Some parents opposed to Obama’s back-to-school speech

At noon on Tuesday, September 8th, President Obama will deliver a speech directed to students across the country on the importance of them taking responsibility for their education. But, it seems that some parents in Virginia (and across the country, for that matter) are opposed to students watching the speech. Consequently, many school districts are […]

At noon on Tuesday, September 8th, President Obama will deliver a speech directed to students across the country on the importance of them taking responsibility for their education.

But, it seems that some parents in Virginia (and across the country, for that matter) are opposed to students watching the speech. Consequently, many school districts are giving students the chance to opt out.

According to Sandra Abrevaya from the Department of Education, “This isn’t a policy speech… It’s designed to encourage kids to stay in school. The choice on whether to show the speech to students is entirely in the hands of each school. This is absolutely voluntary.”

Henrico County spokesperson Mychael Dickerson was quoted in the TD as saying, “We view this as a message from the president in his role as the president of the United States, not as a political speech,” Dickerson said. “But out of respect to our parents, students can opt out.”

Please share your thoughts. We’d love to hear what parents of school-age kids think of this. Ok, really, we’d love to hear what everyone thinks of this.

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Valerie Catrow

Valerie Catrow is editor of RVAFamily, mother to a mop-topped first grader, and always really excited to go to bed.

Notice: Comments that are not conducive to an interesting and thoughtful conversation may be removed at the editor’s discretion.

  1. Yes, make it voluntary, especially since it’s during the school day.

    But crikey, what’s up with all these parents raising their hackles over this? If Mr. President really ends up throwing politics into his speech, sure, be upset. C’mon, though, this is a “stay in school” speech, basically, and I think that’s pretty reasonable from a man who went on to become a professor (and, you know, some high post in Washington, D.C., too).

    I guess folks are afraid their kids are going to come home asking for a single-payer health care system for their socialist imaginary friends?

  2. aBenjamin on said:

    It’s entirely appropriate for the sitting president to address school kids, and outrageous that parents would opt their students out. Reagan and George HW Bush did this same thing when I was in school. See Wonkette’s amusing take here:

  3. Actually, that’s not out of the realm of possibility since there have been at least one or two instances that my wife and I heard of where kids have been directed to nag their parents about recycling or turning out lights (I wish I could pull a cite but I can’t right now). Would Obama be ____ enough (pick your own term) to put some sort of policy language other than “get good grades and work hard” in his speech? The Washington Post reported yesterday that the White House already had changed the draft from asking students to write letters to the President about how they could help him to writing letters to themselves about why school is important.

    I think that the concept that Henrico (I believe) is putting into place makes sense…it’s basically a tape-delay with teachers making the call about whether to present it and how to use it in a classroom context. Also, the news this morning said that this reaction wasn’t unprecedented…the same type of outcry came up with Bush 41 wanting to address students during his term.

  4. These parents who oppose the speech are stupid. They’re kids are already communists….

  5. really? on said:

    parents getting all huffy over this is ridiculous- what do they think he’s gonna say? some backwards message saying ‘kill whitey’? for f’s sake, he’s the president. i think he’s got this.

  6. It just confuses me. I don’t understand the concern with having kids watching the President speak, regardless of the family’s political opinions. Like it or not, he is a public and historic figure. Should the speech get political, I’d hope teachers and parents would use it as a teachable moment. And what if a teacher chooses to use footage of the speech later on in a lesson? Do kids get to opt out then?

  7. I told my 3 teenagers they can watch it if they want and if it is available, it was their call. They said absolutely not. Why? In light of the President’s appointments of thugs, racists and idiots, and allowing the culture of corruption in the administration and in his inner circle, none of us trust him to do the right thing. Also, they were more concerned of the biased “study guide” that accompanies the speech than the speech itself. Personally, In as much the President has the right to give the speech, I have the same right to oppose it.

  8. Chris Wolf on said:

    I think the white house had it wrong at the beginning but is trying to fix the problem. Asking children to write a letter to themselves explaining how they can help Obama isn’t right. But they fixed that. The second major issue is what he was going to say in his speech; but they have now agreed to release the text the day before for parents / schools to preview. A little more time would have been nice, but it’s better than knowing nothing.

    The last issue that a lot of liberal people don’t understand is that, president or not, a lot of people in this country do not see Obama as a role model. They see him as a guy running the country into the ground if not worse, and they don’t want their kids forced to perceive him as this great man and role model. Right or wrong, a lot of people kinda hate the guy.

