Planned Obama school speech sparks furor

The divide between red and blue America was a few yards of asphalt and a yellow parking stripe Thursday at Green Valley High School in Henderson.

A mom waiting for her children to get out of school was suspicious of President Barack Obama’s plan to give the nation’s K-12 students a back-to-school speech at 9 a.m. Tuesday through an online and C-SPAN broadcast.

"I think it’s a leftist tactic to get kids to talk to their parents about the issues," said Sue Blackwell. "It’s underhanded, to be honest."

Blackwell said the president would be better off talking to the students’ parents.

Another mom, Brenda Joyner, was incredulous that a president’s desire to speak to students about the importance of education was even a controversy.

"It’s the Fox News people again," Joyner said. "Every time I turn on the news, they’re bashing him."

Joyner said Obama deserves credit for trying to be a role model. "How many other bigwigs are willing to do this?" she asked.

Other presidents, such as George H.W. Bush, have given motivational education speeches to students that were broadcast over television and radio, according to the Washington Post.

Reaction to the announcement of Obama’s speech was significant enough for the Clark County School District to post an open letter from Superintendent Walt Rulffes on the district’s Web site,

Rulffes assures parents that the speech would not be required classroom viewing for either students or teachers.

Teachers would only use the speech if they thought it was compatible with their lesson plan. Parents wanting an alternative lesson for their children were urged to call their school.

Zhan Okuda-Lim, a 16-year-old junior at Valley High School, 2839 S. Burnham Ave. near Eastern and Sahara avenues, did not think he would be watching it because he will be in chemistry class Tuesday morning. Lim said he would try to watch it later on YouTube or C-SPAN.

Lim said he could not answer concerns that the speech was an attempt at "indoctrination" because he had not heard it yet.

One first-grade teacher, who requested anonymity because she did not to want to speak on behalf of the district, said she wouldn’t use the speech because it would not be relevant to her young students.

But she did think the speech might have educational value for teens.

A middle school teacher, who also asked not to be named, said he wanted to know what was in the speech before his students saw it. He said news coverage has made him uneasy about the speech.

U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Obama will give a 15 to 20 minute speech "about persisting and succeeding in school."

The education department is also providing teachers with questions on how to lead a classroom discussion about the speech. It’s also sponsoring a YouTube-style video contest in which students will compete to make "creative" and "entertaining" two-minute videos about the importance of school.

White House officials have said the president won’t be talking about public policy. Critics like Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer have said the speech is intended to "spread President Obama’s socialist ideology."

But Andy Matthews, a spokesman for the conservative Nevada Policy Research Institute, noted that Obama has been advocating "market-oriented" solutions for education, such as independent charter schools and teacher accountability, or evaluating teachers with student test scores.

"He’s striking a lot of the right notes," Matthews said. "I hope the Nevada education establishment is listening."

Contact reporter James Haug at or 702-374-7917.

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