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. Mike, Syracuse, NY

    First of all, Democrats reacted exactly the same way when Reagan and Bush I did the same thing. What's different this time is that the White House sent out lesson plans that implied Obama was enlisting students to help him with his political agenda. This was a self inflicted wound by a President who is clearly in over his head.

    September 6, 2009 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  2. Brian from SC

    It is absolutely ridiculous to think that its political (Red/ Blue/ independent..etc.) to say "Education is the key to success tomorrow".

    The youth and young adults of today are looking for that encouragement. Why not have a prominent and critical public figure in American society, THE PRESIDENT, endorse education.

    People perish for lack of knowledge. The economy and nation could become much worse years and decades from now, if we don't encourage the next and current generations to value education.

    September 6, 2009 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  3. No Hillary = No Obama

    Oh what a tangled web we weave when we first practice to deceive. Get to the children – this is child exploitation.

    September 6, 2009 02:49 pm at 2:49 pm |
  4. Paula

    This is ridiculous! Why change the language, kids and parents are accountable for their schooling. STOP WHINING AMERICANS! Someone else is always responsible if somethign bad happens to you. I am happy that our president who is a great role model is willing to speak to our youth and challenge them. It is good for them to see an adult who is accountable unlike their parents who constantly find someone else to blame for their shortcomings.

    September 6, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  5. Confused

    So i'm confused. We have a President who wants to encourage our children to stay in school and challenge themselves to succeed. And we also have a President who recognizes that not everyone has Health Insurance, and is working to cover them. And lastly, we have a President who has constantly tried to reach across the aisle to the opposition for solutions, and only one (Snowe) has accepted. And we actually have people who are upset with these ideas. Amazing. Republicans really want to live up to their name.

    September 6, 2009 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  6. Sherry Kaufield

    I just can't see the big deal. What if the speech inspires just one kid who would have dropped out to give it another go? It's not like he wants kids to wear uniforms and march around the playground at recess like little obamatons. Imagine what other world leaders must think – the U.S. doesn't want their President to talk to their children!? Good grief.

    September 6, 2009 02:55 pm at 2:55 pm |
  7. George Greenman

    In my honest opinion as an American adult in this great nation ours, this might be one of the saddest days ever. The rhetoric and tone of the nation is at a great divide. This is absolutely ridiculous. God help this nation heal.

    September 6, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  8. Cato

    The Rushniks and the Seanmunists have really gone over the cliff!! No need for anyone to even attempt anything bipartisan, as long as these kooks, who had no problem with Republicans talking to school kids, want to act like children who can't tell the truth from a pothole won't grow up and speak and act rationally!

    September 6, 2009 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  9. Post always rejected by CNN

    What do you expect from republicans, there is not one of them that had sense God gave a billy goat.

    They more they come the stupidier they get. But then the media is bending over backward to give each and every silly time republican the chance to spew their hate.

    Wonder why they won't print anything the democrats say. Guess their masters won't let them. Like rejecting a post when you pan a republican.

    September 6, 2009 03:07 pm at 3:07 pm |
  10. B

    This is no different than John Kennedy’s speech,"Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country".

    If Obama gave a speech with those words, they also would be all over him and- twist it- to something Subversive and Socialist in meaning!

    Most people understand completely what is going on here.

    September 6, 2009 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  11. Chris

    My entire life I've been a moderate independent and avoided partisan politics. Whenever I voted, my ballot has been a blend of candidates from both sides. But what is happening right now with the Conservatives in this country is scaring the hell out of me! Ever since they lost the election they have spiralled out into a whirlwind of hate and fear that constantly feeds and builds upon itself. The Right Wing has lost all sense of perspective and are now downright delusional and dangerous.

    September 6, 2009 03:12 pm at 3:12 pm |
  12. Josie from Canada

    Democrat or not, obama is trying to inspire the children to work hard and stay in school. What's so wrong with that? With the struggles he had to endure growing up without a father, he's an amazing inspiration to the young children that "hardwork is the key to success". You cannot deny his discipline and hard working ethics. So for all parents, you're doing your children more good to have them listen to a man who defied all odds, made no excuses & is the true epitome of the "American Dream"

    September 6, 2009 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  13. Hall for Obama

    All I got to say it is a small person who would keep their child out of school, because The President of the Unit State is giving an address to school students. When did we become so sick and hate fill.

    The world is changing we will never go back to what some call the good old day. They may be good old day to a few but some of those days were pure hell for others. All you people who are still full of hate and still trying to hold the black man down get over your hate you will live longer. God will get you for this.

    September 6, 2009 03:16 pm at 3:16 pm |
  14. SomeCanuck

    These people are idiots.

    September 6, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  15. Brendan H., San Antonio, TX

    Reagan appeared in a classroom and delivered a politically charged speech – twice.

    Bush, Sr. sat in a classroom and told the youngsters to go home and tell their parents to vote for him because he was better that the other guy on education.