  9. I’m not saying that everyone should see Obama as a role model at all. I would hope teachers and administrators would opt for just framing it as “Here is our President speaking about education. Let’s see what he says, and then tell me what you think,” without imposing any personal, political beliefs. I don’t see how shutting kids off from what the President is helpful or constructive.

    But as Dale said, it is well within an individual’s rights to opt out.

  10. The far right is out to get Obama on anything he does and to divide this Country.Time to shine a light on these extremists.There is a related post at

  11. Chris Wolf on said:

    Val, it doesn’t matter what teachers say. When you broadcast a live speech to children and set up a lesson plan around it, what are you saying to them without words?

    Like I already said, I think the White House has remedied the real issues, which I view as fairly significant, but an opt-out should still be allowed.

    And people try to make this a “right wing” thing. But as was already noted above, GB1 got tons of heat from the left for a similar thing. And what would the left be saying if W was trying to give a speech directly to kids everywhere?? Outrage.

  12. Good points, all around, Chris.

    I just think that no President should get heat for it. I would love it if people could look at this as an opportunity for kids to hear from another high-ranking, public official about the importance of staying in school and taking an active role in their education. But with how things are right now, I suppose that can’t happen.

  13. I’m sure either side would show outrage if their opposing party was doing this. That kind of bloviating happens every day and from both sides – opposition for the sake of it rather than on rational grounds.

    As I already said, I think opt-out is fine. But I don’t see the benefit.

    “Hey, lets all shelter our kids from the politicians we don’t like! While we’re at it, let’s keep them out of Civics Government classes, too, because they might get exposed to current events that we don’t like!”

    They’re going to be exposed to the machinations of government sooner or later. Why not let it happen when you have a chance to discuss things with them?

  14. hsr0601 on said:

    Little affection for children and young adults is seen as roots of this great recession :

    1. Too few parents know about CHIP program.

    2. They are more worried about the Afghanistan war than future energy.

    3. Of young adults ages 19 to 29, 13.2 million, or 29 percent, lacked coverage in 2007.
    current generation is to build a bridge for generations to come, and it will be great for both, too. By converting Incredible waste in health care system into funding for the uninsured young adults, both generations are better off after all, otherwise, Medicare and Medicaid system are also facing insolvency.

    4. Two thirds of Americans don’t understand what the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress are proposing, according to a new CBS poll.

    5. War-focusing allies are afraid of Science / Innovation as they atempted to derail measurable educational investing in Recovery Act.

    6. Let Obama speak to kids: He is proof of education’s power.

  15. Don’t you just want to get sucked in to Dale’s comment… I hate politics. Our kids don’t have a choice – Chesterfield has decided not to air it. So, we will record it and watch it later. We can talk about it, agree or disagree with the speech. He is our president. I’m interested it what he has to say to me and to my children.

  16. This is just phase two of them indoctrinating school kids. Have you seen kids reactions to the alarmist statements in An Inconvenient Truth? It scared the heck out of them. check it out in the Not Evil Just Wrong trailer:

  17. Dale is funny. Breathtakingly ignorant and tragically ill-informed, but still funny nonetheless. Thanks…

  18. Scott Burger on said:

    I am not worried about what Obama says to the kids so much, BUT it sets a bad precedent.

    Many moons ago, Jessie Jackson spoke to hundreds of school kids at Hampton Colesium and part of his message was that they should not listen to white teachers. Now I am paraphrasing and there was certainly more to it than that, but it was a central theme.

  19. Liberty on said:

    what would michael jackson do?

  20. I think any educator would be thrilled to have the leader of the free world address his/her class directly. Obama is known for his uplifting speeches and the “stay in school” personal responsibility message would fuel class discussion for weeks/months. I think the problem is parents making their kids into political pawns. Saying that your kids can opt out is validating unproductive partisan attitudes (that border on racism). They shouldn’t deny their kids the powerful experience of watching something meant just for them all in unison. I was watching the Challenger disaster in 5th grade. Very upsetting. A bad guest speaker to say the least. Obama is probably a much better guest speaker than an exploding space shuttle.

  21. Guys, I am going to let my kids opt-out of timed multiplication tests. Because seriously, those things HAUNT ME TO THIS DAY. HOW ARE THEY EVEN FAIR?

  22. Good question…

  23. Liberty on said:

    so no spelling bee? then what?

