September 7th, 2009
10:17 AM ET
12 years ago

WH set to release text of controversial Obama school speech

WASHINGTON (CNN) - The White House is set to release Monday the text of a controversial back-to-school speech to students from President Barack Obama that has angered some conservative parents and pundits.

The text of the 18-minute speech will be posted on the White House Web site so people can read it before its scheduled Internet broadcast to schoolchildren on Tuesday.

Some conservatives has expressed a fear that Obama is going to use the opportunity to press a partisan political agenda.

"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."

On Sunday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said parents that are threatening to keep their children home Tuesday to avoid Obama's speech were being "silly."

Appearing on the CBS program "Face the Nation," 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 is simply 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 asserted.

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 (are) 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.

In November 1988, President Ronald Reagan delivered more politically charged remarks that were made available to students nationwide. 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."

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.

"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


Filed under: President Obama
soundoff (96 Responses)
  1. kyle

    I can't wait to see/hear this speech. Someone or some people will end up looking really foolish, I can't wait to find out who...

    September 7, 2009 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  2. Zion

    The Republicans should reflect...these are the sorts of people that we are attracting to our party.

    September 7, 2009 10:24 am at 10:24 am |
  3. Wise Latina

    Fortunately the text of this intended propaganda indoctrination speech to our youth has been rewritten due to the spotlight shown on it by concerned Americans who knew what was coming. Thankfully, it will be innocuous now...

    September 7, 2009 10:25 am at 10:25 am |
  4. A Tarheel for Education

    The Repubilcans are at it again! They're using scare tactics to turn a totally positive message promoting education by encouraging students to stay in school into something negative. It's so wrong and it's ignorant! These people should at least know what the message is about before objecting to it. Maybe they're drop-outs!

    September 7, 2009 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  5. ram

    I think parents who do not want their kids to hear this speech are simply ignorant and possibly racists. I'm making doubly sure that my kid goes to school and hears the speech. If a kid cannot hear his own President's speech, I don't know what kind of free country this is.

    September 7, 2009 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  6. SUNSHINE

    It's not "silly" it's BIGOTRY and nothing else. And for the mother in Colorado, she scares me!

    September 7, 2009 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  7. stan

    hemorrhaging voters; their party ID is in the toilet. That is their problem, the numbers game in general is stacked against them now with deomgraphic changes.

    They have no chance of winning, no matter what the angry white south wants UNLESS they win new voters.

    The Gop is desperate. This is what desperation looks like, folks. They have decided not to go with the "expand the party, include more people" but rather to run with the "purist" tack – this is why we are seeing the nonsense we are seeing, with the lies and the death panels, and the misinformation.

    Sure, there will be those in various industries that will help them (cough, FOX news, United Health, etc.) But in the end this tack is going to end them.

    Mark these words.

    September 7, 2009 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  8. RR

    it's not the speech that was controversial; it was the original pro-Obama lesson plan: "how can you help President Obama," "How did the President inspire you?"

    Criticizing presidents for speaking to school children is nothing new. It happened to Reagan and GHW Bush, but the original Obama lesson plan was obviously political.

    September 7, 2009 10:41 am at 10:41 am |
  9. Angela

    OMG!!! When are people going to grow up and act like adults in this country?!?!? I am beginning to think that the children are more mature than half of the country!!

    September 7, 2009 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  10. Learn how to 'think'

    I find it absolutely mind-blowing that so many people in this country are SO STUPID that they believe they need to be afraid about the President talking to their children, or that the President's speech needs to be pre-viewed.
    The President's speech is a non-issue. The REAL problem here is that hateful, conservative talk show hosts are using scare tactics to agitate easily-manipulated lemmings who cannot think for themselves. They know their listeners are tools and they are trying to whoop them up into such a frenzy by use of hate propaganda to the point that there will be an assassination attempt. These hate mongers are the people that need to be scrutinized– not the President.
    If only the masses were intelligent enough to connect the dots !

    September 7, 2009 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  11. the dude

    the people, republicans and conservatives who are against this speech are just making harder for those republicans who are working towards their parties agenda–this speech is going to come out–it is going to be exactly what it should be–a meaningful speech to encourage children as they head back to school–as education is a major issue in this country, etc. It won't have a partisan agenda–it won't be socialist, marxist, "North Korean and Saddam Hussienish," etc., etc.

    And once again...the folks who are looking for anything they can against the president will have made complete fools of themselves...hurting their cause...which is obvioulsy a good thing at this point–some conservatives have taken the road of extremism....

    September 7, 2009 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  12. 'RUB' THE CLOWN

    Stunningly UN-AMERICAN. Two things: 1.) we have one president at a time, duly elected by the American people to represent the American people and 2.) Since when did the message of "staying in school" and "getting an education to get ahead in life" become controversial? Other countries are running rings around us on education – this is a national priority for ALL Americans.

    September 7, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  13. ramona

    Why are people so afraid of "getting along" with each other, supporting each other and believing in themselves and each other. Could we PLEASE stop trying to scare each other into believing that change is bad, and different is scary, and that working with each other for the good of each other and not just for "our own little world" is a bad and, dare I say, a horrible "socialist" (there is said it) idea.

