Parents demand to vet Barack Obama school speech over ‘indoctrination’ fury

President Obama has been accused of trying to build a personality cult and indoctrinate America’s schoolchildren with a speech to be beamed into the nation’s classrooms next week.

Not a word of the speech has been published but it has been seized on by his opponents because of lesson plans for teachers issued by the White House to encourage discussion of the speech. Until they were hastily revised yesterday, the plans suggested that pupils write letters to themselves on what inspired them about Mr Obama and how they could help to achieve his goals.

Mr Obama will go ahead with the speech but it will be released a day early so that it can be vetted by wary parents, weary teachers and a gleeful Florida Republican who likes to call the President “Pied Piper Obama”.

Following in a tradition established by Presidents Reagan and Bush Sr, the speech will be broadcast live from a Virginia high school as public schools open and the country returns to work after Labor Day next Tuesday.The address and accompanying talking points were “tools to spread liberal propaganda”, according to Jim Greer, chairman of the Republican Party in Florida, where activists and some parents were advocating a “national skip school day” to avoid exposure to what the President has to say.

Several Texas school districts have made alternative plans for children whose parents do not want them to hear the speech, and school officials from California to South Carolina have reported fielding calls from parents concerned about Mr Obama’s message and his use of tax dollars to stream it into classrooms.

“This is not civics education,” Steve Russell, an Oklahoma state senator, said. “This is something you’d expect to see in North Korea or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.”

The pre-emptive reaction has been shrill but not entirely undeserved. The White House admitted that its first set of talking points for teachers were “inartfully worded”. That wording had already triggered a furore that started on talk radio and the web but spread rapidly to the nation’s living rooms and school offices.

Some objections were logistical. “We have got too much to do that day,” the chairman of Loudon County School Board in Virginia told The Washington Post. “Loudon County Public Schools is not going to be interrupting the school day.”

Most were political. “I wouldn’t let my next-door neighbour talk to my kid alone; I’m sure as hell not letting Barack Obama talk to him alone,” Chris Stigall, a Kansas City talk show host, said.

White House aides insisted that the speech was never intended to be political and was entirely about working hard and staying in school — themes on which Mr Obama and the First Lady have spoken frequently to youth and minority audiences.

In the latest sign that the President no longer enjoys the benefit of the public’s doubts, his staff hastily revised plans for the address. It will now be made available to parents and teachers on Monday, while the suggestion that pupils write about how to help Mr Obama — possibly intended as an echo of President Kennedy’s plea to “ask not what your country can do for you” — has been scrapped in favour of a project on setting out short and long-term goals.

President Bush spoke live to the nation’s schools in 1991 to urge children to stay off drugs and make the case that it was “cool to be smart”. Democrats assailed him then for using $27,000 (£16,500) of public funds for what they called paid political advertising. In this way, as in many others, the Obama presidency already resembles its forebears.


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