Not so sinister

What’s So Sinister About a Presidential Back-to-School Speech? I ask the question on Pajamas Media and many, many people have an answer.

As I write in a response to commenters, I think the abuse heaped on President George W. Bush, including “Chimpy Bushhitler,” has “normalized a very nasty, paranoid style of political discourse. We need to relearn how to disagree with political opponents without demonizing them.”

The teachers’ guide that alarmed so many people has been modified, points out Jim Geraghty. Instead of suggesting that students write letters about how they can “help the president,” the new version suggest students write letters on how they can achieve their education goals.  Someone heard the criticism.

Also on PJ Media, Barbara Curtis issues a “call to arms,” urging parents to get involved in their children’s schools, find out what’s being taught and express their concerns.

About Joanne


  1. Nothing sinister at all if we accept public schools for what they really are: government indoctrination centers. As that is the mission, it is logical that President Obama would address his future youth corps there. Bill Ayers is correct in that in order to enact the radical change he wants, America’s children must be instructed accordingly. He has been working diligently to that end for some years now and with great success.

    What surprises me are the parents raising a fuss and threatening to keep their children home from school the day Pres. Obama makes his address. Don’t they realize that their children are being indoctrinated, rather than educated, on a daily basis already? The day of the address will be no different. These parents are fooling themselves in thinking they can send their children to government schools without them becoming creatures of the state.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    That there were complaints about the “serve the president” meme indicates that there was a “serve the president” meme.
    IOW, it’s what they wanted until they found out it wouldn’t fly.
    They still want it. Just have to figure out another way.
    And, as usual, figure out new ways for the admins of the various schools to pretend to be puzzled why private schools and homeschooling are taking so many of their pupils.
    I mean “their” pupils. The kids belong to the schools. They’re worth $7k-$10k a head.
    I do recall the good old days, fondly, when part of my job as parent was to countereducate my kids.
    They’ve turned out wonderfully well.

  3. Given his past (two books about his own life),campaign (official-looking seal, Berlin rally with imperial-looking colummns etc) and his behavior since the election, it’s not hard to see ego and “personality cult” as major themes. Have you noticed that he’s encouraging – via the NEA (arts endowment)- artists to create works that focus on key parts of his agenda? Nothing is apolitical in his worldview and he is clearly eager to use those entities (ACORN, both NEAs, other unions) who powered his campaign to continue his agenda. It’s the Saul Alinsky way.

    BTW: If you think that Bush would have been deservedly hammered by the mainstream media and all of the left groups/politicians for this stunt, then you are morally obligated to find Obama’s behavior equally unacceptable.

    To me, it’s creepy in a culty, Hitler Youth/Young Pioneers way. The left has a history of using kids to inform on their parents and it has already begun. Kids have been asked in school about guns, alcohol, recycling, spanking etc. at home and encouraged to talk to their parents about the proper views on these matters. This is just one more step down that path.

  4. Even if you agree with the idea of the president speaking directly to children, in school, and agree with the content (which may be/have already been modified, like the teachers’ guide, in response to criticism), it’s still a (another) waste of instructionsl time. If it is to be done at all, it should be in the evening, so parents can decide if it is to be watched.

  5. Oh, the paranoid style in American politics goes back a long, long way. People believed that Washington was making himself king. Anyone remember the black helicopter crowd and the Clintons? Or “Ronald Wilson Reagan = 666” graffiti? It doesn’t go away from President to President, and it isn’t caused by this President or that President or by the activities of the last decade or two of protestors.

  6. Kevin Smith says:

    I think that this is a great example of how out of touch some of the spin doctors in DC have really gotten. Anyone who DIDN’T realize the original lesson guide would cause a fuss is clueless….

  7. We’ve been instructed (in my district) that if we plan to stream it live, we have to inform parents first. Further, it is preferred that we view the downloadable broadcast (sans students) and then determine if it has value and if it fits into our lesson/unit goals…and do so while in communication with parents who have the right to have kids opt out of the lessons. I, for one, am not including his speech in any of my classes…though I am recording it for consideration in our later unit on propaganda (where kids will also get exposed to propaganda from Bush, Clinton, Reagan, Hitler, Stalin and Coca-cola to name a few).

