Sunday, September 6, 2009

Obama's Back-to-School Speech... Government Required Viewing?

The Rochester Community Schools district decided not to run President Obama's back-to-school "live", but will instead run it during the high school lunches the next day.

The decision aims to minimize school distruption, and was driven out of respect for parental choice. It was not made based on the anticipated content of the speech, nor was it made on the questionable study guides issued by the White House.

Now that the decision has been made, it should not cause a round of “high-fives” for conservatives, nor should it drive indignant and angry name-calling by liberals. Both camps, quite frankly, need to put ideology aside and try to think of what’s best for children.

And while some argue that the positive message planned for the speech will be lost… that’s simply not true. The address will be widely available, and can still be discussed, even if it’s not viewed “live”. Actually, the fact that it’s not being aired “live” can serve as a teachable moment too, driving discussions about parental rights, civil discourse, protest, and government intervention.

I fully intend to watch it with my children, and encourage other parents to do so as well. But I cannot support the notion that children should be forced to watch it.


The school board was informed of the district’s decision and the underlying rationale. A significant number of parents had expressed concern… enough that showing the address would could potentially disrupt the first day of school. Because it was the first day, there was no effective way to create an “opt-in” or “opt-out” process.

The district had been put in the unenviable position of either disappointing parents by showing it, or disappointing parents by not showing it.

The district – ultimately believing that respect for parental choice trumps everything else – crafted a compromise. The president's address will not interrupt the first day of school, but will be recorded and shown during high school lunch the following day for those students who would like to watch it. And, a link to the address will be posted on the district website.

This reasonable compromise does not mandate that children watch the broadcast, yet it provides an option for doing so.

The only change I see is that children will not see the address live, but will instead watch it with their families (which is better, in my opinion), or they’ll view it the next day.

And for the record… this had nothing to do with political ideology, but was instead based on respect for parents. Let’s be honest here… if it were about ideology alone then it’s most likely that a speech from a liberal president would be shown, regardless of the consequences. Educators and school boards are generally far more liberal than they are conservative, and Rochester is no exception.


TIME magazine offered an interesting view of the underlying dynamics driving this controversy:

TIME: Schools to Big Brother Barack: Stay Out! (09/04/09)

The heart of the battle -- at least in my mind -- is that the administration arguably erred when they started to make this about the President, and not soley about the value of education. (And it's really a shame, because their "study guides" distracted from a good speech. You can read it here.)

From the TIME article:

Thanks in large part to the Administration's ham-handed advance work, the strident conservative anger that erupted this summer over health-care reform has shifted from town halls to school halls. On the surface, Obama's intentions for Tuesday seem nothing more threatening than a presidential pep talk about taking education seriously. But some ill-advised prep material from the Education Department — like suggestions that teachers have students write letters on "how to help the President" and recommendations that those pupils read his books — has left the door ajar (and that's all it seems to take these days) for Republican charges that Obama "wants to indoctrinate our kids," as Clara Dean, GOP chairwoman of Florida's Collier County, puts it.

But if there is one conservative criticism that even liberals can relate to, it's that the speech seems part of this President's overexposure. "Every time you turn around, there he is, there he is, there he is," Dean groused. And lately at least, every time Obama turns around, he seems to give conservatives an opening to pounce on him.

Commentator Mark Steyn drew stronger parallels by comparing it to Iraq. Certainly hyperbolic, but I'm including it because it helps to clearly punctuate the concern. Obama 'Outreach' To School Kids Feels More Like Personality Cult (09/04/09)

In 2003, motoring around western Iraq a few weeks after the regime's fall, when the schoolhouses were hastily taking down the huge portraits of Saddam that had hung on every classroom wall, I visited an elementary-school principal with a huge stack of suddenly empty picture frames piled up on his desk, and nothing to put in them.

The education system's standard first-grade reader featured a couple of kids called Hassan and Amal — a kind of Iraqi Dick and Jane — proudly holding up their portraits of the great man and explaining the benefits of an Iraqi education:

"O come, Hassan," says Amal. "Let us chant for the homeland and use our pens to write, 'Our beloved Saddam.'"

"I come, Amal," says Hassan. "I come in a hurry to chant, 'O, Saddam, our courageous president, we are all soldiers defending the borders for you, carrying weapons and marching to success.'"

Pathetic, right?

On Friday, Aug. 28, the principal of Eagle Bay Elementary School in Farmington, Utah — in the name of "education" — showed her young charges the "Obama Pledge" video released at the time of the inauguration, in which Ashton Kutcher and various other big-time celebrities, two or three of whom you might even recognize, "pledge to be a servant to our president and to all mankind because together we can, together we are, and together we will be the change that we seek."

Altogether now! Let us chant for mankind and use our pens to write, "O beloved Obama, our courageous president, we are all servants defending the hope for you and marching to change."

