By Peter J. Smith
WASHINGTON, D.C., September 4, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) – President Barack Obama's plan to speak to the nation's students from pre-kindergarten to the 12th grade on September 8 at noon has unleashed a public backlash after parents learned that the Administration also provided classroom materials to educators designed to have children ask themselves how they could “help” the President. One public advocacy group says the move may also be “illegal” under federal law.
US Presidents giving an address to the nation's school children and offering them a few words of encouragement to persevere in their studies has a precedent in recent American history: George H.W. Bush gave an address to schoolchildren in 1991 during school hours on the importance of education. Democratic opponents also attacked Bush accusing him of sending a politicized message to schoolchildren.
However, Obama's decision to address the children of the nation's public schools – and some Catholic schools and teachers reportedly are taking part as well – has rankled many parents and conservatives especially over the education materials prepared by the Department of Education designed to guide public school teachers on how to promote classroom discussion around the speech.
The DOE developed teaching materials through its Teaching Ambassador Fellows that suggested teachers encourage students to “Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president.”
Teachers could also lead discussions to ask students such questions as: “What do you think the President wants us to do? Does the speech make you want to do anything? Are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us?”
The move was blasted by many conservatives and other critics of the Obama administration for cutting parents out of the discussion and furthering the cult of personality that has surrounded the President, whose approval ratings among the adult population just recently been progressively dipping below the 50 percent threshold according to some polls.
Jim Greer, Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida blasted the planned Obama message for “bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power” to teach impressionable students to admire the President's policies.
The White House has since backpedaled saying the phrase section on how to “help” the President was “inartfully worded” and revised to encourage students to “Write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short?term and long?term education goals.”
However the public advocacy firm Liberty Counsel has stated that millions of parents have another reason to be outraged: federal law makes “illegal” the Department of Education's actions in preparing classroom materials and encouraging principals to cease classroom activity.
A press release from Liberty Counsel stated that federal law expressly prohibits the Secretary of Education or any Administration officer from exercising “any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system” (20 U.S.C. § 3403).
Mat Staver, the Founder of Liberty Counsel, charged Obama with subverting parental rights by pushing his “political agenda” on children at the very moment that the American people are rejecting “his expansive vision for government” and his unpopular designs for health-care reform.
“Americans do not appreciate the President's attempt to use our children as political pawns in his game of chess. Mr. President, you must abide by the rule of law and stop this illegal activity,” said Staver. “Our children do not belong to you.”
Many school districts in Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Virginia, Texas and Wisconsin have announced they are refusing to carry the President's address after being inundated with phone calls from parents. Some have stated they are letting parents opt their children out of watching the address, while other districts have continued to wait and see where the controversy leads.