    My district’s response doesn’t sound much like a mandate from some Hilter-esque evil government plot to indoctrinate the malleable minds of young Obamites.

  8. Please tell me you all are not serious.

  9. Richard Aubrey says:

    Mark. We weren’t talking about your district.

  10. Wow Richard. What were you talking about then? I guess I misinterpreted the conversation. I was simply offering a concrete example of how schools are responding. It’s far too easy to vilify all public schools if isn’t considered that not all fall neatly in line with what has turned out to be a clearly divisive decision.

  11. Richard Aubrey says:

    Mark. We were talking about Obama and his speech and the intrusion of the feds.

  12. Somehow I missed that. It’s clearly a more subtle conversation than my radar can pick up. Sorry for intruding on your discussion, Richard, I’ll be sure to steer clear in the future.

  13. Richard Aubrey says:

    Try again.
    No Obama Youth Corps?
    What about the civilian security force to be as large and as well-funded as the military?
    Is that going to have a Junior Auxiliary?
    Or was Obama lying about the civilian security force as large and as well-funded as the military?
    Or has he given up?
    If not and not, then he’ll be pushing a civilian security force as large and as well-funded as the military. Will it have a Junior Auxiliary?

  14. Richard Aubrey says:

    I looked at Vodkapundit. That is, “Stephen Green”.
    Who said anything racist?
    There was a reference to “afffirmative action” which only means the guy got ahead due to his skin color.
    “Racism” is actions based on the belief in “racialism”, the doctrine that some races are superior and some are inferior. You can look it up. Referring to affirmative action does not intersect with the concept of racism.
    Affirmative action actually exists. See Grutter. Or Carl Cohen at U-Mich.
    People get ahead on merit, connections, luck, or, another thing, affirmative action.
    Since Obama has not released his transcripts or school work, we have no idea whether he actually can back up his supporters’ claims of his brilliance.
    So he may have been helped on his way by affirmative action.
    It is not racist to mention the possibility if you believe that he is stunningly incompetent and have a hard time figuring out how he got this far. Luck? Connections? Possibly. But all the doors he approached opened before him. Nobody has that kind of luck.
    No serious job before a couple of unsealed divorce decrees moved him ahead in politics.
    Wondering about that is not racist.

  15. I’m a conservative first and a Republican second. Reading some of the comments here and over at the PJM site, I’ve found we’ve officially reached crazy territory. Is it typical Obama overeach? Yes. Is it something to really be concerned about? No. It’s not a slippery slope to socialism; it’s just Obama and his bots inappropirately intruding (again) where they shouldn’t. Stop with the hysterics, people.

  16. Richard Aubrey says:

    Why is overreach nothing to be concerned about?
    If we’re not concerned about it, and actively opposing it, overreach will actually, you know, happen.
    Since you call it OVERreach, I presume you think having whatever Obama’s proposing would be possibly a bad thing.
    So why not oppose it?
    How do you know it’s not part of a push to socialism?
    You’ll note his green jobs czar is a truther and has said he sees his work as destroying capitalism.
    Should we not be concerned?

  17. Richard, we’re clearly having two distinctly different conversations. When I have time, I’ll troll back through all the reading I’ve done on a dozen or so sites where people are spouting off on this matter and see if I can find the exact wording to satisfy you. No, it wasn’t affirmative action, there was a dig at Obama with a racist reference to Arabic culture, others “Husseins” in history, and a derogatory slam involving sand. To me, that did not serve a purpose when the discussion should have been about his administration’s highly questionable decision.

    If your goal is to keep digging at me, please do whatever brings you pleasure. If you read what I’ve actually written, we agree on a great deal…not everything. My point, as always, is that productive discourse doesn’t seem to happen in places like this.

    Clearly, I’m hooked in to this idle and fruitless waste of text… must…shake…free…

  18. Mark G: No, I share your confusion. FWIW, my school isn’t doing it either. I did get the link to the lesson plan today — I saw nothing unusual about it — it asks secondary students to analyze the message and the rhetoric in a pretty basic way. It might make an AP lesson plan … we’ll see. I think the controversy is more interesting as a lesson in stasis theory, actually.

