Guest Commentary On Obama's Speech Aired At Annapolis Middle School ~ Annapolis Capital Punishment

Friday, October 16, 2009

Guest Commentary On Obama's Speech Aired At Annapolis Middle School

By Anna Fine Foer

Last September some school districts announced they were giving parents the option to decide if they didn’t want their child to hear President Obama’s speech. The speech encouraged and inspired school children of all ages to stay in school, to work hard and not squander the opportunity to better themselves. Memories of viewing Apollo space-missions on the television in the main hallway of my elementary school in the 1960's came to me.

Somehow, somewhere along the line, distorted reports about the content of the speech tried to convince parents that the speech’s intention was to foist the "Socialist" President’s "socialist agenda" on their children.  This was at the same time the health care overhaul debates were getting very nasty. The airing of Obama’s speech oddly became a political issue because more than one Republican President gave a similar speech to schoolchildren.

I didn’t give all of this much thought as far as how it would affect me or my son at Annapolis Middle School, but did discuss it with my father, a retired university professor who reads the New York Times every day.  He thought some of the opposition was that students would be asked to write an essay about how they can help achieve the goals laid out in the speech, thereby giving opponents the idea that he was asking students how they can help promote the president’s "socialist" agenda.

I watched the speech the morning after it was broadcast and was impressed and moved by it.  I tried to use parts of it to inspire our son to get out of bed by telling him that as a young child, Barack Obama's mother woke him up at 4:30 in the morning to study before school.  That worked for a day or two with my son--not very promising.

Two weeks after the speech aired, our son brought home the much publicized “no consent” letter we could sign and send back to school. It would let the principal know that our son would not (could not?) watch the President’s speech. For some reason, I thought we would never have to see that note, that somehow our son’s school administrators would have more courage and show more leadership by airing the speech without asking for parent’s consent.

I was disappointed and also was not sure what decision led up to sending that letter. Whose decision was it? The day the students watched the speech in school my son came home and told me he thought it was good.

I sent a message (via Facebook) to the new principal of the high school I attend in Indianapolis in the 1970's. Shortridge High School is a middle school/high school magnet school for Law and Public Policy. It is an inner-city school and when I attended, I was one of a minority of perhaps 15-20% white students. Today's principal, Brandon Crosby, seemed to be a very well spoken and intelligent leader when I met him at a school reunion this past September.  I wanted to know he handled the issue of asking for parental consent to watch the speech.  He wrote back:

“It was very simple. No note went home. If any parent complained about it they would have been told that their child was in the wrong school and they should come to see me immediately to withdraw their child from the school.”
I liked his answer which showed courage and leadership and I told him as much.  I mentioned to a few people that I was going to ask our son’s principal, Eddie Scott, about the consent letter and one person cautioned me to “choose my battles”.  This is my battle.  What else would I need to talk with the principal about in the next eight months before our son graduates from middle school?  When people tell you to “choose your battles” do they stand up for what they think is important? 

I was well prepared to go into "battle" when I contacted Principal Scott to ask him why he sent the consent letter home to parents instead of just airing the speech.  A few days later we spoke on the phone.

I found out during that phone conversation, that Annapolis Middle was one of only two middle schools in Anne Arundel County that actually showed the speech at all--with or without letters of consent.  The other middle school was Bates Middle School, less than a mile away and with a similar demographic to that of Annapolis Middle.  We both recognized the reality of middle school children and notes sent home. Some never make it home, some never make it back to school.  Five parents signed the note saying they did did not want their child to watch Obama’s speech. I wonder if that might have been a bit embarrassing to those five to be removed from class for that period. I can only imagine the conversation those five had at lunch with their peers. 

I wonder about the "reasoning" of their parents?  What did they have to lose?  Why was the administration punting on the issue and leaving it up to individual principals? 

I talked with Mr. Scott about why he sent the letter and wondered how it would have played out if he had simply shown the speech to the students without any parental note. I came away with a new perspective, one that hadn’t occurred to me.  It may have been better to show the speech, with the caveats attached rather than not show it.  Mr. Scott was demonstrating leadership, just not as strongly as I would have preferred, but I'm not under the pressures he is under of course, as a principal.

I told him that the parents who signed the letter are the people who need to hear the speech more than anyone else.  Also, if parents were not sure about the content, they could have watched it online to see if it was politically motivated or biased.
Is it politically motivated to tell school children that they have to do the hard work to get ahead?  That it won’t always be easy? That they will fail, and fail again and learn from their failures?  What responsibility does the public school play in all this?  Why can’t they air the president’s speech without submitting to any pressure for permission?  

