Unless you have been living under a rock you have probably heard about the controversy surrounding President Obama's address to students on Sept 8th. PUSD opted out of the speech. PUSD Superintendant Don Phillips sent a message to all PUSD parents suggesting that they watch the speech "at home as a family." The district provided a link to the speech from their website. And, Dr. Phillips laid out the hoops a teacher would have to jump through to use the speech as part of their classroom curriculum.
As with any significant current events topic, some teachers may choose to include the viewing of the Presidents speech as a part of a supplemental classroom learning activity focused upon the importance of education, goal-setting, and college and career awareness. We will not be encouraging teachers to do so, nor requiring that they use any of the suggested learning options from the Department of Education. As with all classroom lessons, we expect our teachers to present all materials in a relevant and meaningful way.
We understand that some families may not wish to have their child watch the Presidents speech at school. We are sending guidelines to all teachers indicating that if they plan to include the speech as part of a lesson, they need to inform parents by the end of school this Friday and give parents an opportunity to opt out by notifying the teacher prior to the broadcast on Tuesday morning. Students who have opted out will be assigned supervised alternate learning activities out of the classroom during the 20-minute speech and any immediate follow-up discussion.
Let's see. The president of the United States, the highest ranking public official in the country, a man whose own success was due to hard work and perseverance wanted to tell kids to study hard and do their homework. PUSD discouraged teachers from letting their students listen and formally allowed students to "opt out" if the teacher brazenly showed the speech anyways. I emailed Dr. Phillips, the highest ranking public official in PUSD, and asked him if PUSD had ever allowed students to "opt out" of any speech or address from any other public official or politician in the past. Dr. Phillips hedged his answer by replying that no public or elected official had requested to address ALL students since he arrived in 2001. Ohhhh.....Kay.
If the letters to the editor in the Chieftain and online comments are any indication, the brouhaha is simmering up, not down. The Chieftain's own editorial on Sept 16 tried to distance PUSD from responsibility for disrespecting the president by blaming Washington for insufficient planning. They also lashed the Dept of Education for "trampling state's right's" by suggesting an optional lesson plan. Trampling state's rights? What the...? Must be part of that "get government outta my face" discombobulation. Geez, maybe PUSD should send back the millions of stimulus dollars that the Obama administration sent their way this year and invite Arnold to come speak to the kiddies and explain how he can run the state and keep the schools humming by cutting taxes.
Chieftain reader Amy Sandberg was similarly not impressed with their editorial.
Amy Sandberg of rancho bernardo wrote at 11:23 pm on September 16, 2009:
Oh please!!!! What a bunch of Monday morning quarterbacking this article is! Parents didn't even knew the content of the "suggested" curriculum (of a voluntary address) when the outcry began. You can bet racism was involved at some level if only sub-conscious, as was partisanship and fear. Fear of what, I'm not sure. Certain whack jobs in our community and nationwide are acting as if the democratically elected leader of the free world is a child predator standing on a street corner offering our students candy. This is our PRESIDENT for God's sake. Does anyone recall what George W. Bush was doing when terrorists flew planes into the twin towers on 09/11/01? He was reading to a classroom of impressionable young minds. And GOOD FOR HIM! If our president--even one our parents don't like-- can't inspire our children, then who can?
And as for treading on state's rights, who's kidding who? 'No Child Left Behind' is a federally (un)funded mandate requiring schools to hold to certain standard otherwise loose their credetials and funding from the Feds. Would that not be an intrusion of states rights as well?
Kudos to the parents of the La Mesa/Spring Valley School District for holding their school board members accountable...PUSD parents should do the same!
Former city councilmember and retired teacher Bob Emery ended his Sept 23 column with a brief comment about the controversy.
A mild hip, hip, hooray to Poway Unified for leaving it up to the teachers and parents whether to watch it or not. Personally, I would have made viewing the speech mandatory.
That set off a reader, aptly named, "PowayBoob" who flamed Bob online.
A "boo and a hiss" for Bob Emery's opinion that viewing of Obama's speech would have been "mandatory" had it been in his classroom.
WHAT Obama said was not so controversial as much as WHO Obama the man is, saying it. It is interesting that someone who will not release his own school transcripts and who admitted to drug abuse while in school wants to have a pulpit to "talk about the values..." children should espouse. A man who for over twenty years sat at the feet of a preacher who hates America, who studied and employed the teachings of radical Sal Alinsky and who apprenticed with Bill Ayers, a terrorist.
Most people are all for exposing their children to various ideas and viewpoints, but want to draw a line somewhere. For many, they draw the line at having this man (not as the President), but specifically THIS man, address their children. I cannot say I blame them.
As his life is NOT representative of the values that many people have, I think it is right that they have a CHOICE to let their kids hear him or not. Your viewpoint Bob, is very typical of a lifelong Democrat, union-backed teacher who is out of touch with both what kids need and what families want.
Schools need to do more teaching and less indoctrination. Of COURSE Bob would have made "viewing the speech mandatory". That is what indoctrination requires...
Thumbs up! for PUSD for making viewing of the speech a choice and not mandatory as some would have.
PowayBoob makes her case very clear. It is not about what Obama says, it is WHO HE IS that rankles her. So it really wouldn't have mattered if the district had a week or a month to prescreen Obama's comments or pour over the suggested lesson plans. The Obama haters are freakin' crazy. There is no reasoning with them. So I have some pity for Dr. Phillips. What was he supposed to do when they started calling him? Tell them to turn off Fox and Rush and hate radio and come back in a couple of weeks (if and when their heads cleared) and talk about it? I imagine they told him they would have HIS head on a platter if PUSD showed Obama's speech.