    I’m more interested in the freak out factor than the speech itself.

  19. Richard Aubrey says:

    Culture is not race.
    And, you know, cultures are all perfectly wonderful except ours which is perfectly vile.
    If Obama has been influenced by Arab culture–don’t know if he has or not, Indonesian Islam being not particularly Islamic–it would be, or not be, relevant. But it certainly isn’t either racist or disallowed.

  20. Richard Aubrey says:

    Are you referring to the first iteration of materials, or the one after the outcry?

  21. Richard, According to press reports, he’ll be giving some typical presidential talk about the importance of education and setting educational goals. I saw the lesson plans orginally offered by the department of education. While there were a few somewhat inappropriate quesitons, these have been deleted/changed. While I disagree with the man’s policies, he is the President of the United States. The level of suspicion is irrational.

  22. Sorry, Stacy. I don’t think it’s possible to be too suspicious of this President or his motives. That doesn’t mean attack or criticize everything he does, but let’s not pretend that he’s an innocent victim here.

    I just did a post on this topic over at my own site. I worry about the hero worship and cult of personality built up around this man, unlike any I’ve seen around any President in my lifetime. It is genuinely a cause for concern, if only to nip it in the bud before any danger is imminent.

  23. Let’s see…hundreds of thousands are losing their jobs every month…we are fighting two wars…the economy is in the toilet…and our President is just giving a pep talk to children? Either he’s really, really stupid and stalling for time, or very clever. Either way, I don’t like it.

  24. Richard Aubrey says:

    I recall such moderate views of the president in a recent administration.
    Respect the office, not the man. Up to a point, unfortunately, where the incumbent of any respectable office can stain the office itself.

  25. I’m impressed with the lack of representation from the left on this site. To me it sounds generally like a lot of people complaining about the political system, but without any solutions.

    As for government indoctrination in schools, that takes place naturally. We elect officials on the local, state and national level and those officials decide what is going to be taught in schools. If you have a problem with what is taught in schools, don’t point fingers at the officials, point them at the general public for not really taking the time to elect decent representatives. Do you know who your representatives are on the local level? How about the state level? Can you name any of your school board members? Do you know how they’re appointed and what their education backgrounds are?

    As for the president, I voted for him and he’s doing pretty much what I expected him to do. He is making progress as best he can in a hyper-politicized environment that has developed because people don’t actually hold politicians accountable.

    What I think most conservatives are doing are tearing the man down so that our previous president doesn’t look so bad in retrospect. The fact of the matter is a lot of people screwed up by keeping Bush in office and now they have to rain on the other guy’s parade in order to save face. It’s good to be skeptical of people in office, but to tear down all policies they’re passing without giving another solution seems naive.

    Regarding a “pep talk to children” – in spite of all the problems the country is facing right now, I hardly believe the president should put the FUTURE of the country (the children) on the back burner. Giving a short speech, one in which a speech-writer spent a lot of time on- not the president- is hardly out of line.

    Lastly, if you’re going to complain and complain about politics and all your going to do is regurgitate rhetoric you’ve heard on the nightly news, you’re actually part of the same political mess you’re criticizing. Get informed. Vote. Stop whining. Act.

  26. Richard Aubrey says:

    To riff off Reynolds, they told me if I voted for McCain….
    Nope. They didn’t tell me that if I voted for McCain I’d have a president who hung out with terrorists, takes the wrong side on Honduras, lies like a rug, slept through twenty years of “God Damn America” sermons, has no clue, disses our allies.
    And I voted.
    Nice to know he’s doing what you prefer.
    Chavez and Castro and Zelaya, presidents for life. Good idea or bad? We should support the latter or not.
    Good advice to vote.
    Unfortunately, by reneging on the public funding issue, O was able to outspend McCain by about seven to one, much of which was untraceable (which is illegal but progressives don’t care about such things when it’s their guy doing it).
    As to local voting, have you followed the discussion on NYC’s rubber room and the expense of firing a teacher? How many of those would your school board want to take on in a year?
    Works better to make sure your kid is countereducated. Better use of time and effort.