    September 7, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  14. John H

    Remarks such as those made by the moronic suburban Colorado mom are just indicative of how stupid and politically brainwashed many Americans have become.

    September 7, 2009 10:48 am at 10:48 am |
  15. Bayousara

    President Obama is a decent and good man. I don't think it would occur to him to poison our school kids with political propaganda.

    Of course not everyone agrees with me.

    As a retired teacher, I would not allow political propaganda in my classroom. Teachers do have some leeway about subject matter.

    Let your kids grow up, folks! Are you going to sit in the university lecture hall holding their hands to be sure they don't hear or see something you don't approve of?

    Good luck

    September 7, 2009 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  16. Flipper

    If Obama would have released the transcript a week ago instead of sneaking it in a day before (during a holiday), then he could have avoided all of this suspicion. For someone who every Dem considers to be brilliant, Obama sure does a lot of dumb things.

    September 7, 2009 10:51 am at 10:51 am |
  17. someone

    Incoming comments that claims that Obama is trying to make the school students socialist or that they are trying to have more Democrats/Communists/Socialists. GOP, GET OVER IT. YOU LOST.

    I guess it was okay for Bush to read a book to little children when 9/11 happened, or when G.H.W. made a speech to students when he was president. Oh wait, in your mind, it is because they are Republicans.

    I guess Obama trying to make a speech that talks about taking responsibility for your success in school is socialist. Then again, the GOPs are really acting like children(hell, all of Congress is). Thanks to them, we got a whole lot of people calling the President a communist, socialist, terrorist, arab, compared him to Hitler, and sent him death threats. I can't wait for 2010, when most of the childish and Pelosi gets kicked out(Snowe should have been the first female Speaker of the House, oh wait, she is a Senator).

    Needless to say, the people acting like this, I have to say that I am NOT proud to be an American, since these racists always attack Obama and not give any advice, except resign.

    September 7, 2009 10:53 am at 10:53 am |
  18. katiec

    "It is better to be thought a fool than speak out and remove all doubts".
    The republicans and those who support their ridiculous stance have proven without a doubt what fools they are.
    What an honor for our president to speak to our students.
    Who better could stress the importantce of hard work, studying,
    setting goals??
    Who better to let school children know that any ambition is obtainable??
    Who better to prove that staying in school, taking education seriously has it's merits??
    Just when one thinks the republicans cannot stoop any lower they prove one wrong. More and more people are realizing what a hypocritical, irresponsible, dishonorable party they are.

    September 7, 2009 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  19. Badger

    This is crazy! He is the POTUS for crying out loud. If/when another neo-con gets the office and wants to make a speech to the children, I'll remember this and keep my kids home to protect them from facists.

    September 7, 2009 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  20. I am Newt's ex wife

    I pray that Obama's speech is nothing but encouragement for our children.

    The Conservative thugs who saw no wrong with Reagan and Bush now try to hijack a SIMPLE way to communicate to our children.

    How much longer do we have to put up with the "sky is falling" approach by Glenn Beck, Rush Limebaugh, and Sean Hannity? Do these people have no shame? NOOOOO they don't , it is all about ratings.

    The right wing nut jobs that lost the election less than a year ago are just in an all-out war to try and ruin Obama.

    As much as Bush screwed up this country, where was all this outrage then???????? HYPOCRITES!!!!!

    September 7, 2009 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  21. Kelley

    The upset in Florida isn't so much that our Commander and Chief is speaking to our children. It's that in Broward county, it has been mandated. Which is just rediculous!

    September 7, 2009 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  22. annie s

    The only thing controversial about the President of the United States urging children to get an education are the loony tunes in this country that hate this man so much they will believe any pathetic fanaticism put forth by the Republicans against him. To Shanneen Barron, I'm an American too – and I am proud and happy to have Barack Obama lead this country.

    September 7, 2009 11:01 am at 11:01 am |
  23. Scott, Tucson

    Can't this administration do anything right?

    September 7, 2009 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  24. Trevor

    Why is CNN saying "Controversial" speech? It's only been called controversial by a few radio personalities and conservative talking heads. I think for a national news agency to buy into the notion that the president of the united states of America giving a speech to the students of America is anything but apart of his job and the right thing to do. I find the use of the word controversial as very disrespectful to the office of the President. When did you label a speech by Bush controversial or by Reagan? Have some respect for the President of the United States. You're an American news agency, please start acting like one.

    September 7, 2009 11:06 am at 11:06 am |
  25. Holly B

    I'll tell you what is un American – wanting to violate Obama's right to free speech as our President.

    What is very American is his intention to encourag these children in their first days of school to be the best they can be, make the most of themselves and challenge themselves. And to that effect, I can think of no better American role model than the President himselve! He is willing to listen to the students through their letters, why can't you allow your children to listen to him.

    This whole bit of fearmongering is about the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard of!

    September 7, 2009 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
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