By LANA CLIFTON
At 11 a.m., on Tuesday, Sept. 8, middle school and high school teachers in the Bryant School District had a choice to make. They could show President Obama’s back-to-school address to students or not. Elementary teachers were told they would have access to a recording of the nationwide broadcast for those who would be able to tie it into their curriculum and who wished to show it to students at a later time.[more]
Why didn’t the whole school district watch the president together? There are several answers to that question. First of all, according to the district office, placing every teacher in the district on the internet at the same time would have caused band-width problems. In other words, it would have taxed the district’s computer system. Second, 11 is lunch time for many students in the district, and the administration was not going to ask children to miss lunch to watch the speech. The third reason may have stemmed from the many calls and emails the district office received from parents and other citizens expressing concern about the address.
“We have had many concerned parents, grandparents and citizens over the past several days,” said Jessica Norris, Director of Communications for Bryant Schools. “Many are concerned about the content of the speech, others about the suggested activities released by the US Department of Education, while others are simply concerned about the doors this could open for Presidents now and in the future to address students en mass using modern technology.”
Early concern came from materials released by the Department of Education a couple of weeks ago that contained some controversial activities. What some have called a poorly worded question asking students to write themselves a letter about how they could help the president, sparked comments from conservative radio personalities and newspaper columnists. Although the wording was changed, the actual content of the speech was not released until more recently, leaving time for speculation and questions over the president’s motives to surface.
Parents who do not share the Obama’s political views were not sure they wanted their children to watch the speech.
In a post on the White House website, the speech was described as one of motivation for students to work harder.
“The President will talk directly to students across the country on the importance of taking responsibility for their education, challenging them to set goals and do everything they can to succeed.” (http://www.whitehouse.gov/mediaresources/)
Norris agreed with this assessment of the content.
“To my understanding, the message is truly meant to encourage and challenge students. President Obama is trying to encourage our kids to follow their dreams and challenge them to work hard and take responsibility for their own education — no matter the obstacles. It's an excellent message, one I would expect to hear from the President of the United States,” said Norris.
Norris went on to say students and their parents had choices when it came to viewing or not viewing the broadcast. “We respect our families' political rights just as we respect religious rights,” said Norris.
Parents were allowed on campus to watch with their children in classes where the speech was shown, and students were offered alternate activities if their parents did not want them to watch. Another choice available was to wait and watch a recording of the speech at a later time. Norris said copies of the speech would be available from the school district’s information technology department.
A copy of the prepared remarks that were released prior to the speech may be obtained at http://www.whitehouse.gov/MediaResources/PreparedSchoolRemarks/. The actual speech, including an introduction by a student at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va., where the speech was made, may be viewed at http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/A-Message-of-Hope-and-Responsibility-for-Americas-Students/.