Published September 03, 2009
The Obama administration is rethinking its course recommendations for students ahead of President Obama's address to the the nation's schoolchildren next week, rewriting its suggestions to teachers for student assignments on how to "help the president."
White House aides said the language was supposed to be an inspirational, pro-education message to America's youths, but its unintended consequences were evident.
Among the activities initially suggested for pre-K to 6th grade students was to "write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president."
Another assignment for students after hearing the speech was to discuss what "the president wants us to do."
The suggestion about writing letters has since been changed to: "Write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals."
White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said the changes to the language are intended to make the lesson plans clearer. He added that the speech is not a policy speech, but is intended to encourage kids to work hard and commit to school.
The speech is "about the value of education and the importance of staying in school as part of his effort to dramatically cut the dropout rate," Vietor said.
The Washington Times was first to report Thursday that the plan was being reconsidered. Presidential aides also acknowledged to the newspaper that they helped the U.S. Education Department write the suggested assignments, which stirred criticism by many who say Obama is trying to indoctrinate the education system.
Christina Erland Culver, former deputy assistant secretary for education, said presidents have traditionally addressed classrooms on the first day of school, but the problem with the event was the accompanying materials from the Department of Education.
"That's where they kind of got into a slippery spot. Federal statute denies any authority to the Department of Education to provide any kind of curriculum or anything that can be passed down to the state, and that's part of the statute forming the Department of Education. So they kinda got themselves into this mess because they didn't really understand some of the key legal roles or the dos and don'ts at the federal Department of Ed," she said.
A White House blog posted Thursday, accompanied by two Web videos on the importance of education, said Obama would use his address to "urge students to take personal responsibility for their own education."