    "W" – "My Pet Goat" – Need I say more?!

    Republicans are clear in that they don't want children in school being talked to in an encouraging fashion by "THAT" guy! What's the matter right-wing swifties? Are you afraid that children will take a liking to him and form their own opinion before Rush, Hannity and Beck have a chance to pollute them?!

    Betwenn this and the shout down, mob mentality at the town halls, you're beginning to remind a lot of people of a short, tiny-moutachioed guy in Germany during the 1930's!!! Makes you fell good, doesn't it?! Thugocracy at its best!

    September 6, 2009 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  16. Longhorn who speaks the truth.

    You got to be kidding this is exactly what the Nazi's and Hitler did in Pre-War Germany. Get to the children first and had them telling on their parents calling them traitors.

    September 6, 2009 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  17. catmom

    It seems that some people are afraid that their children might in fact be motivated by the President of the United States. Imagine that their children might actually be impressed with a person who came from a middle class background, that, worked hard in school and graduated with honors, started off his work career as a community organizer, giving back to the community and eventually at a relatively young age became President of the United States. I mean last I heard this was the American dream. Who would have thought that there were some people in this country that wouldn't think this was something that should be shared with all children. Why wouldn't people think that this person wouldn't be welcomed as President of the United States to talk to students and ask for their help in making this country great. Oh, my bad, I guess that would have been okay as long as he wasn't a black male. Heaven forbid should people begin to think that there are intelligent, hard working , confident, strong black men in this country.

    September 6, 2009 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  18. Diane Greer

    It's not silly to keep your kids home in my child's school where some Obama-drooling teachers have his picture on the wall every day and openly campaigned for him at school during the election. Maybe Obama will just talk about working hard in school, but the real indoctrination will come from his devoted followers who teach our children.

    September 6, 2009 03:31 pm at 3:31 pm |
  19. Elizabeth

    As a parent, it is my responsibility to raise my children in a way that leads them to be responsible, productive members of society. Watching a political message from the President of the United States, is not an appropriate activity. A speech on any subject, from the president, is political, he is the president. If it were a speech by Mr. Obama, that would be a different matter, but he is not simply Mr. Obama.

    September 6, 2009 03:33 pm at 3:33 pm |
  20. mk

    I bet the IDIOTS who keep their kids home so they won't hear President Obama would send them to hear W read "my pet goat" or evil Dick talk about how to shoot your friend in the face and then run away, or Rummy talk about how to LIE your way into a war that kills thousands of good young American men and women. I am so DISGUSTED with the GOP, the religious ultra right bigots who wouldn't know Christ if He slapped them in the face.

    September 6, 2009 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  21. Tony from Michigan

    The "outrage" of some people just shows how sad the right wing extremist are!!!

    September 6, 2009 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  22. Highpowered

    Reagan did it, Bush 1 did it, Clinton did it, and hell even during 9/11 Bush 2 was speaking to kids. To the GOP and and others who are "ignorantly" sitting their kids out of school Tuesday. All 4 of the above Presidents have one thing in common. All 4 basically said the same thing to kids. I love when people say minorites use the race card but really......examples like this always make us wonder.
    If people are going to sit kids out of school and send notes to teacher to not let their kids hear the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES--I REPEAT THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES give encouragement to stay in school is ignorant. All 4 of the previous Presidents are worthy (and white) of talking to kids but you need a permission to hear this President (black). Smacks of "separate but equal" and we all know that "separate but equal" is never equal.

    September 6, 2009 03:37 pm at 3:37 pm |
  23. T'SAH from Virginia

    One WACKO-MOM states "Thinking about my kids in school having to listen to that just really upsets me… 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." UNQUOTE!!

    I’m an AMERICAN too and what makes YOU think YOUR VIEWS are better than mine…. But just because YOU say it and the color of your skin does not match MINE, it goes YOUR WAY – is that FAIR!!!

    The far-right White REPUBLI-CAN’Ts cannot speak for all AMERICANS because they do not represent ALL OF THE AMERICANS – but yet they get their way… WHY?????

    September 6, 2009 03:40 pm at 3:40 pm |
  24. Hammerer

    Silly for who? The truth is that a large number of Americans do not trust Obama enough to let him speak to their children and that speaks volumes about their feelings for Obama and his veiws. The media can spin it any way that they want but Obama has lost the respect of the American people and do not trust him.

    September 6, 2009 03:45 pm at 3:45 pm |
  25. Tired of all the nonsense

    The most ridiculous, in a longgg list of ridiculous things the Republicans are complaining about these days.

    God forbid the President encourage children to stay in school and work hard. Very radical! How dare he! The irony is, they have no problem sending their child to a "public" government run school system. Nor do they have a problem voting to force your child to pray to their God in those same government run schools.

    The stupidity of these people knows no bounds!

    September 6, 2009 03:46 pm at 3:46 pm |
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