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Controversy Scrubbed From Obama's Speech to Kids

By September 8, 2009

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President Barack Obama and US Education Secretary Arne Duncan host a group discussion with students at Wakefield High School on Sept. 8, 2009 in Arlington, Va.

To those unaware of its controversial context, President Barack Obama's speech to an Arlington, Va. high school today might not have seemed like a big deal.

The president urged students to stay in school, work hard and do great things. He preached about the importance of overcoming failure and how success only comes with practice and preparation.

So, what was the big deal?

The controversy wasn't so much the content of the president's speech, as it was the educational follow-up directive originally mandated by US Education Secretary Arne Duncan. After the president's speech was first announced, Duncan ordered school districts across America to implement a lesson plan to complement the president's message. Some parents, teachers and school administrators felt the lesson plan, complete with a list of questions for teachers to ask, had the feel of indoctrination.

Students from pre-kindergarten to sixth-grade, for example, were encouraged to "write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals."

The controversy heated up over the Labor Day holiday, and many began to question the president's speech itself. This prompted the White House to release the text of the speech in advance of Obama's visit to Arlington, and downgrade the lesson plan, which was revised from a directive to a suggestion.

Undoubtedly, those on the Left will use the president's delivered remarks to raise doubt about the initial concerns conservatives had with his original intentions. They will say the president had no designs on indoctrinating America's youth, and that his speech was merely an innocent way to energize students on what is, for many of them, the first day of school.

There is no way for anyone to know for sure what the president's original speech included, or what his intentions were. It is clear, however, that the White House was forced to rethink how it handled such an important address. If the revisions to the education secretary's lesson plan is any indication, the president's speech may very well have gone from being an attempt to recruit new patrons for a floundering political agenda to a lesson on the importance of conservative values.

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Photo © Michael Reynolds/Pool/Getty Images


September 8, 2009 at 1:16 pm
(1) Tara says:

They’re masters of manipulation, aren’t they? Still found a way to turn it back around into a “positive.” I read the first lesson plans and yes, it was clearly a rah rah Obama campaign. The problem is that most people never looked that far. Now they are smugly returning to their shells, convinced they were right all along. The stage is set for the next speech.

September 8, 2009 at 3:48 pm
(2) s sebastian says:

I think it is pathetic that we live in a country full of people who don’t stand behind their President. We encourage our kids to NOT listen to their President. What is the point of electing a leader and then turning our back on him. I watched to speech to school kids and wished the President 8 years ago when I was in highschool would have given such a uplifting and encouraging speech about how important my generation is to America’s future. So many people are acting ridiculous about this speech making comments about “Socialism and Communism” which are absurd and are far from the truth. Perhaps people who make these comments should have heard that speech so they would have stayed in school long enough to know the definitions of Socialism and Communism. Personally I feel that if McCain where giving the same speech and working on the same health care plan no one would have anything to say about it. This just proves that we still live in a country full of Racism and backwards minded people. He is our President and our leader. The public voted for him so we should stand our choice. Democrat of Republican we should stand behind our President.

September 8, 2009 at 4:02 pm
(3) usconservatives says:

You make an assumption, then act as though that assumption proves something. If McCain were president, believe me, there would be liberals all over the place decrying him.

I don’t understand why the Left keeps bringing up “racism.” Race has never been mentioned one single time except when a liberal brings it up. It’s sick. You, Sebastian, should be ashamed of yourself for playing the race card where it’s not appropriate. If you read this blog regularly — and it is quite apparent that you don’t — you’d know that I’ve called on Americans to support the president. The problem, sir, is that the president is not keeping ANY of his promises. He promised to bring bipartisanship to Washington, and now we learn he is only interested in bipartisanship, if Republicans agree with him!

September 8, 2009 at 10:09 pm
(4) JK says:

@usconservatives… this was an example of conservatives pouncing on anything and everything to discredit Obama, to levels of utmost absurdity.

Read the news, conservatives refuse to negotiate on anything. They know that if they can stop bills from passing, then Obama appears like a lame-duck. But Obama has more Conservatives in his cabinet than any president in at least fifty years. He’s given the GOP concessions time and again, but they don’t want *anything* to pass that will make Obama appear successful.

