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. Faith Frankel, Annandale, NJ

    I am embarrassed by the disgusting way some Americans have reacted to President Obama's upcoming speech to schoolchildren. ..and the media's focus on this fringe reaction. Since when did disrespect for our president become the norm? Did anyone object to previous American presidents addressing schoolchildren before they even made the speech? When did a "stay in school" message to kids become anathema to the radical right? America, your racism is showing.

    September 7, 2009 11:07 am at 11:07 am |
  2. Hugo

    Nice how it is released before any concerned parent can read it all to decide whether they seem it fit for their children. I have no problem with our President giving the stay in school and be a responsible citizen speech but when it deviates or includes pushing a political agenda, no thank you!

    September 7, 2009 11:08 am at 11:08 am |
  3. Ernesto

    I get the sense that President Obama doesn't actually need to take an action to get his critics going. The Repubs are deciding ahead of time that our President is wrong and framing their criticisms around their words not his. Fox is bringing in all the nuts it can muster to preach to their choir and after the speech is completed will likely take credit for it's innocence and any good it brings. Our President deserves support on such efforts as these to encourage school children to take interest in the potential of education. After all these are either the leaders, good citizens or our criminals of tomorrow.

    September 7, 2009 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  4. Luke Brown

    If it wasn't already obvious to everyone, these rightwing Republicans are not patriots, they care nothning about our democracy, nor do they respect the freedom that has made us a great nation.

    They have no respect for the Office of the President of the United States or, it seems, anyone who is trying to undo the mess Bush, Cheney & their Congressional cronies have gotten us into.

    September 7, 2009 11:11 am at 11:11 am |
  5. southerncousin

    It is a shame, there is probably nothing wrong with this speech as far as its contents, and unfortunately, the controversy over shows just how much this president has become mistrusted during the first 9 month of his administration. A lot of us who had big hopes for him and dismissed reports that he would be the most liberal and leftist presidents we had ever had, actually believing his campaign rhetoric, now see that the conservatives were right. He, like Clinton, just said things that were bipartisan and moderate, to get elected. Teaming him, with an incompetent, dishonest and bumbling Congressional leadership has been a disaster.

    September 7, 2009 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  6. Chris

    The Right Wing needs to stop saying that the Left objected to speeches to school children by Reagan and Bush, so what Conservatives are doing now is exactly the same. Liberals might have raised some objections to Reagan talking about his plan for tax cuts to children, but no one once considered pulling their kids out of school for the day. Now Republicans are screaming that Obama is trying to brain wash their children and start his own "Hitler Youth" program! There is no comparison between those past concerns and these present paranoid ravings by the Right. It's not even in the same ballpark!

    Even though I thought GW Bush was a terrible president, I still would have considered it a great honor if he had given a speech to my kids' school. Everyone I've talked to on this subject thinks it is a wonderful idea for the President to talk to children – on what for many is their first day of school – about the importance of education. In fact I hope that future Presidents – no matter what their place in the political spectrum – do the same. That it grows to be a Presidential tradition, like throwing out the first pitch.

    September 7, 2009 11:12 am at 11:12 am |
  7. TREP

    I think the Right fears that if children actually hear the President and understand that he is reasonable that their demonization of him will be exposed. This is such a non-issue. If he were giving a talk to students about health, they would have reason to complain. This stuff is just silly.

    September 7, 2009 11:14 am at 11:14 am |
  8. Stefanie, Texas

    These complainers are idiots. Where were they when Presidents Reagan & Bush Sr. gave televised speeches to our nation's children? Reagan's speech was actually very political and he even discussed his views on taxes. Bush Sr. speech even used the words that everyone was hammering Obama on in the suggested learning materials. Bush Sr. said, "Write me a letter about ways you can help us achieve our goals."

    Does that mean Presidents Reagan & Bush Sr. were evil, indoctrinating, dictators too?

    September 7, 2009 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  9. Joe Fattal

    I don't think it's mandatory to anyone a child or an adult to listen to the President making a speech.

    September 7, 2009 11:15 am at 11:15 am |
  10. Ms. Johal

    I can't believe that people are making an issue about Obama promoting education. EDUCATION! And who is this stupid idiot Shannen lady crying because she doesn't want her kids to hear what he's saying. OMG! Was she an actress? Please tell me that she was playing???
    Yes, this promotes Obama too, but duh? He is a politician that gets his job back when he's popular at an election.
    Anyways, can we have real news please?

    September 7, 2009 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  11. Dianne IL

    We are one country with one President and it is appropriate for him to encourage our students. As a Catholic school teacher, I disagree with him on some issues, but I welcome his message to work hard; be accountable.

    Please stop the paranoia. The mind set that President Obama is trying to indoctrinate our youth to socialism and that he is someone to be feared is ridiculous and damaging to our country.

    September 7, 2009 11:16 am at 11:16 am |
  12. Thanh Pham

    No one had problems when former presidents spoke to kids. There isn't enough time in an 18 minute speech written to be understood by children for both academic responsibility and health care legislation. Most parents who oppose deep down feel but aren't willing to admit that they don't want a black man lecturing their kids on academic responsibility.

    You didn't have parents in the science community pulling their kids out of school out of fear that Bush was going to indoctrinate his Fundamentalist Christian beliefs on kids in his speeches and visits to kids.

    The reason why the US is still in the recession is because the Bush administration under 9/11, cultivated a risk averse, protectionist society, and no one knew. That's real brainwashing. The whole point of America is entrepreneurship. That means take risks and expand horizons. That was the Clinton era.

    September 7, 2009 11:17 am at 11:17 am |
  13. A Canadian Perspective

    How strange it is that these people who so strongly object to their children being subjected to some words of encouragement from their President, are the same ones who object – with vitrolic – ANYTHING the President does!!!

