Educators support Obama speech to students

Sept. 6, 2009 While the White House is on the defensive about the president's message, Mr. Obama is getting a lot of support from educators.

In 1991, when Pres. George H.W. Bush announced he would address the nation's students, excitement was the typical reaction from parents and students.

"They were thrilled at the prospect of seeing him, hearing him and meeting him, and they should've been," said Cynthia Mostoller, who was the teacher in the Virginia classroom that hosted the president. "There's nothing to be afraid of in listening to the president speak. I hope that we listen a lot to what any president has to say."

But not all educators agree. Some school districts are refusing to broadcast the president's live remarks, after some parents raised concerns that President Obama is using the address to somehow indoctrinate their children.

"He is not to sit in on this speech. He is not to participate in the discussion, and he sure as hell is not going to sit there and write an essay," a caller who was identified as Phil of Boynton Beach, Fla. said during a radio broadcast of the Joyce Kaufman Show.

The firestorm erupted when the White House put out lesson plans suggesting that students write a letter about how they could quote "help the president." That wording has since been changed by the administration. But Sunday, the Obama administration was still answering critics.

"The president's whole message is about personal responsibility and challenging students to take their education very, very seriously," Sec. of Education Arne Duncan said. "I think all the drama, at the end of the day, if the president motivates one C student to become a B student, one B student to become an A student, or one student who was thinking about dropping out to stay in school and take their education seriously, it's worth it."

In 1991, President Bush asked students for similar help.

"Write me a letter about ways you can help us achieve our goals," Mr. Bush said to the students.

Bush's Secretary of Education, Lamar Alexander, said Sunday that schools should use President Obama's speech as an opportunity.

"If I were a teacher, I'd take advantage of it, and I'd put up Lincoln and Eisenhower and Reagan and teach about the presidency," Alexander said.

That's what Cynthia Mostoller plans to do Tuesday.

"Whether they agree with his message or not, they still need to be informed citizens and learn to make their own decisions," she said. "And that is what education is about."

An advance copy of the speech was to be released Monday.

Many schools in Chicago and the suburbs are letting teachers and parents decide whether or not to allow student watch the address.

Copyright © 2023 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.