Regarding health care reform, conservative members of the Senate Finance Committee, particularly Chuck Grassley and Mike Enzi, who are the chief negotiaters on the bill, have said they will not vote for the bill no matter what’s in it. Does that sound like bipartisanship?

And what are Obama’s unkept promises? Aside from pulling ALL the troops from Iraq and closing guantanamo (which congress blocked, not him), he’s on schedule to do everything he’s said he’d do.

September 9, 2009 at 11:02 am
(5) usconservatives says:


Who are the conservatives in Obama’s cabinet?

September 9, 2009 at 9:23 am
(6) RealTime53 says:

Justin –

“If the revisions to the education secretary’s lesson plan is any indication, the president’s speech may very well have gone from being an attempt to recruit new patrons for a floundering political agenda to a lesson on the importance of conservative values.”

Do you believe that the original draft of the President’s speech was an attempt to energize the nation’s youth toward his political agenda?

September 9, 2009 at 11:29 am
(7) usconservatives says:


I’m not sure what was in the president’s original speech, and I’m not sure whether I believe he was overtly trying to recruit followers. I do, however, believe that there are certain things you can read into the final draft of his speech: You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free.” By this he means that the US is a discriminatory and unfair society, and he is looking to students to help him save it.

“You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment.” By this he means that he wants their help passing the cap-and-trade bill so they can help him fight global warming.

I don’t doubt the sincerity of the president’s speech. I’m sure in his mind, he was simply trying to energize students on the first day of school. Obama is a politician, though, and his natural proclivity is toward indoctrinating followers. It’s just how he’s wired. If conservatives hadn’t made a fuss, I’m sure the agenda portion of his speech would have been much more overt.

September 9, 2009 at 9:56 am
(8) Carl Benvenga says:

You conservative rumor mongers really scare me. You are the real threat to a free and open society. Ignorance and emotion seem to be your calling cards. Get over yourselves.

September 9, 2009 at 4:17 pm
(9) RealTime53 says:
September 9, 2009 at 5:49 pm
(10) usconservatives says:

Yeah, RT. I read that. I think he’s overblowing the concern from the right. Remember, the main issue wasn’t the speech. The issue that concerned parents was the lesson plan that the Education Secretary had directed teachers to follow. The lesson plan was revised, and, regardless of what Boortz says, it’s very easy for Obama — who’s very intelligent — to recognize the sea change and act accordingly. All he has to do is pull out his eraser and revise what he’s going to say. No one’s the wiser since there was never a text of the speech to review in the first place. He releases it and acts as though conservatives are “crazy” to even think he’d try to politicize such an event. I notice Boortz doesn’t mention the lesson plan at all.

September 10, 2009 at 5:42 pm
(11) Mike says:

Justin, you’re trained as a journalist so you know the importance of having proof before publishing something. As a conservative myself, I’m a little disappointed in your investigative work here. Nothing in your article shows you have proof that significant changes were made between earlier drafts and the final one. Your headline, therefore, is cheap since you offer no proof the speech was scrubbed other than your opinions (and borderline conspiracy-theory zeal), which I suppose is fine, but perhaps your headline should have read, “Controversy Probably Scrubbed From ….”

September 10, 2009 at 7:51 pm
(12) Sharon says:

Original speech? You are really stretching it!!
Duncan coming from an educational background wouldn’t have thought anything about having a lesson plan – That’s what educators do!! It seems that only those who are cynical or paranoid about everything this President says and does would have those thoughts. AND if not paranoid then you just don’t like him for whatever reason(s) and he’s D…if he does and D… if he doesn’t. President Bush was not my favorite BUT I would give him the benefit of the doubt. I think that’s what educated people do.

September 11, 2009 at 6:48 am
(13) Denver says:

An education plan for students to write down their goals and actually holding them accountable to achieve them is something that is down often by parents. Why is there a fuss when a president says it?

Do parents not want their children to excel in schools? Do they want them to become missionaries and tell people about jesus?

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