To accompany President Obama's classroom speech this week, the White House and America's "educators" drafted some accompanying study materials. Children would be invited to write letters to themselves saying what they could do to "help the President."

Certainly everyone does not agree with these perspectives, but enough parents are concerned, and took the time to express those concerns to the district.

And it’s not that those expressing concerns have “hijacked” the district. Schools have a responsibility and obligation to try to honor the reasonable wishes of the communities they serve. When conflicts arise, the district must do what it can to craft compromises.

I don’t believe it’s the school’s job to get itself embroiled in a effort to unconditionally defend the President. Nor do I believe this decision is designed to rebuff or embarrass the President, or “protect” the children from the President. I see this is a non-political attempt to respect diversity and parental choice, and to focus on effectively running schools without disruption.


As is the case with almost anything involving schools, compromise is hard to achieve. I thought I’d share some of arguments I’ve heard on both sides.

INDOCTRINATION: Had the district shown the address live, it would’ve been accused of attempting to indoctrinate children. Really? President Obama can be persuasive, and children may not have fully developed critical thinking skills, but I don’t think a 20-minute speech to the nations youth is going to change our form of government.

RACISM: According to some, the only possible reason that the district decided to “censor” the speech is because of hysterical, right-wing, gun-toting bigotry and racism. If the President were white, the address would have been delivered. This is so incredibly unfounded that I’m not sure how to respond. Is this argument going to be dragged out every time someone questions this President?

HITLER: Both sides are dragging out Hitler/fascism accusations. Hitler brainwashed and controlled the German youth, and this address is Obama’s attempt to do the same. Ironically, the opposite is apparently true as well: by not broadcasting the address live, the district is embracing the book-burning, thought-controlling fascism of Nazi Germany.

HISTORICAL LOSS: Rochester is being accused of denying students a chance to participate in an incredible moment in history. I think the erupting controversy has greatly exaggerated the significance of the address. The President's address to a joint session of Congress the next night is historically significant, but this is not. And while I fully support the ideas and values of hard work and disipline that will reportedly be covered in Obama's back-to-school address, I think the historical significance of this speech is being blown way out of proportion.

DISRESPECT: President Obama is OUR President, and regardless of political beliefs he should be shown respect. By “censoring” or "banning" the speech, the district is being disrespectful. One parent seriously suggested that the district not only mandate the viewing, but the the district "command silence" as it was aired. Opponents counter with the “slippery slope’ argument, which suggests that a precedent is being established for unlimited presidential access to the nations children, thus inviting other politicians -- governors, county executives, or even local mayors -- to expect similar “opportunities” to reach American's youth.

INSPIRATIONAL & UPLIFTING: Why is the district afraid of an uplifting, motivational speech about working hard and staying in school? Let’s set aside the question of how people know exactly what the President will say, and the presumption that he will indeed be inspirational. The premise of this accusation is that the decision about airing the address live was content-based. It simply wasn’t.

UNPRECEDENTED: In 1988, President Ronald Reagan gave an interactive interview to schoolchildren. In 1991, President Bush (41) made a speech at Alice Deal Junior High School, broadcast live on radio and television, urging students to study hard, focus on math and science, avoid drugs and turn in troublemakers. It's asserted that both did so with out objection, so clearly President Obama is a victim of partisan politics. Again, it was respect for parental choice, and not content or party affiliation that drove the decision. But beyond that, Presidents Reagan and Bush most certainly faced plenty of objections from Democrats. Notably, former Democrat House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) was quoted as saying, "The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students, and the president should be doing more about education than saying, 'Lights, camera, action.' "

INTELLECTUAL COWARDS: By “censoring” the President, Rochester is showing how it is afraid to expose children to different views. Yet, if the district does broadcast the address live, then it is buying into the President’s “infomercial” that is really designed to increase his popularity. Both are quite a stretch, in my opinion. And again, the decision had nothing to do with the content.

In the end, the RCS School Board did not make this decision, but I am comfortable defending the compromise. Children can still watch the address.

Were the district to have made the opposite choice – to air the address live – I would instead need to be defending what could be a substantial disruption of school, as well as the notion that the school was all but forcing children to listen to their president -- perhaps in "commanded silence". I just can’t go there.

==> Mike.


Mike Reno said...

This is an emotional issue for many people. I welcome comments on this post -- including those that disagree with me -- but will remove any comments that are nothing more than mean-spirited rants.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post. Similar sentiments here:

Giving a back-to-school speech is a standard presidential event, like the Easter egg roll or pardoning the Thanksgiving turkey. President Obama created a massive public outcry, however, when someone on his team wrote on a supplemental activity sheet that after hearing the speech, public school children should be encouraged to write letters about how they might "help the president."