I've seen this hysteria before. I saw it in the 60s when folks went completely ballistic because little black kids were attempting to go to school with little white kids. Armed federal agents managed to get the kids through the doors, but it didn't protect them from the hateful stares and vile comments that greeted them every day. What were the parents afraid of? That one of those little black kids might grow up and be president someday? Ha!
I saw this hysteria in the early nineties too. The religious right emerged as a political force. Their goal was to get as many of their people elected to office, any office, but particularly school boards. Once they had a majority on the board, they planned to impose religion based changes on curriculum and school policies. They were particularly successful in San Diego county. Matthew Freeman explains how they did it in his book The San Diego Model: A Community Battles the Religious Right:
In 1990, San Diego, California became the testing ground for this strategy, when the Christian Coalition joined forces with a number of Religious Right organizations in fielding and then working to elect a slate of like-minded candidates. Among the offices for which these candidates ran were a handful of state legislative seats, and a host of positions on hospital planning boards, city councils, water districts, and most significantly, school boards.
Altogether, these forces fielded some 90 candidates in 1990, nearly two-thirds of whom were ultimately elected. Apart from ideology, what distinguished these candidates from all others was their method of campaigning. While most candidates seek opportunities to meet the voters, these candidates rarely ventured beyond the safety of their church communities. They came, in fact, to be referred to as "stealth candidates," and one longtime school board member would say of an elected slate member that "Nobody laid eyes on her till the day she was sworn in."
The movement's success in 1990 put it within striking distance of a still more significant victory in 1992: in a number of school districts throughout the country, Religious Right forces, with at least one board seat already safely in their column, were poised to seize control of the board with just modest gains in 1992's elections.
With control of school boards would come virtual carte blanche for the religious Right to enact its extreme agenda for the schools, ranging from censorship of selected novels and textbooks to the teaching of Creationism alongside evolution in biology classrooms; from the gutting of sex-education programs to a variety of hard-hearted policies intended to end school breakfast programs for the needy and day-care for the children of working-parent families, on the grounds that such programs undercut the family.
In the 1992 election, 10 out of 30 religious conservatives won school board seats, but they had a majority in only one district- Vista. And what a contentious mess that was. Their school board meetings were like today's town hall meetings. In 1994, fearful that the same fate could happen to PUSD, groups organized to push back.
In a move to foil the religious right’s agenda, three area chambers of commerce formed the Cookie Coalition, so named because it first met at the Keebler factory in Poway. The coalition’s school board candidates won decisively.
The "Cookie Coalition" candidates were Steve McMillan, Penny Rantfle and Jeff Magnum. McMillan retired some years ago, but Rantfle and Magnum are still on the board.
I have no idea if the school board weighed in before Dr. Phillips sent his letter to parents. In an email response to my inquiries, Dr. Phillips stated that PUSD was in the process of reviewing the entire event (Obama's speech) and how they might respond in the future. So, I am sure the school board is going to have a say in the future policy. It will be interesting to see how the two remaining cookie coalition members deal with it.
Dr. Phillips also mentioned (in response to my questions) that 50 students stayed home "due to the speech". Wow, that is gonna leave a mark. If they stay home, the district loses "daily attendance money" for those students. I wonder which students stayed home- the children of the frenzied lunatic fringe, or perhaps some parents who thought it was important for their children to see Obama's speech live, as it happened. Some people actually think Obama is inspirational.
As I see it, PUSD opened a pandora's box with their ill-thought out policy. I mean, if you can opt your kid out of an address by the highest public official in the country, why not let him/her opt out if he/she doesn't like his/her teacher, or the topic of the day? Detention? Pffffttttt! Just opt out. No union-belonging teacher should discipline your kid. This could get real ugly.
The current wave of hysteria is sometimes very difficult for the rational to understand. While the rhetoric is sometimes racial and sometimes "religious" wignuttery, it is more often, just completely wacko, making no sense at all. It is interesting that it was the chamber of commerce folks who got together and sought candidates for the school board to stop the takeover from religious wingnuts. Chamber of Commerce types are typically conservative right wingers. They stepped forward to stop the fringe element from messing with the schools.
Sadly, there seems to be no one on the right who is stepping forward to tell the crazies to put a lid on it. In fact, they seem to be encouraging it and joining in the show of disrespect. Their only goal seems to be to bring Obama down, to delegitimize him. If they can spread the hyped-up discontent, oppose Obama and stall any new legislation, then maybe they can swing things their way in the 2010 elections. And then what? What can top spending $60 million to impeach a president for lying about a consensual blow job, or invading a country for their oil, trampling on the constitution, shredding all the treaties, torturing and rendition, and, oh yeah, starting with a surplus and ending up with the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression? Granted, they didn't destroy social security, yet, but give them a chance in 2010 and they will try again.
For our schools' sake, for our country's sake, reasonable people need to push back against the hysteria of the right wing crazies. Hopefully, PUSD will get it together, and not let political factions use the schools in a struggle for power.
I suppose it is no surprise that politicians will use hyped-up crazy people to achieve more power for themselves. But there are other agitators stirring the pot who are not politicians. What are they getting out of it? In my next post, I am going to delve into the activities of 2 local agitators and try to answer that question.