Obama school speech suddenly a prickly topic for educators

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan looks on as President Barack Obama speaks at the Department of Education in Washington on July 24. Conservatives have reacted angrily to news that Obama will give an address to students on Sept. 8.

Update: White House says resistance to speech is just plain 'silly.'

And the Great School Speech Debate of 2009 roils onwards.

As we noted yesterday, President Barack Obama is slated to give an address to the nation's school children on Sept. 8. According to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, the speech will "call for a shared responsibility and commitment on the part of students, parents and educators to ensure that every child in every school receives the best education possible so they can compete in the global economy for good jobs and live rewarding and productive lives as American citizens."

The address will be streamed live on the White House's website, and the Department of Education has distributed lesson plans to help stimulate debate in the classroom. But many conservatives claim that Obama is attempting to "indoctrinate" the nation. Here's commentator Michelle Malkin writing on her website:

Schools have used students as little lobbyists on everything from illegal immigration to gay marriage to anti-war activism, and most recently, [c]ensus collection. Will Obama be able to resist issuing a call to youth arms to marshal help in passing his legislative agenda?

Of course, Obama is hardly the first president to speak directly to school children. In October 2001, George W. Bush urged kids to donate a dollar to America's Fund for Afghan Children. And in 1991, George H.W. Bush was criticized by Democrats for conducting a teleconference with students on the topic of math and science. (Hat tip to MSNBC's First Read and Michael Roberts of Westword.)

Yesterday, a White House spokesman said that there was nothing subversive about the upcoming Obama speech.

“The goal of the speech and the lesson plans 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,” spokesman Tommy Vietor told FOXNews.com yesterday. “This isn’t a policy speech. This is a speech designed to encourage kids to stay in school.”

Still, recent news reports indicate that the conservative campaign against the speech seems to be having some effect:

• In Fort-Worth, the Fort-Worth Star Telegram reports, school administrators are "scrambling to decide whether to allow students to watch the live broadcast... Some administrators say they are reluctant to interrupt daily lesson plans and won't show the address live, opting instead to provide an online link to the speech."
• In Minnesota, the speech is a prickly issue for educators, reports Minnesota Public Radio. Schools there have been fielding questions from parents who support the address and parents who oppose it; many districts had not yet decided whether or not to show the broadcast to students.
• In Colorado's Douglas County "the decision to show the speech, and to whom, will be 'site-based,' meaning each principal can determine his or her own policy," reports Westword.
Dallas officials “are leaving the decision to [view Obama’s address] up to individual teachers,” the Houston Chronicle reports. “[P]arents who don’t want their children to see it can opt out. In Houston, each school will decide.”
• In Columbia, Mo., kids won’t be seeing the speech at all.

Update: White House says resistance to speech is just plain 'silly.'

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