Obama's botched attempt to force American school children to promise to help him shows again how he is out of touch with average American family values. The politicizing of public school classrooms outraged parents and teachers.

Kevin said...

With respect, Mike, there are a lot of folks who have a profound distrust of President Obama, and don't want their children hearing ANY message from him. I, on the other hand, believe that the President's message is well-intentioned. I do believe that the decision to not air the message was made, in part, to assuage the concerns of those parents who don't agree with Obama's political agenda. I'm sure that District didn't want parents showing up at school on Tuesday to protest the airing of the speech.

I agree that the President could have gone about this more artfully. He probably should have provided a transcript in advance, or worked with educators to figure out a way to work the speech into lesson plans. Frankly, he probably didn't expect the uproar which is probably coming from a minority of parents.

The simple solution would have been to make the speech optional. How sad that something with positive intentions has been made so political.

Mike Reno said...

Hi Kevin.

I agree with most of what you said. I don't necessarily think that the President needs to provide an advanced copy of the text of this speech.

As the other Anonymous comment pointed out, this should've been a simple message, and should not have generated this controversary.

I don't think most people would've had a problem with it if those study guides had not been produced.

TeachOurChildrenWell said...

The 1st day of school is the opening day of another year of opportunityfor students.Politicians & idealogues have plenty of avenues for pressing their political agendas without further intrusion into schools. Rochester's superintendant handled this particularly well by preserving Day One's sanctity for students & teachers.Bravo Mr. Pruneau for putting student interests first!

lucydrake said...

Send the kids or don’t send them…either way, they will find out what was said…with the media and people talking, it will get out…

Kris said...

I have read the transcript that was released today, and it’s an appropriate “work hard to achieve your goals” message that even Superintendent Pruneau predicted it would be. I believe there is a place in American schools for students to hear their President challenge them educationally. It’s not the first time it’s been done, and – quite frankly – I hope it’s not the last. Any motivational message about education is welcome in my book, no matter the party affiliation of the messenger.

That said, the White House botched the delivery of the speech, didn’t schedule the address for a time when parents and kids could watch together, and the lesson plans were ridiculously over the top. And yep— a lot of people are getting way too hyped up over a pep talk because they’re not adult enough to be non-partisan for half a second.

But as far as RCS putting “choice” back in parents’ hands ... that’s a little too convenient an excuse for me. Truth be told, it was a heated issue, and it was easier for the administration to release a statement about how they respect “parental choice” above all else ... and then end up looking like a big hero — one that puts families first. Huh?! When did RCS start putting families first? Rarely have I seen a “families first” decision made in this district, even when those decisions directly impact the quality of the education my children consume in Rochester. I have rarely experienced “parental choice,” let alone positive collaboration in RCS. So, Superintendent Pruneau’s “choice” memo made me laugh because it’s such a copout — one that’s conveniently timed with a busy first (half) day of school and a manufactured concern for “families first.” Let’s call a spade a spade here and admit that the administration succumbed to the controversy, and didn’t have the guts to stand behind their own “beacon district” and “educational excellence” message to air a similarly themed (and politically benign) address from the POTUS. Now let’s see if the district puts that “families first” mentality to work on that teacher contract negotiation ...

Lisa said...

Students should be able to listen to the President's speech

Bill said...

Mike, where was this ever presented as being "mandatory"? The FAQ at the CSPAN site expressly states it's optional.

Ronnie did this. Bush sr. Where was the outrage then? The only "controversy" that has been generated has been by the paranoid segment of the far right that continues to be the front and face of the party in this Obama era. How unflattering for the sane people on the Right. It's sad.

Here's a transcript of the speech. Where's the controversy? Used to be it was quite an event and an honor for students to hear from the President. And Obama's personal story is also inspiring. What's more American than his story--a poor Black kid who grows up to be President?

Yeah, we better protect our children from this man's story and his speech!

Bill said...

The sad thing is I hope some teachers who do allow students to watch the speech in "defiance" of some district edict have tenure.

God bless tenure at a time like this, eh Mike? ;)

Bill said...

Look: you have a large segment of kooks who think Obama is the next Hitler. Please stop with the "this controversy would have been avoided if___________" bs.

You and I both know that Obama could have jumped through hoops that Ronnie and Bush never dreamed of having to jump through and the crazies still would be at him with pitchforks and torches.

Come on!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Bill...

You apparently post comments before reading Mike's posts. He specifically points to Dick Gepharts criticism of Bush. Here's another article from this morning:

When Bush spoke to students, Democrats investigated, held hearings

"Democrats, then the majority party in Congress, not only denounced Bush's speech -- they also ordered the General Accounting Office to investigate its production and later summoned top Bush administration officials to Capitol Hill for an extensive hearing on the issue."