    And, by the way – a history lesson for those who use the use of the word CZAR to prove that President Obama's agenda is therefore a Russian-styled socialist one:

    The word CZAR in Russia was used to denote a monarch. The last CZAR was executed BY THE COMMUNISTS.

    Also... the word CZAR was NOT coined by the President. Remember Bush's "DRUG CZAR" by chance?

    Perhaps these people so opposed to the speech by the President, should have had someone to encourage them to stay in school.

    Just an observation that the whole world is making.

    September 7, 2009 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  14. S Callahan New York

    I am disturbed that a public offical, Arne Duncan,hired by the President of the United States (who incidentially was hired by the voters)..demeans the public for expressing their concern about the 'initial' content of a public speech to 'primary school aged children' by calling them 'SILLY'. It WAS the inital proposal plan that irate most..politics has no buisness in the education of children until they are at an age and maturity of mind to dispute, or even support, the ideology being offered to them. There is a 'big' difference between 'politics' and 'civic' lessons.

    September 7, 2009 11:19 am at 11:19 am |
  15. Jim C

    The typical republican buzz word. "SCARED". What was it before. "TERROR"? Republicans need to get a grip or else the party will go extinct.

    September 7, 2009 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  16. B

    It is hard to believe that this was ever a problem!
    Extremism from the right is destroying every attempt by Obama to raise the level of communication in this country and try to inspire the youth.

    It is really alarming to see how far the mentality of this country has degraded! This is why Obama is so concerned about education.

    It makes you feel like we have allowed our country to decline past the tipping point. It is no wonder that much of the world now looks at us with distain..

    September 7, 2009 11:20 am at 11:20 am |
  17. Mr. Obama's speech would be welcome around the World.

    Many people around the World would welcome their Presidents, Prime Ministers, Head of States taking time out to address their
    children. How on earth could this be a bad thing. Who else better able to talk to children then Mr., Obama. He is a living example of the Power of Education. We are so fortunate to have a man like Mr. Obama as President. It is clear to see that these people who oppose the speech or doing because he is Black. It would be a disgrace to think that the Republican would denied the children this speech because of Political reasons. It is getting ugly out there I pray for unity and sanity to abide. Our country is in a very bad econimical crisis. We are suppose to be the super power and the last 8 years the same Replicans as bring us down. People we must unite to support the President and give him a chance to re-build
    America Power. Please Repubicans and Democrats must unite.
    We must teach our children to respect the President. The World is watching and I have never seen more disrespect for a President. Mr. Obama does not deserve that. You may not agree with his politices but he is the PRESIDENT OF THE U.S.A

    September 7, 2009 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  18. republicans hate america

    The Rush Limbaugh Party has a problem with speeches about staying in school and becoming smart because they are against education and intelligence and otherwise are very proud people of ignorance.

    September 7, 2009 11:27 am at 11:27 am |
  19. Lynne

    CNN and other news media have done a successful job of OVERemphasizing the critics of the speech to create a controversy around the speech. It is sad that the media is now the ones determining public opinion not by reporting the news but by appealing to emotions for ratings and profit.

    The greatest threat to America is not just lobbyists and powerful banks and corporations but with a media that no longer reports facts but creates sensationalism with partisan pundits, anchors who are media produced "stars" than journalists and emphasizing the negative and outrageous.

    September 7, 2009 11:28 am at 11:28 am |
  20. Lillian Hobson

    As a parent of a school aged child, don't insult parents by calling us "silly" regarding concern about the pending speech. The way this speech was thrown on the schools left us no choice to think "controversy". Had it been presented to the parents on a preview basis, whether in text form, or recorded message, the way schools offer Sex Education information or other non day-to-day studies, we may have all considered it in a more positive manner.

    September 7, 2009 11:32 am at 11:32 am |
  21. Holly

    I don't understand what the woman from CO means when she says, "I'm an American. They are Americans, and I don't feel that's OK." Is she saying that the president is not an American? What isn't OK? The speech?

    Is this the woman that's been on the news crying?

    September 7, 2009 11:38 am at 11:38 am |
  22. kevincollins

    "I feel very scared to be in this country with our leadership right now."

    Heh! This lady needs to remember that the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil was under Bush's, not Obama's, watch. Oh well, inconvenient facts like this is what all these GOPers automatically ignore.

    September 7, 2009 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  23. bill b. from Stratford,Ct

    I can't believe that the MSM and some people in this country has a problem with the Pres. speaking to the kids of this country to work hard and stay in school and the sky is the limit for them. All Pres. before him has done the same thing and now it's a problem, PLEASE, let's just call it like it is, RACISM, PERIOD. They hate to see a black man as Pres..

    September 7, 2009 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  24. Tim in Minnesota

    This has just gotten so ridiculous! One crazy woman from Denver expresses some opinion from Idiot America (thak you, Mr. Pierce) and this is news?
    And Pawlenty, the fool being drummed out of Minnesota says some stupid thing about appropriateness (you hypocrit, you've done the same thing here). It's so out of control!

    September 7, 2009 11:39 am at 11:39 am |
  25. Turnabout is Fair Play

    "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."
    --------------------------

    You are NOT an American in the least sense of the word. Your children are more American than you will ever be because they are not racist or ignorant or fearful yet. I pity them because you will infect them with your ignorance and racism. Just admit what you won't say in this lie, you think Obama is a black muslim and that you still do not acknowledge him as our President. Stop the hate racist woman and leave this country if you do not accept what millions of us voters already have. That our president IS American and that he is NOT muslim. America, love it or leave it.

    September 7, 2009 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
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