  27. Nick, voting is a waste of time. It’s fooling yourself into thinking you are free. Voting doesn’t make you free. You vote one way, ten others vote another way because they want you to pay for something they want, or they want you to live your life by their moral code.

    Good comment, Nadine. You got it exactly right.

  28. Richard-
    I know all about the rubber room in NYC and am pretty opposed to it. Personally I think the union is too strong in NYC and is making things difficult for education reform.

    I’d also prefer not to be lumped into your idea of “progressives,” whatever that is. While I stated that Obama is doing what I expected, I did not say he’s doing what I want or prefer. There’s a big difference. I thought that his actions would be incredibly predictable after the election and they have been. People shouldn’t be outraged or surprised, they should have expected everything that’s come down the pipes.

    As for McCain’s proposed budget cuts, how many politicians in recent decades (perhaps ever) have stuck to the budgets and policies they’ve announces in their campaigns? How many have been held accountable for not sticking to them?

    That attitude is exactly what the political machine wants you to have. It makes their jobs much easier. I’m not sure what you mean by “ten others vote another way because they want you to pay for something they want,” as a vote for either party will mean ridiculous amounts spent on foreign wars or ridiculous amounts spent on poorly-run government programs. Please clarify.

  29. Ms. Jacobs, your original article in Pajamas Media did not have quotation marks around the phrase, “Chimpy Bushhitler”. That omission, if it was accidental, moved your article from the realm of interesting to the realm of yet another moonbat engaging in oral flatulence.

  30. Richard Aubrey says:

    There are two issues. One is the inappropriate questions and other content in the first attempt at supporting lesson plans or whatever they called it. That was the clearest picture of what they wanted to do. Some of what they wanted to do is, in your words, inappropriate.
    If there had been no outcry, they’d be doing what you think is inappropriate.
    So I don’t see the problem, from your point of view, of protesting. It’s how the items you think of as inappropriate were removed.

    Sorry about placing you as a progressive. Obama is doing what you expected and you voted for him expecting it. So how is it illogical to think you were hoping for him to do this stuff?

  31. Nick, how dare you assume that I’m not informed, and don’t vote? It’s possible for informed adults to form their own opinions.

    Even though I am informed, I must have missed the transformation of local school systems into a federal school system. At present, I regard the feds as a dandy source of mostly unfunded mandates. Most of those mandates add to schools’ financial burdens, by creating bureaucratic processes and forms which must be kept up to date.

    Why is it sinister? It’s sinister because it’s the sort of event one would expect of a banana republic. It’s sinister because its historical precedents are creepy.

    It’s sinister because it assumes that a politician’s desire to make a political speech should be more important than the academic activities which should be taking place. We should regard the school day as a sacred trust. We should shield the teachers and students from intrusions from the outside world. Neither a president nor a mayor should have the power to decide to intrude upon that space.

    Parents should be able to send their children to school without feeling that they are delivering them into the care of whichever political party happens to hold the White House. It would have been simple to “address the nation’s schoolchildren” with an evening address, at which point families could choose to watch–or not. Of course, the people who are now protesting most vociferously would not choose to watch. It is only possible to subject their children to state propaganda in the state classroom.

  32. >> “I think the abuse heaped on President George W. Bush, including “Chimpy Bushhitler,” has “normalized a very nasty, paranoid style of political discourse. We need to relearn how to disagree with political opponents without demonizing them.”

    I’m sorry, but that’s not actually how it happened. Go back and read the Free Republic archives from the Clinton years, or look at LGF, or a host of other hate sites authored from the right and aimed at the left.

    The abuse continues from the right because that’s how they got Bush elected. They expect it to get, um, Palin? elected.

  33. Kids might be the future, but I’m more worried about the here and now. Doesn’t the President have better things to do? What’s the whole point of this little stunt? Better PR?

  34. “If you have a problem with what is taught in schools, don’t point fingers at the officials, point them at the general public for not really taking the time to elect decent representatives.”