"Democrats did not stop with words. Rep. William Ford, then chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, ordered the General Accounting Office to investigate the cost and legality of Bush's appearance. On October 17, 1991, Ford summoned then-Education Secretary Lamar Alexander and other top Bush administration officials to testify at a hearing devoted to the speech."

Please, spare us the "Poor Obama" pitch.

Bill said...

No, my point was that YOU guys didn't have a problem with it when Ronnie and Bush did it.

Bill said...

Even Newt is all for this. Don't the haters feel foolish now? I particularly love the story of the Texas mom who is having to take her kids out of school today so her kids can watch the speech.


This country is so f-ed up and dysfunctional that on some days I really wonder if there's any hope for us at all.

Dr. Ed said...

Ease up on the MSNBC.
You'll feel better in no time.

bill said...

yeah, maybe i should switch to sean hannity and fox. then instead of posting on the internet i'll divert my energy to stockpiling weapons and building a bunker in my back yard.

nice trade off. thanks for the advice.

Screamin' Right Wing Mimi said...

Mr. Bill,


Build bunker, crawl in and stay put.

Will let you know when it's safe to come back.

Mike Reno said...

To Bill, and his online Pals...

Enough of the banter already.

It's off topic.

Mike Reno said...

Quick update... The district will now be showing the address to all secondary students on 9/9/09. Parents will be able to opt-out if they so choose.

Not sure why they'd want to opt-out now... it's a good speech, and the part that worried some, the now infamous "study guides" have been "sanitized".

The controversy centered on the study guides, which even Arne Duncan admits were poorly worded.

Anonymous said...

Poorly worded as in omissions, mixed metaphores, or poorly worded as in code for "we took out the indoctrination"?

From my perspective it was no more than a tempest in a tea pot. The over zealous FEAR of a few making much ado about nothing.

F alse

E vidence

A ppearing

R eal

Lame Excuse Czarina said...

Brain Terminal's cogent summary:

"Inartful Wording? Or Lame Excuse?"

You may have heard about the uproar over President Obama’s desire to address the nation’s schoolchildren. Although the White House has not yet released the text of the speech, many people wondered whether the speech would be pushing Obama’s policy goals.

The idea that the speech would be political in nature is not something that people fantasized; it was related to the fact that the Department of Education’s lesson plan asked students to “help the president” and write about “what the president wants us to do.”

The Obama administration has since removed such language from the lesson plan, and has issued a rather lame excuse. The Associated Press reports:

Critics are particularly upset about lesson plans the administration created to accompany the speech. The lesson plans, available online, originally recommended having students “write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president.”

The White House revised the plans Wednesday to say students could “write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals.”

“That was inartfully worded, and we corrected it,” [White House deputy policy director Heather] Higginbottom said.

Of course, the only way the “inartfully worded” excuse works is if the new wording is a clearer way of saying what the original statement intended to convey.

In what universe is “what they can do to help the president” even remotely related to “how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals”?

One is not a more “artful wording” of the other. The administration’s new phrasing represents a completely different statement altogether.

If the president had intended to deliver a speech asking for students’ help achieving his political goals, I suspect this controversy will dissuade him from doing that.

We shall see.

Andrew said...


So if the study guides were the issue, then why did RCS (or others) not address that? '...We're going to show the broadcast, but have encouraged our teachers to (think for themselves) develop alternative questions and discussion points...'? The whole thing stank!

It was a positive message from the President of the United States, not the President of the Dems... Adults need to take off the blue and red tinted glasses and realize that this isn't always about their narrow minded political viewpoints.

And sorry to dip back into this Mike, but just because Gephardt and the Dems did it back in the 80s/90s doesn't make it right then or now. You can't use stupid as a defense.

I applaud the fact that RCS has the fortitude to actually show the speech. I have already heard that my (young school age) child watched it live and unprompted spoke with my wife about doing her best and finding her talents in life. Seems to me that was the intent of the message. If anything had been against my families values we would have taken it as an opportunity to discuss these with our children. Otherwise we'll have a generation of children that can't think for themselves and shuns hearing opposing viewpoints.

Schools are a place for learning and excellence, but nothing in the world is going to be exactly what you may want it to be. Become an advocate for your child and be involved in what goes on in their school and life, don't have let them "opt out" of life and learning.

eileen said...

I graduated from Rochester Adams in 2002 and I am now very disappointed to have come from a district full of such closed-minded and ignorant parents.

I completely understand the concerns about how politics should not belong in schools and that perhaps President Obama should have made the speech during prime time. But at the same time, what do parents seriously think our president was going to say to the youth of America that was going to be negative? I don't understand how a speech directed to students encouraging them to strive for higher educational goals really needed to be "monitored" and "previewed." I mean, he is our PRESIDENT.

