President makes education pitch
Lowcountry parents stood outside a middle school and inundated local school leaders with phone calls and e-mails about whether their children would be watching President Barack Obama's speech on Tuesday about succeeding in school.
Brian Hicks' column
Whiners hurt good message, published 9/9/09
Some of those speaking out did so to ensure that their children would be able to see the president's address. Others wanted officials' assurance that their children would not be forced to watch the speech. Both sides were represented in a small group who held signs outside of Cario Middle School in Mount Pleasant on Tuesday morning.
The content of Obama's address steered clear of politics and instead challenged students to take responsibility for their education and persevere in the face of obstacles. Some conservative groups and leaders alleged last week that Obama would be pushing his political agenda, and they cited a suggested lesson plan that encouraged students to "help the president." The White House revised the plan and acknowledged it was wrongheaded.
The White House released the text of Obama's speech a day early so school officials and parents could evaluate it, and he delivered the address virtually unchanged. He didn't mention the controversy.
"Every single one of you has something that you're good at. Every single one of you has something to offer," Obama told students at Wakefield High School in suburban Arlington, Va., and children watching his speech on television in schools across the country. "And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is."
Local school districts allowed individual schools to make decisions about when students would be able to see the address. No schools in Dorchester District 2 aired the speech live because of "full instructional schedules and technology limitations," but the president's address was recorded and will be made available in each school's media center, said Pat Raynor, district public information officer, in an e-mail to media and school leaders. Teachers can use all or part of the speech for future lessons or class discussion, which allows time for parent notification and student exemption, she wrote.
Every school in Charleston will make the speech available this week, with parents receiving the opportunity to prohibit their children from seeing it. Some chose to air it live on Tuesday while others will host viewings later.
Berkeley County schools either showed the live speech or taped it for later use, and parents can request that their children be excluded from viewing it.
At West Ashley High School in Charleston, the speech was shown after school in the media center, and that will happen again today and Thursday. Two students and one teacher showed up to watch it.
Junior Jasmine Hunter came with junior Keith Heyward to watch the president. Hunter didn't see the speech in any of her classes and wanted to hear what Obama had to say.
"It had nothing to do with politics," she said afterward. "I'm going to get my stuff together (now). I want them to show it during school hours. I think a lot of kids need to watch it. I think if you showed it, it would open their eyes."
She got an extra surprise when she watched it: Her cousin, the student body president at Wakefield High, introduced the president. Hunter had no idea he was doing that.
West Ashley Principal Mary Runyon agreed with Hunter that there was nothing political about the speech. His message to students extolling the value of education is the same one she's given to students; the difference is that it's a more powerful messenger reinforcing the same concept, she said.
"As a public education system striving for excellence, that is exactly what we are purporting," she said.
Runyon received more than a dozen phone calls and e-mails about the school's plans for the speech since last week, a majority of which were opposed to children watching it. She said she had to make a sound administrative decision about the speech without fully knowing its content and context, but she felt sure teachers would be incorporating it into their lessons.
At Memminger Elementary School in downtown Charleston, every classroom will have the opportunity to see Obama's speech when they visit the school's media center this week. Lunch schedules and testing prohibited the speech from being shown live, but every class will go to the media center and have an age- appropriate lesson and discussion about it, school Principal Anthony Dixon said.
He didn't have any students whose parents wanted them to opt out of seeing the speech, and he said he thought it would be worthwhile for students to see because it reaffirms what they hear daily from teachers, he said.
Angela Adams, the sole West Ashley High teacher who showed up to watch Obama's speech, agreed, saying students needed to hear what the president had to say.
"What a great message," she said afterward.