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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