Perhaps the problem is more so that Rochester is a rich, suburban, white, republican town full of auto industry execs who unfortunately saw all their thousands upon thousands of donated campaign dollars toward the McCain/Palin campaign go down the drain. Public records reflect this. The problem is that the voice of a "few concerned parents" became the voice of a whole school district. Granted, I graduated in 2002 and my younger brother just graduated this year but we both were educated through Rochester Community Schools and my parents are Rochester parents. I feel this "ban" did not speak for the majority but for the minority who want to control their kids and not encourage their kids to think for themselves. I even forwarded these articles onto my former Republican parents who both work for the auto industry but know that the change that has been going on in the metro Detroit area is part of a bigger plan.

I quote my dad:

"Hi Eileen. What did that tell you.. There's still a lot of resentment from Republicans on Obama's election win. I'm glad I'm on the other side, even though I live in the same city.
It has taken me so many years to slowly realize the flaws of a trickle down economy and globalization. It eventually benefits a few, but not the general public."

Mike Reno said...

Hello Andrew.

There are lots of things that could've been done differently... but keep in mind that I didn't have any more say in the matter than any other parent in the district.

If you watch our district at all, you'll know that I'm very much a "bring it on!" debator that welcomes discussion and dialog on issues, even being outnumbered 6 to 1. And, right now I'm the only board member that has tried to have any sort of public dialog on the topic.

So I think it should be clear that I would not be an "Opt-Out" or "Skip it" advocate.

I liked the compromise proposed by the district because it gave everyone at least a day to prepare, but it did not shy away from the discussion.

In general your points are well taken, but I think that it's hard sometimes to have faith that your children are being taught to think, and are not being "programmed".

This controversy caused that worry to bubble to the surface for a lot of people.

Some will certainly shrug off that worry as irrational, but I'll leave you with this quote that came from a parent to the board of education. I had replied to an initial note from this parent, and had asked why they felt it was so important to have it viewed "live", rather than as a recording the next day. This is the actual response I received:

"Watching the President live leads to a teachable moment for the students with their peers before
they go home and hear the possible negative disrespect from those parents..."

eileen said...

as a follow up, i'm very happy to see on the RCS website that the speech will now be broadcast tomorrow to middle school and high school students in the district.

Anonymous said...

"Watching the President live leads to a teachable moment for the students with their peers before
they go home and hear the possible negative disrespect from those parents..."

So the district's job is to provide 'teachable moments' that will shape student opinion before their views are unduly influenced by parents at home?


I think I finally understand the objections.

Registered Democrat said...

Following a disastrous August in which the slumbering American working class rose up from its comfy couches to boisterously denounce legislative malpractice in Washington, DC, Barack Obama finds himself in an epic battle for political survival.

As his handlers know, there’s nothing like a rousing schoolhouse revival to bolster a nosediving politician’s on-camera popularity, yet once again, the smartest White House in U.S. history managed to flub this timely image-enhancing opportunity in spectacular fashion.

The DoE’s “inartfully worded” lesson plans creeped people out…even those who voted for him, but are now wondering what on earth for.

How is it that with their expansive mission to “remake America” Obama & Co. have nothing better to do than insert the president between teachers, parents and students with government-issue “teachable moments”?

Barack Obama’s statist mantra, along with bungling congressional extremism, and a shadow government of unaccountable presidentially-appointed “czars” have understandably put middle class taxpaying Americans on wary alert.

And that’s the essence of this schoolhouse fiasco: distrust of yet another politician who promised so much more.

With DoE lesson plans in hand asking America’s youth to read all about Barack Obama & pledge their allegiance to his vision, suddenly, that Kim Jong Il analogy didn’t seem like such a stretch to a deeply disillusioned nation.

Thanks for that swell promise of hope, but please keep the change.

Bill said...

what a waste of time and money for school districts to be killing trees and sending home opt-out notices because there's a "really scary" guy called the president of the united states who wants to talk to children and parents need to sign off.

so a majority of the parents toss the paper into the garbage (more waste), and a few sign the paper to protect their children (while pokemon cartoons blare in the background).

utterly. brilliant.

again, no wonder we can't get anything done in this country.

you're a big fan of calling out waste, mike. what do you have to say for yourself that your district wasted time and money and resources walking on egg shells about something so utterly trivial and stupid? why cater to such nonsense? where's the "reformer" stuff now? cripes, a mountain was made out of a mole hill. the waste in time and energy over this topic by districts has been staggeringly stupid.

from what i can tell, there were no big announcements in the districts up here. i didn't see a single news story about it. which is what it should be.

good grief. enough.

Andrew said...

Mike, I am a RCS parent, follower of the blog, sad to see you won't be back. The board has seen a number of my notes come across in the short time we have been in the district. You/they did not receive one this round bcs I know that the decision was Mr. Pruneau's. The opportunity to discuss on your blog is simply a place to discuss. Thanks!

