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Education Reporter

Schools Teach Students to Serve Barack Obama
On September 8, the first day of school for many students, President Barack Obama gave a speech intended for viewing by all American schoolchildren. The speech aired live on the White House's website, and the Department of Education contacted all schools to ask that they tune in. Critics of this attempt to get all students to watch the speech charged that Obama is attempting to situate himself as "superintendent in chief." The $128 billion allocated to education in the stimulus fund certainly has the potential to expand the federal government's authority over what states and school districts do in the classroom.

Not content merely to urge every classroom in America to tune in to Obama's speech, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan also instructed all school principals to encourage the use of his department's prepared lesson plans for classroom activities associated with the speech. Why? "So they can compete in the global economy," wrote Duncan.

The Department of Education provided two separate "menus of classroom activities," one for preK-6th grade and one for 7th-12th grades. The PreK-6th grade menu encourages teachers to read books about Barack Obama, tell students that it is "important to listen to the President," to "take notes while President Obama is talking," to "write down key ideas and phrases" and "discuss them after the speech." Students should then "write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals." These letters should be "collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals."

Students in 7th-12th grades should do all this, and also ponder "What is President Obama inspiring you to do?" and "How will he inspire us?"

Byron York reminded readers of the Washington Examiner that President George H.W. Bush's speech to schoolchildren in 1991 raised an uproar among Democrats, followed by investigations and public hearings. The Washington Post declared about the 1991 speech, "The White House turned a Northwest Washington junior high classroom into a television studio and its students into props." House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt charged that "the Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students." Most media outlets and politicians raised no such questions about Obama's speech this fall.

Public elementary school students starting the school year in Farmington, UT were also treated to a video in which 50 celebrities pledged to serve the president in various ways, most of which lined up with political and environmental goals of the left. Actors Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher produced the video, entitled I Pledge. The celebrities' pledges included "to sell my obnoxious car and buy a hybrid," "to advance stem cell research," and "to make sure that senior citizens have access to health care." Quite a few pledges centered on the environment, with celebrities promising they would forgo plastic grocery bags and water bottles and stop flushing the toilet as often. Some of the pledges were not exactly political but merely strange: "I pledge allegiance to the funk, to the united funk of funkadelica," one celebrity proclaimed. Another promised "to never give anyone the finger when I'm driving again."

"I pledge to be a servant to our president, and all mankind," the video concluded.

Some parents and other community members objected to the screening, without parental knowledge, of a video with such a strong political slant. Jennifer Cieslewicz, mother of a 1st-grader at Eagle Bay Elementary, also objected that it was age-inappropriate to expose very young children to adults' environmental and other fears. "They shouldn't be troubling our youth with the woes of the world and making them feel like we're in slavery or they have to worry about how many times they flush the toilet or if they have a plastic water bottle," said Cieslewicz (one of the celebrities pledged in the video to "end slavery").

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