Our children are regularly subjected to ROTC recruiting propaganda--without any opportunity for us to decline such obvious and politically motivated propaganda.  We didn’t get to opt out of that.  When it comes to learning about sexual reproduction and the protections and options available to you people, we again are provided the opportunity to decline or opt out. Now, if military propagandists can come into and operate freely within the schools without any specific parental permission--why are we given that option just to hear the President speak about staying in school? 

I appreciate Mr. Scott and his counterpart at Bates for being the only two middle school principals in the entire county to even air the speech. However, I wish he would have simply gone ahead and aired it, but perhaps he was not afforded that option. Who wins? Who loses?

Anna Fine Foer is married to CP Publisher Paul Foer. They have two children in local public schools.

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Alex Pline said...

Nice article. I don't think your information about Bates Middle School is correct though:

I have a 7th grader at Bates Middle School and the information my wife, who is on the Bates PTSF, received from Ms. Bragdon the principal (and confirmed by my 7th grader) was that they did not show the speech either live or after the fact. In addition a letter never went home.

The reason was not philosophical, but technical. The speech was streamed over the internet, but the school does not have the network infrastructure (bandwidth) to show it in all classrooms. They knew this a priori based on past experience, so they knew they were not going to show it and thus did not send a letter home. Even though it was broadcast over the air, the school does not have any modern "TV" infrastructure (ie no digital TVs ,converter boxes or digital tuners in its computers). 10 years ago or in schools today without the new technology, they may have just shown it on "TV" in each classroom or in the auditorium. It's a shame that they wanted to show it and certainly would have, but could not; rather ironic given the focus on new technology at Bates (they have some very cool stuff). C'Est la vie, technology marches on.

Paul Foer said...

Thank you for the clarification!

Will Small said...

Public schools decide it's better to censor the president's free speech. We're going places, but maybe not where our founding fathers intended.

Maybe we should split the nation into two, this time, one for those willing to face free speech and one for cowards who rule through denial of education. Or maybe we can ship that camp to Belarus in trade for some who value free speech.

Unknown said...

My daughter is one of the 'military propagandist' you refer to in your article. She is a AHS senior that has visited the Annapolis middle schools to inform, interest, and yes recruit students into the program.

The AHS NJROTC program teaches students the same qualities that you laud in the presidents speech. They are taught that rewards are the result of hard work and determination, how to learn from failure, and through their huge community service efforts how to be better local citizens. The students spend many hours as a group and individually on community service working with local organizations such at the Annapolis Lighthouse Shelter and Maryland Hall. Additionally the work on individual students have leadership projects that give back to the community.

If you talk to the unit commander you will see that his main goal is to turn out good citizens.

Paul Foer said...

Dear David (I'll reply and if Anna wishes, she can as well of course)

I am pleased to hear of you daughter's success, but the issue is why do our children need permission to hear the president's speech? The NJROTC is indeed a "military propagandist" as was organization as it was described, but that does not totally make it a bad thing for the young people who are involved. I just wonder why we might need permission to have the students hear the president (aka the Commander in Chief) speak to them about staying in school, but we require no permission to have them subjected to NJROTC. It makes no sense. At the high school, NJROTC is the one group that consistently gets a major role at back to school night--to the exclusion of all other groups. I am tired of military recruitment getting top billing, but even the president takes a second or third seat to that when it comes to getting in the schools.
While NJRTC may indeed teach some of the same qualities as the president spoke about, why did we need permission to hear him--and not the NJROTC? But the speech was a speech--period. NJROTC has another function which is to ingrain military protocol and support for the military. Did Obama's speech do that? No. Was t anti-war or anti-military speech? No. Again--NJROTC is okay, but the president needs permission. That's what the issue is about. Please explain why we need permission for our youth to hear the president but not for them to be subjected to militarism and military propaganda?

You may note that a week or so ago, here on this blog, I expressed my admiration for the Teen of The Week--and put a photo of him in uniform here on this blog. That young man is Brian Stewart, a family friend--and we know that NJROTC is good for him and we have discussed it with him--in our home. But I still believe in this case that this situation was just stupid and brought on by ridiculous hatred of the president. And that has nothing to do with your daughter or with NJROTC except to make a point about why permission was needed.

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