My sentiment is actually line with Bill's last post (maybe not as tinged with sarcasm, although I appreciate the humor Bill), I was disappointed that you seemed to have a milquetoast response to the issue. You've impressed my family and I by trying to push RCS out of the ho-hum district that it is. Your last few posts have discussed rigor and excellence; this seemed like an opportunity to appropriate the message of someone who was doing the same.

I appreciate the reason the decision was made and think that the end solution is appropriate. Those who are not responsible enough adults can have their child opt out. I have a relative who teaches government to high school seniors (different state) he said that he has parents calling and demanding that their kids (17 and 18 yr olds) not view the message. Talk about raising a generation that can't think critically.

I will comment on the parent's comment that you mention in a minute, but I can guess that there were messages from the "other side" that bordered on or crossed the line into absurd cries of socialism or more (like the Kim Jong Il comment above, really?). I understand the decision to "tape-delay" the speech and largely agree with it for a number of reasons.

To "anonymous at 7pm" and anyone else. Yes, the district, teachers and schools job is to provide "teachable moments". It sounds dumb that I should even have to call that out. Teachable moments should challenge preconceived notions and dogmas. They should make you stop and think and have a discussion. You don't have to agree with it, in the sum or in parts, but it does you no harm to discuss ideas. I would love (when my kids are old enough) if they would come home and say 'hey we talked about this in school today, what do you think' and then have the opportunity to have a discussion with them about our families values and beliefs. I would even welcome the opportunity to have them form their own opinion about something, different than mine and defend it because they believe in it.

Thanks again for the forum and for the work you do.

Martine said...


Is it the district’s job to repudiate parental rights to impart one’s own values and mores to one’s own children? The form these teachable moments often take in schools today is disrespectful and demeaning to those whose values & mores aren’t politically fashionable in public schools.

The comment “before they go home and hear the possible negative disrespect from those parents” for example, conveys an arrogant challenge to parents whose political beliefs differ from those popular in the classroom.

Bill said...


it's nonsensical. your kids runs a corporate minefield from the monment they wake up (television, billboards, sugar-crap products at school itself, clothing of peers) of manipulated messages telling them they aren't good enough, smart enough, cool enough unless they buy_____________ to the tune of hundreds and thousands of bombarded messages a day that you and other parents have no choice but to sit back and passively let happen--yet you're going to save your kids from hearing obama say "stay in school and respect your elders."

got it.

good grief.

can anyone hear actually see the forest through the trees? hello?

Bill said...

you well-off folks in rochester probably don't have any experience with "channel one," but we do up here in the rural poor districts.

it works like this: this private company comes into the school district and hands out free tvs for every classroom. the catch? students must watch ten minutes of corporate advertising each day before the "educational" programming comes on. oh, and the tvs must be on every day.

the sad thing? not one parent says boo about it--but some of those same parents will go ballistic about obama talking to their kids.

how messed up is that? serious question!

Anonymous said...

Mike: you say that you had no more say than any other parent. I take that as absolute fact.

However, I am curious as to how much involvement you had in helping organize the roughly 10% of parents that registered their objections ahead of time.

Again the the man behind the curtian. You just cover your tracks better than Wendy D.

Mike Reno said...

Ahhh... the conspiracy theory!

Nope. Dry well. This issue wasn't on my radar until the board had received a note from the superintendent informing them of the district's decision.

I am, however, curious about where you got your 10% number. The district has not compiled any statistics. You are making up numbers.

Anonymous said...

The 10% is from a response from the superintendant stating that parents representing roughly 1400 students wanted the plug pulled on the speech.

1400 out of 14,000 is 10%.

Bill said...

i don't think there's any conspiracy here with mike...but i do notice that most of the district's that had a huge public outcry and/or and official district statement about the speech tended to have (coincidentally or not) a noted "reformer" on the board who had a history of public participation in getting his or her views out to the world.


Mike Reno said...

Well, if the superintendent told you 1400 kids... then you are better informed than I am.

Registered Democrat said...

Hi Bill,

Frankly, I'm not down for mandatory, non-curricular in-school TV viewing by students, period. The price of accepting TVs and pop machines and other not-so-freebies in public schools is paid by students, not the adults who approve the environmental intrusion.

As for the Prez & this week's
O-foibles, what needs saying has already been said, but warrants one last attempt to explain what many found offensive.

That unfortunate and decidedly creepy DoE "Here is how we will help our Dear Leader" lesson plan was scrubbed PDQ, yet just as he warned Arlington students yesterday to heed their Facebook content because it can come back to haunt them, Obama might want to do the same with his own far-reaching communications.

With e-message transmission circling the globe as efficiently as it does, politicians need to police their messages not just for accuracy, but in this case, the creep factor.

Our bigger-government-is-better Prez got nailed not for his speechwriter's fine message, but for poking his nose into public school classrooms at the very moment in which much of the citizenry is rebelling against his intrusive brand of hope & change.

