WH, Dept of Education Revise Language on Students Outlining How they Can “Help the President”

By Natalie Gewargis

Sep 2, 2009 4:57pm

From Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller

In an acknowledgment that the Department of Education provided lesson plans written somewhat inartfully, surrounding the President Obama’s speech to students next Tuesday, the White House today announced that it had rewritten one of the sections in question.

President Obama will talk to students from Pre K thru 12th grade about personal responsibility and the importance of staying in school, White House aides said.

As one of the preparatory materials for teachers provided by the Department of Education, students had been asked to, "Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president. “

Today, after Republicans accused the White House of trying to indoctrinate school children with liberal propaganda the White House and the Department of Education changed the section to now read, "Write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short‐term and long‐term education goals.”

“We changed it to clarify the language so the intent is clear,” said White House Spokesman Tommy Vietor.

The idea, Vietor said, was that students should think of how they could help the President in terms of reducing the national dropout rate.

Yesterday, the Florida Republican Party sent out a press release portraying the address as more of a policy speech rather than a specific educational address to children. The White House says that’s not true and there is no evidence that the President intend to discuss any policies.

"As the father of four children, I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama's socialist ideology,” Jim Greer, Chairman of the Republican Party of Florida said, “The idea that school children across our nation will be forced to watch the President justify his plans for government-run health care, banks, and automobile companies, increasing taxes on those who create jobs, and racking up more debt than any other President, is not only infuriating, but goes against beliefs of the majority of Americans, while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power.”

The Department of Education though did not “force” – as Greer claims – schools to do anything. Schools districts across the country have the option to choose if they show the President’s address to their students.

Greer goes on to say said that the President has turned to America’s children to “spread his liberal lies” by “indoctrinating American’s youngest children before they have a chance to decide for themselves."

Again there is no evidence to support that charge. 

Some conservatives radio hosts are going father: calling on parents to have their children stay home from school on Tuesday.

The White House says the intention of the speech – and the lesson plans – have been misunderstood.

Other passages that remain in the preparatory lesson plans for teachers– one written for Pres K – 6th grade, and a separate one for 7th grade – 12th  – grade instruct students to set goals for themselves based on what the President’s speech will instruct them to do.

Students should discuss, the lesson plan writes, “What do you think the President wants us to do? Does the speech make you want to do anything? Are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us? What would you like to tell the President?”

And another section within the preparatory materials instructs students to discuss, “Is President Obama inspiring you to do anything? Is he challenging you to do anything?”

White House aide said this has to do with meeting the goals the President will lay out about personal responsibility for students.

"The goal of the speech and the lesson plans is to challenge students to work hard in school, to not drop out and to meet short-term goals like behaving in class, doing their homework and goals that parents and teachers alike can agree are noble,” a White House spokesman tells ABC News, “This isn’t a policy speech. This is a speech designed to encourage kids to stay in school.”

Education Secretary Arne Duncan penned a preview of the President’s message in a letter sent to school principles last week.

“The President will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning,” Duncan wrote, “He will also call for a shared responsibility and commitment on the part of students, parents and educators to ensure that every child in every school receives the best education possible so they can compete in the global economy for good jobs and live rewarding and productive lives as American citizens.”

Mr. Obama will deliver his speech from Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia – yet his remarks will be broadcast live on the White House website and C-SPAN, which all schools were encouraged to show in their classrooms. 

“This is the first time an American president has spoken directly to the nation's school children about persisting and succeeding in school,” Duncan continued in his letter to school principals, “We encourage you to use this historic moment to help your students get focused and begin the school year strong. I encourage you, your teachers, and students to join me in watching the President deliver this address.”

- Jake Tapper and Sunlen Miller

*This post has been updated.

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