead of letting the kids grow up to be indepedent thinking adults.

    September 6, 2009 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  12. 60's survivor

    Silly is definately not the word...Bigotry is what is the truth of the matter. and everybody is to afraid to say so!! it is obvious...

    September 6, 2009 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  13. mike

    Just don't play that creepy 'Pledge to obama' video. That was really weird.

    September 6, 2009 02:25 pm at 2:25 pm |
  14. Jennifer Shambach

    I think that the Republicans are trying to hide their kids, they want their kids to live in the same bubble that they live in. They are afraid that their kids are actually going to like Obama. We are the future of this country and education should be one of the top priorities. It is not sufficient now and some of these kids need to know that there are people out there that want them to succeed. I don't know why anyone would not want their kids to listen to proof that they really can become anything that they want to be. I think this is a great idea, and he needs to inspire these kids to be everything that they can be.

    September 6, 2009 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  15. Johnny Neptune

    It doesn't matter anyway. The kids that need to hear Obama's speech will be in the classroom and they'll benefit from it. For the parents that will keep their children out of the classroom on Tuesday, it's not meant for their ears.

    September 6, 2009 02:31 pm at 2:31 pm |
  16. Mike in MN

    I would not have a problem if the initial version of the plan did not ask students to draft letters about what they can do to help the president.
    If it was just a talk from the president to do their best, encourage them to be whatever they want to be and such, that would have been excellent.
    But the 'what can I do to help the president' is just creepy. Makes me wonder what he was going to talk about. What is a student going to write about? Helping Obama advance his political agendas? Help the president raise campaign money? Join Americore? What? I don't get it.
    If it was a letter on how the student could help themselves, or their school or community or country, that would have been different. But when it is about Obama, it is just plain creepy and raises doubts about his intent and judgment.

    September 6, 2009 02:32 pm at 2:32 pm |
  17. Steve, Columbia SC

    Well, Mr Duncan, the czar of youth indoctrination. I am my children's parent, and I have the God-given right to keep my children from listening to ANYONE I do not trust.

    What you are experiencing in the angry response from parents across the nation is people rising up and taking back the control of our children that our public education system took decades ago.

    I just don't trust our president's motives. Do you understand?

    September 6, 2009 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  18. TJ

    What is silly is the Secretary of Education feeling it is his place to tell parents what they ought or ought not to be doing with their kids. The Secretary should know what his boundaries are

    September 6, 2009 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  19. smiff

    Silliness is one word these idealogues need not toss out at the voters. Silly is when you run headlong into an election thinking that the majority of people in this country worship you and your ideas. People that this man has surrounded himself with and "come up" under should be considered as his proper influences. Who would let their kids go see a play with peewee Herman? WHY NOT? EVERYBODY CHANGES RIGHT? Pied pipers do so for advantage as its their nature to fit in the current environment and get what the deem they are due. The ideas of spreading wealth means some kid in class will ultimately be punished more than others for success. Why be successful and push to be better if the end result is only going as far as the government will permit. Who can say that the social justice agenda motivates anyone to excel? After all (out of his own mouth) things oughtta be spread even for all. THATS MOTIVATION NO ONE BELIEVES IN!!! YES HE WILL TOO!!!

    September 6, 2009 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  20. Peace

    It is totally silly I agree. If the students can not listen to their President, whom should they listen to as the leader of their country?
    The whole world is laughing at this sillyness!

    September 6, 2009 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  21. carlos, that one

    let the smart kids get better than the ignorant parents they have

    September 6, 2009 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  22. Mahmoud El-Darwish

    I suspect I know which particular faction of the Republican party is so vehemently opposed to the President's little pep-talk to school children. Is it the community of 'evangelical Christian' Republicans– that would prefer that their kids listened to George W. Bush reading "My Pet Goat" while our Nation was under siege? Last week I asked a 17 year old sales person at a hardware store to gauge the thickness of something for me and report it to me over the telephone. "Is it about 1/8", 1/4" or 1/2" thick" I asked? There was silence on the other end of the line. "How am I supposed to know"? was the answer!

    September 6, 2009 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  23. Ken

    The media has really blown it on this to the point they look ignorant. Everyone I've talked to (and I've talked to a lot) have told me "All Presidents" should talk to our kids.
    The only group I have any problem with right now are the Churches. A Pastor prayed for the President to die? These people need to take a long look at theirselve's. I stopped going to church because of this kind of behavior, and probably will never go again.
    For all the complaining they do about the President talking to our kids, I'm not about to send my kids to Sunday School only to be indoctrinated on the finer points of praying for a fellow Countyman to die. Talk about filling a kids head with garbage. Geeeeeeeezzzzz.

    September 6, 2009 02:38 pm at 2:38 pm |
  24. Vic Richards

    I wish these haters would back off and let the President do his JOB.

    September 6, 2009 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  25. Jim

    The party of WAAAHHH strikes again. I'm so sick and tired of these Republican cry babies.

    September 6, 2009 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
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