  24. What happened to respecting the office, if not the man? Isn’t that an important lesson for kids to learn? And isn’t this an opportunity for parents who don’t agree with Obama’s leanings to talk to their kids that night about their own beliefs and why they have them?

    I wish the parents that have their drawers in a bunch over this would take that energy and instead use to it to create a conversation about how our current educational system is creating a generation of kids who learn to how take tests but lack opportunity for exploratory learning and practicing their critical thinking skills.

  25. Chris, I think I can safely be lumped into that “left” category, and if GWB was still president, I’d still let my daughter watch the speech on her first day of kindergarten Tuesday. Happily.

  26. Obama is the President. The precedent of the President speaking to school children has already been established by past Presidents. This is like saying Obama shouldn’t be allowed to fly in Air Force One because… well, uh… he’s a socialist (yeah… that’s right… that’s the ticket… we won’t say what we really mean… that his skin tone is a tad darker than what we prefer).

    I mean, really? He was elected. Now let him do his job.

  27. I love how crazy people are getting their panties all bunched up over this. It just proves that they are crazy. I mean, Comrade Obama already has the children’s minds. Resistance is futile….

  28. Tommy Beekman on said:

    I think that by boycotting the speech based on the fact that you think (read: listen to strictly conservative media) that there will be an agenda behind is just turning the hate the other way. I don’t subscribe to the blanket racism idea that everyone seems to bring up, but I do think that if you keep your children from seeing the president just because you don’t agree with his ideals you are just furthering the negative political climate. I hope that makes sense. Message or not from the president, parents are sending a message to their kids if they choose to opt-out, much more of a statement than if they just respected the position and read the text of the speech tomorrow when it comes out. Then made a decision then.

  29. D. Washburn on said:

    He is gonna kill old people soon….I think he will brainwash the young, then have them kill the old people.

  30. duh…

  31. Is all of humanity getting stupider, more hysterical and more dangerously self-indulgent with each passing day? Or is it just our country?

    I have to hand it to Not Evil, though. You really know how to hijack an issue in order to plug your movie. That was damn sly. About as subtle as the Hulk jumping through a plate glass window.

  32. You can read the contents of the speech here:

  33. yeah, that’s what Obama would have you believe…

  34. I read the speech earlier today and Democrat or Republican.. it’s a good speech that will make positive impacts coming from the president.

    I’m with Jon, even if it was GWB, I would happily have my child/children see it. “Go to school and take responsibility for you education” is good coming from any president.

    Politics as a shit slinging “game” has become far too popular and now it’s getting in the way of our president sending our kids into the new school year with a positive and encouraging message.

    Props to the White House for releasing the speech. Maybe it’s there way of cooling the situation off a bit…

  35. Scott Burger on said:

    Again, this is nothing personal against Obama, and just because the precedent of the President speaking directly to school children has already been established by past Presidents does not make it a good one.

    I am not being hysterical here, and I am not playing party politics, I just think teachers and parents can educate children without the President getting involved. I am sure Obama will be very diplomatic and proper in his speech, but I hope we don’t get another jackass politician in the future who will give the kids a really loaded message. There are lots of examples of horrible dictators who love to speak directly to children.

  36. Wow! I can’t believe the amount of discussion around this. I hope that my kids hear the speech today. Then, I am going to have them read all this useless commentary about it, and see what they think. No offense Valerie. I am not blaming you for starting the discussion, but what a lot of worthless energy wasted. I don’t need to recant all of the above, but I can assure you that my children may be inspired, or they may be thinking about Legos during the speech. Either way, it will not harm them, and it may inspire, or just create a cool memory. I don’t recall hearing Nixon, Ford or Carter speaking to kids when I was in school, and I was in school.

  37. This discussion is a waste of time & space. I mean really, what is the big deal? The president is going to talk to kids about the importance of education. Oh, the horror. How this could possibly be misconstrued as being departmental is beyond me.

  38. Scott Burger on said:

    I disagree that this discussion is a waste.

    I am not a right wing Republicon, and as I have said before, I have nothing against Obama, but I question the propriety of having the President speak DIRECTLY to children. I think he can indirectly, positively inspire without crossing that line.

    Again, there are lots of examples of horrible dictators who loved to speak directly to children- disastrous results. No, I don’t Obama is going to create Hitler Youth, but again, its not a good precedent. We should know better in the land of the free.

  39. Scott Burger on said:

    Sorry about my syntax in the last post- I lost a few words but hopefully you got the gist.