Fine speech. Bad execution. Obviously his people thought so too, because they lost no time in revising the supplemental classroom materials. My guess is we'll never know about the original speech.

And finally, re: your petulance over board reformers with a history of "public participation in getting his or her views out to the world", have you ever considered that if you had one on your school board, maybe your kids wouldn't be watching so much TV in school?

Mike is a great leader and an exceptional school board trustee. His willingness to explore all facets of an issue is as extraordinary as his efforts to forge compromise.If we could clone him, Michigan schools would be on far better footing.

Happy Wednesday!

Mike Reno said...

I checked with the district. They did not keep any statistics. The 10% figure could not be confirmed by anyone, including the superintendent.

Bill said...

there was an is no reason to get upset over this speech. it's just the residue of certain people being petty and sore losers.


the end.

Observer said...

I am not going to post the name or the email that came from someone in the office. At the time of the email the person reporting said that "over 200 calls had been recieved" by the office (assumed superintendant) objecting to the speach. If you want I will supply a paper copy Nixon style with all the good parts blacked out.

No estimate or speculation was given on the number of emails. I would expect many.

The 1400 number was given to me by others who now admit that they "speculated" the 1400. They also said that the 200 calls was "probably 2 parents per household". So you got me here. I have no hard facts.

But it looks like it was less than 10% since the only hard number was the 200 calls to the office.

I am not making anything up. I am reporting what I was told when called by another. Unfortunately the "he-said-she-said-would-you-believe" number got posted here by me. This is the nature of blogs. Sorry that I don't have any hard and complete facts. I now believe that it was far LESS than 10%.

Do you think more?

But remember. Your first response was to accuse me of "making it up".

I simply passed on what I was told. Irresponsible? Maybe but again this is the nature of blogs.

I will tell you that a growing number of parents are upset that the district had no spine and caved in to a paranoid minority here.

My comments to them are this.

In 20 years will any of this matter? NO.

So given the MUCH larger isssue of the current contract negotiations, this is about all I have to say about that.

Again. In 20 years will this silly issue matter? I doubt it.

The teacher contract will matter since it builds in fixed costs moving forward.

And I agree with Bill.

You guys are "sore losers".

De-creepThisBlogPlease said...

The only “losers” here are a couple of lame contributors to an education log generously provided by a local school board trustee.

Losers like Anonymous (September 9, 8:00 AM), who accuses his online host of “organizing the roughly 10%of parents that registered their objections ahead of time”. His charges are patently false, yet he has the temerity to resurface with these pathetic excuses for his lies.

Is this how you were raised, or is this behavior you’ve cultivated to compensate for your inability to engage in civil debate?

And Union Bill with his terminal case of last-word-no-matter-its-merit-itis is just a single-minded bore.

Honestly Mike, can’t you just cut these guys off already?


Anonymous said...

To De-Creep

What accusations? I asked a challenging question. If it was a leading question... Well it was probably on purpose. As for "patently false"... What charges. Please provide hard proof before you make accusations.

Lies. Well a lie is telling something that one knows to be false a priori. I had absolutely no reason to question the information I was provided.

Kind of like Fox News.

This is learned behavior. I have modeled my rhetorical skills after watching two specific board members.

I only hold up a mirror and let you attack the reflection.

Cut us off. Now that doesn't fit with free speech does it? Can't win the arguement so attack the speaker.

you accuse me of lying and expect a "civil debate". Wow.

Thanks again Mike for allowing this and taking it.

And Creep... I love the "big" words. It increases my vocabulary.

Bill said...

And I see no one here wants to touch with a 10-foot pole my claim that people let an elephant pass through but choke on a gnat (to butcher a metaphor) concerning things like Channel One and the other bazillion ways corporate head shrinks bombard our kids and goad them into buying their products during a typical school day.

Yeah, but I filtered my kid's message from that socialist Obama?

And instead of answering these claims the answer, according to a recent poster of apparently high gray matter, is to censor the message and messenger.

Not suprised. That is typical and right out of the Right-wing playbook. Page 1.


Sister Check Writer said...

Union Bill -
Registered Democrat addressed your concerns about commercial exploitation of public school kids.Since he didn't supply a rubric, you shouldn't be expected to follow his logic though.

Maybe if the MEA would butt out of local school board elections, districts might have independent thinkers nixing exploitative contracts?

Speaking of hypocrites, where does the MEA invest all those bucks they siphon off your paycheck?


Bill said...

Ah, okay, now we've got the old "MEA gets it's mindless robots elected to do their bidding" assinine commentary.


Bill said...

...and MEA union members (which include taxpayers and parents) should also not vote.

Maybe we could go back to a system where only white property owners can vote? That'd clear up a lot of things and I'm sure get school boards across the state loaded up with "reformers."