    This is true, Nick. For too many decades, parents have willingly given their children over to the government schools without holding them accountable. Very few parents I know have ever taken the time to lay out a vision for what it means to be truly educated and act accordingly. Parenthood can be overwhelming. We often don’t trust ourselves to chart a course different from the status quo. Also, we have all (mostly) been indoctrinated to believe that educating our children is the job of professional educators and that parents should leave it to them. That said, education bureaucrats HAVE made an art out of deceiving parents and making them feel guilty for disagreeing. I’ve read countless stories and even witnessed it myself. They are adept at shutting parents up.

    “Do you know who your representatives are on the local level? How about the state level? Can you name any of your school board members? Do you know how they’re appointed and what their education backgrounds are?”

    Oh yes, I know who they are. You are deluding yourself, Nick, if you think that parents can have any lasting effect at the local level. Many have spent years, YEARS, trying to get rid of bad curriculum all while their children grow up and graduate from school. Eventually those parents tire and go away, then the bureaucrats simply go back to what they were doing before. While I applaud those parents willing to fight the politicians and bureaucrats for their children, it is ultimately ineffectual.

    When my oldest was in preschool, I read everything I could on our educational system – books, articles, white papers, blogs, etc. We decided to opt out of public school. The problems are so numerous and the problem makers so well-funded and powerful, I saw the futility. Our educational system is like the mythical hydra – cut off one head and you still have many others to battle. Solve the problem with reading instruction, then you have to deal with math curriculum, then the issue with the unions, then the way funding is set up in the state of California, then what is taught in the ed schools, then the poor quality of ed students as seen by their low SAT scores, then the issues with how text books are created, and on and on.

    And, after years of studying this issue, you discover that the public schools were never even designed to educate our youth. They were designed to create submissive Americans who could be manipulated by government and business(read John Taylor Gatto for details). Then it all makes sense. Our schools do not educate young people because they were never designed to do so. We as parents make the assumption that schools want to educate our children because we assume that the schools want what we want for our children. We want our children to enjoy the fruit a good education brings. Sadly, this is not true.

    Also, Nick, I agree that we all need to educate ourselves on issues and vote, write letters, donate money – be involved poitically. I do. I hope you will take time to study this issue in more detail before assuming that those who share your party affiliation actually have your children’s best interests in mind. They don’t.

  35. Richard Aubrey says:

    A number of school districts are choosing not to participate.
    The Tempe, AZ super, however, requires participation including not allowing parents to opt out their kids.
    Which brings up a couple of comments like, “What is he gonna do about it?”
    As I say, one of the least attractive things about this, completely without reference to the content, is the implication that no institutions exist between the kid and the president.

  36. CA Teacher says:

    A lot of people, whether they agree that the speech is bad news or not, seem to agree that some of the original lesson plan questions were a bit inappropriate.

    This is a president who has misspoken more than once. (Gates controversy, anyone?) His administration put out lesson plans with questions they should have known would be questionable. Are we now to trust that he will not say anything politically objectionable or overly agendized when speaking to our children? Many people have made the argument that we should be teaching our children to analyze and think for themselves. True for older kids, but elementary school? They aren’t quite ready for that, and it’s hard for me as a teacher to guide a responsible discussion on the matter without getting into some very dicey territory. In HS that wouldn’t be an issue for me. Lower grades, it is.

  37. Roland Martin got it exactly right:

    What you have is, you have some insane parents who want to bring their ideology into the table. Now, here’s what’s interesting. Our guest heads the Florida Republican Party. I remember, when I was in school, John, the former head of the Texas Republican Party, George Strake, came to my school. Thank God I didn’t have some crazy parents saying, oh, no, I want my child to opt out of listening to George Strake because he might indoctrinate my child to become a Republican.

    This is about ideology. Why is it — I didn’t see people sitting here saying when President George W. Bush went to go read to students, oh, I want to see what book he is reading. I want to pull my kid out of the class because I’m a Democrat, he is a Republican.

    You people are nuts. I pity your children.

  38. Richard, I think I might agree with you on this one. I don’t think it is right for a school to deny a parent the right to opt out of ANY part of curriculum (evolution, creationism, sex ed, certain works of lit, for example) and parents should always have the right to fully opt out by selecting private schools or homeschooling.