  40. When Bush was reading to the kids when 9-11 happened, did anyone raise a stink about his visit? Was he accused of trying to “indoctrinate” the kids?

    You’re free to agree or disagree with someone’s policies, but OUR President deserves to be respected. As horrible as Bush was I respected him as our president.

    I wish people would be honest and stop hiding behind these lame excuses being invented. This is totally about right-wing conservatives who are trying to undermine EVERYTHING this President does no matter how innocent it is. Yet most of these folks claim to be “patriots?” Part of being a christian is being honest. Tell the truth about your real intentions.

    Lets see how consistent these parents and administrators will be for the rest of the school year. Every speaker, every movie shown, every recruiter, every field trip better receive the same about of scrutiny Obama is receiving or else you’re exposing yourselves as a massive hypocrites.

  41. Scott Burger on said:

    Reading to kids a bedtime story is very different from giving a set speech to kids.

    And, again, I am not a Bushie, I think W should be in jail.

    There is a GOOD, conservative reason here for thinking that the President should not be making speeches to school kids. One that has nothing to do with partisan idiocy.

  42. Funny how words like “dictator” and “indoctrination” didn’t surfaced until Obama arrived. And its no coincidence that certain people have strategically starting throwing these words around to associate him with something sure to negatively impact him.

    Does anyone in their right mind think with our system of government a President can operate like the dictators from generations ago? How would he even be able to get away with it? There are zero similarities and the analogy make no sense.

    Now the explaination that makes total sense is the President’s detractors are playing politics and are trying to mask it as something else. The paranoia in this country today is alarming.

    I’ll throw this word out there: “McCarthyism.”

  43. Scott Burger on said:

    Hey, hey- I have been using those words long before Bush or Obama ascended. My point of view is based on long term thinking and not on which side of the duopoloy are in power right now.

    And if you recall your history, dictatorships came out of economic depressions, kind of like the one we are having now.

    I am not a Beck head, or a Rush fan, I am just a regular guy who says there is a good reason to question the overall implications of this.

    Like I said, I think Obama and other Presidents can be a positive influence without making speeches DIRECTLY to school kids.

  44. And I don’t see what the big deal is. There are a ton of other people in and out of the schools parents need to be way more concerned about (i.e. recruiters) if this were really about what people are trying to frame this as.

    So where do you draw the line. Can Senators speak to kids? Governors? Mayors? Council People? County managers?

    By the way Scott, why do I have a feeling if I were able to dig up the actual transcript of Jesse Jackson’s speech it would be nothing like what you’re claiming.

  45. Scott Burger on said:

    Go ahead and look it up. You seemed so determined to make me out be the bad guy.

    You are right in that it should not be a big deal. I am not making it one. Like I said, I am not afraid fo what Obamam said today- I am worried about precedent.

    Of course there are plenty of reasons for politicians of different positions to visit schools and converse with students- the line is drawn when these occurrences become matters of ideology and speaking directly to children in a political way.

    I am not the one being radical here. All I am saying is to consider things responsibly.

  46. Exactly Scott – if Obama, Bush, Clinton, Wilder, Kaine, anybody were to come into the schools to advance a political agenda then we agree, that shouldn’t be allowed.

    But if someone wants to encourage kids to study hard and value their educational opportuntities I’d have no problem with it.

    I’m not trying to make you out to be a bad person but I do think your view point is extreme and paranoid and I would bet any amount of money you’re talking something Jesse said out of context or applying your own interpretation to it – but then again Jesse has made stupid comments before so who knows.

  47. Scott Burger on said:

    “Exactly Scott – if Obama, Bush, Clinton, Wilder, Kaine, anybody were to come into the schools to advance a political agenda then we agree, that shouldn’t be allowed.”

    Thank you.

    “But if someone wants to encourage kids to study hard and value their educational opportuntities I’d have no problem with it.”

    The problem comes in when its a slippery slope. What happens if a President (like Obama, for example) speaks to school kids against drugs (like heroin, for example) and then towards the end of his speech or during q&a casually adds “and that’s why we are in (occupying) that country (Afghanistan, for example).”

    Maybe that might seem like an extreme example, but even something more minute than that can influence kids’ thinking in a way that I am not sure if all parents/teachers/citizens agree with. Schools should be about learning, and yeah, part of that is exposure to politics and current events, but how that exposure happens can be very, very sensitive (and no, I am not against public schools, I am for them).

    Of course you are welcome to disagree, but I think that politicians can make a positive impact indirectly without speaking DIRECTLY to school kids.

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