The White House today told reporters that an upcoming back-to-school speech by President Barack Obama – scheduled for Tuesday at noon – has nothing to do with politics. For days, conservative commentators have decried the speech as an attempt at "socialist indoctrination," and "a call to youth arms to marshal help in passing [Obama's] legislative agenda."
But today spokesman Robert Gibbs said the address was only a chance for students to get "a little encouragement as they start the school year."
"I think we've reached a little bit of the silly season when the President of the United States can't tell kids in school to study hard and stay in school," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters, according to the Associated Press. "I think both political parties agree that the dropout rate is something that threatens our long-term economic success."
The controversy over the speech has sent many educators scrambling. School districts in Minnesota, Texas, Colorado, and Missouri have either decided against airing the speech or made attendance optional – leaving the choice to parents. Still, many Republican politicians, including Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, have advocated that the address be dropped altogether.
"At a minimum [the speech is] disruptive, number two, it's uninvited and number three, if people would like to hear his message they can, on a voluntary basis, go to YouTube or some other source and get it. I don't think [Obama] needs to force it upon the nation's school children," Pawlenty said this week, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.
As we noted yesterday, Obama is not the first president to give a speech aimed directly at students. In October 2001, George W. Bush urged kids to donate a dollar to America’s Fund for Afghan Children. Ten years before that, George H.W. Bush was criticized by Democrats for conducting a teleconference with students on the topic of math and science.
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor told FOXNews.com that the point of Obama's speech "is to challenge students to work hard in school, to not drop out and to meet short-term goals like behaving in class, doing their homework and goals that parents and teachers alike can agree are noble. This isn’t a policy speech," Vietor said. This is a speech designed to encourage kids to stay in school.”
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