    I still contend that the issue parents have is not the content of the speech, it is the speaker himself. I think many are objecting to the speech because they (for likely very good reasons) object to Obama’s other policies and are afraid that their kids might find him, as a speaker, appealing in the kind of way that kids find other celebrities appealing. As for content, though, it would be asinine of the president to get into any policy deeper than “work hard and value your education” in this speech, and hopefully that content is not objectionable. But, it’s easier to say “I want to be in control and aware of the content which is being taught” rather than admit that in reality their opposition is rooted in a disagreement with the President’s other policies.

    On the flip side, many social studies and English classes use the presidents’ State of the Union addresses every single year with no huge backlash like this one and no cries about indoctrination of young people. Clearly it is the speaker, not the content, despite what many people are arguing.

  39. Richard Aubrey says:

    Mark. Of course it’s the speaker. The speaker speaks what he thinks are good ideas.
    That’s the problem.
    What would a guy who takes the wrong side in Honduras, for example,think is a good idea? Who hired a truther for green jobs who thinks he’s going to use his post to destroy capitalism?
    Who has promoted some of the most radical programs in US history such as the “civilian security force as well-funded and as large as the military”, or the mandatory voluntary community service programs? Not to mention the health care issue.
    However, my two major concerns are that it implies there are no intervening institutions between O and the kid. Sort of czarism. And the other is the Freudian shit–err, slip–exposed in the first supporting material. It’s what they really think. That they got busted doesn’t mean they’ve changed what they really think. It just means they have to be slicker about it.
    If it were senior high school kids who could be expected to bring the usual late-adolescent skepticism to the thing, it would be different.
    I’ve worked with kids of all ages, including privates. It doesn’t take much, less as the age decreases, to convince them of something and that power is to be used as sparingly as possible. I don’t see a new Children’s Crusade, but I can see a bunch of confused kids when what they fervently believe because a demi-god told them so runs into the real world of family and friends.
    If O’s message is Bill Cosby’s message, let Cosby deliver it.
    If it’s anything else, let him tape if for the evening and the parents can decide. Or the kids, for that matter.

  40. People probably know this already, but according to, it will be available on the web Monday, the day before it is beamed into schools. If I was smart enough to know how to make links in these posts, I’d do that, but maybe this will work…

  41. Kirk Parker says:

    We need to relearn how to disagree with political opponents without demonizing them.

    Totally agree, but do you really think the likes of Rahm “Never Waste A Good Crisis” Emanuel have the slightest interest in doing so?

  42. If someone knows, please tell me how can we teach students to do that in this kind of media/political climate… we can probably all agree that what Kirk quotes is the better way.

  43. Parent2- It was also unfair of me to imply that the others posting are uninformed. I got a bit too wrapped up in the role of devil’s advocate. My apologies for a regression and finger pointing.

    As for shielding our students and teachers from the political system, I think there is some merit there. It would be nice to just get down to teaching every day without a lot of interference. It’s too bad life isn’t that way. Would it be better to use these instances of government interventions as educational moments at school?

    A couple things. Parents are the most important educators. Students need strong advocates at home supporting them as they go through school. Teachers cannot guarantee a child’s success themselves. “It takes a village” is not just an old adage, it’s reality.

    I’m sorry you don’t feel parents can make a difference in the school system. That’s probably true in some areas, but I’ve seen real change accomplished by parents across the country- suburban/rural Midwest and impoverished urban areas; everything from tax reform to safer schools for our children.

    There are a lot of issues in education, so many that it’s incredibly daunting. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work to try to fix them. You said yourself that you are politically active. I hope you stay that way.

    As for schools indoctrinating students, that’s true. I think you are divorcing the political and economic systems in this country, however. After schools ceased being religious-indoctrination centers during the industrial revolution, the rich (often times politicians) wanted schools to prepare our youth to work the jobs that were created organically by the free market. That is the role they retain today. They are supposed to prepare students for the work world (via college or directly) as well as their lives now.

    Regarding party affiliation, I have none. It’s unfair though to say that all of one party does not have the best interest of their children in mind. I’ve met great parents associated with every political party.