Brother Ed said...

Union Bill,

Maybe you have a point to make as opposed to invoking the modern liar's lazy rhetorical dodge: When all else fails,lob the race grenade?

Bill said...

i want to know who should be allowed to organize and to vote. i see idiots on the right constantly treating teachers, parents, and taxpayers who believe in unions and who are union members as being these dregs of society out to cannibalize your children and tear up the Constitution.

F*** that. We're Americans, too. And guess what: we can vote. Stick it in your ear.

Mike Reno said...

Bill, I think conversation on this topic has been exhausted, but as usual you I'm sure you'll have the last word.

As far as MEA efforts to "Elect your Boss", well, we've covered that here too. It was Nov, 2007, and you commented then too. No sense re-arguing that one... just re-read:

A more productive use of your efforts might be to go argue with Clay in the more recent post. Help to explain your views on how schools are not trying to water down the state's efforts to increase rigor.

Mike Reno said...

I don't agree with everything here, but it's a great piece with some great insight. It ran in the Detroit News today:


Obama's speech to students teaches lesson about power, by Neal McCluskey

The president of the United States wanted to talk to kids on their first day of school, and all hell broke loose.

Many Barack Obama supporters pointed squarely at right-wingers who, they say, hate the president and will stop at nothing to bring him down. Columnist E.J. Dionne called it "one of the most shameful episodes of the young Obama presidency."

Critics of the address point to a different culprit: U.S. Department of Education lesson plans that came out well before the speech. They suggested students "write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president," and made clear that students would be inspired by the president, no matter what. They also indicated the speech might delve into contentious social issues, pushing "students ... to discuss main ideas from the speech, i.e. citizenship, personal responsibility, civic duty." Only one of those fit a "work-hard" message.

The igniting spark, though, isn't nearly as important as knowing how we got to such flammable circumstances.

For decades, more and more power has been concentrated in Washington, so reasonable people with legitimate disagreements have had to fight much more -- and much harder -- over what goes on in D.C.

After more than a century-and-a-half of Washington keeping out of classrooms because the Constitution gives it no authority to go in, federal intrusions have peaked with the now school-dominating No Child Left Behind Act. That means that until the past 30 years, no president would have imagined giving a national, back-to-school address, and no one would have had to fight one.

Concentrating power in one place wouldn't be a problem if all Americans had the same ideals and needs. The diversity of nation, which has been a huge source of strength, dooms any centralization to conflict.

The president's speech demonstrates why political upheaval is inevitable. Reasonable public-school parents who did not want their children exposed to potentially controversial proclamations or campaigning -- or taxpayers who didn't want to fund it -- had no choice but to take action. Meanwhile, reasonable parents who wanted their kids to hear a potentially uplifting address on hard work and perseverance had to fight to get their districts to show it.

So how do we deal with this?

Local control of schools is one of the things that historically saved diverse Americans from crippling education conflict. Admittedly, it wasn't perfect. Where there wasn't homogeneity, conflict often ensued.

As districts have become much bigger and power has moved up the governmental ladder, conflict is constant. Whether the flashpoint is intelligent design, multiculturalism, sex education or just what day the school year will begin, decent people are regularly forced to fight.

To solve the problem, what we need is more school choice so parents can select schools that best meet their kids' needs and share their values. Rather than forcing diverse people to battle over government schools, let them educate their children with the freedom that is supposed to define American life.

If we cease forcing people to fight, we can put this ugly speech brawl behind us and ensure that nothing like it happens again.

Neal McCluskey is associate director of the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom. E-mail:

Bubbles said...


Chimpanzees COULD vote; the skill set is that basic and our founding fathers have guaranteed you the privelege...for better or worse.

Yet while the alpha male dominates chimp tribal politics, that doesn't mean the paradigm is well-suited for managing school cultures in which homo sapiens are educated, Bill.

So take that banana out of your ear and listen to Mike.

Believe me, Mike's a lot more tolerant and objective than the average taxpayer, no matter what your dues-collector says.

Have a great weekend!

Bill said...

actually, the founding fathers guaranteed only that white, rich, male land-ownders could vote. where we are today with voting was not the "original" intent of the "founding fathers."

just a clarification.

Bro Ed said...


I have no reason to doubt your sincere devotion to settling scores in favor of some personally prefered ideal of racial, religious or taxonomic equity and fairness.

That's the beauty of what those "white, rich, male land-owners" gave you. (By the way Bill,try looking into the world's far-flung corners and then, please show us how and where black, brown, yellow, purple or plaid "rich, male landowners" did more for personal freedom in their own lands).

If you're so inclined Bill,you can even work for komodo dragon voting rights, property ownership and government guaranteed health care services.

That was the "original intent" and you are welcome to pursue its interpretation as you see fit.