I found myself in the midst of the storm surrounding President Obama’s plans to address school children on today, the first day of school in much of the country. All-American Public Schools has been in session for a few weeks now, providing plenty of opportunity for parents to share their concerns about the speech once talk radio hosts began fanning the flames of fear in this very red state.
If it hadn’t been such an emotional and stressful week for me personally, I might have been able to more readily relax and simply observe the arc of the controversy. As it was, I found myself using my iPhone to field emails from parents unhappy with the district’s decision to air the speech while also taking floral deliveries at the church for my friend’s funeral.
From there and over the weekend, I watched the objections start with “How dare he address our children at school?” to “Well, so other presidents have addressed children at school, but they didn’t ask for their support.” to “So, they did ask for their support, but we still don’t trust Obama not to slip something likely to turn our children into little Socialists in there somewhere.”
I had hoped the drama would subside a bit once the White House released the text of the speech on Monday. But Suburbia still saw signs placed along the highway encouraging parents to keep their children home from school today, something a number of parents opted to do.
Knowing that the speech would be released would have been helpful about a day earlier than the announcement. By the time word hit the press about the plans to allow for a preview of the text, we’d already made the call not to show the speech live, in keeping with our policy to preview outside media materials prior to sharing them with students. If I’d known the text would be available, I would have planned to use that as the preview, but by the time I received word on Friday, our plans to view the speech itself first had been communicated to parents. We also honored the requests we received from parents who simply did not want their children to view the speech at all. It’s not a decision I’m particularly proud of, but it’s an excellent example of school district politics and the need to respond to the community in which we operate.
We continued to receive phone calls, both from angry parents and from media outlets up to and beyond the airing of the speech this morning. As promised, we viewed the speech and, finding it to cover exactly what the White House indicated it would, we showed it to students. Students who hopefully benefited from hearing their president encourage them to work hard, respect their parents and teachers, and set goals to accomplish great things in the future.
It was a great speech, a speech that should have garnered no more criticism than those of Reagan and George H.W. Bush did. Last year when President Obama was elected, I had great hope that it served as an indication that we were moving past the irrational fears and the racism that fueled them during the campaign. Over the last few days, it’s been clear that hope was ill-founded. And that, simply makes me sad.