Open letter to parents who wrote regarding President Obama’s speech on education
Many of you have written the district about the decision to allow schools to broadcast the President’s speech. Given that this has been discussed broadly in the media, the district has received many phone calls and emails from people expressing their opinions. In these messages, I have noted that many have been strident in their criticism and sometimes intolerant regarding a belief in a course of action.
This issue originated with a letter from the Secretary of Education to each school principal. The outline of the letter explained what would occur on September 8, 2009, the first day of school for many children in America. Early on the district took the position that schools could choose to broadcast the President’s speech. This seemed to correspond with the position that Secretary of Education Duncan communicated in his letter.
Just as schools and classrooms across America would have an option to watch, it is practical that PSD schools would exercise the same option. With the different grade levels students are in, different subjects taught, and differing daily schedules, the suitability of a live broadcast shown to everyone was not a direction the district wanted to make.
At the same time, the district notified parents that if the school did show the speech, students could opt out. Since it was to be a live broadcast, and because of what parents were hearing about the speech in the media, this option seemed to be the one parents would want. Live events have a particular appeal. The President speaking to all students across the United States is an historic event. It has only happened twice before, when President Bush made a similar broadcast in 1991, and President Reagan in 1988.
A second advantage of having this decision at each school was that the decision was customizable to the school community. Most schools chose last week to tape the speech so it could be available for use as it fits best with the curriculum.
The district made this decision because the speech became controversial. At the time of the decision, it was not known that the speech would be available prior to the broadcast. Even so, the intent of the speech was announced as a message from the President directly to children to talk about the importance of education. Telling children to work hard in school is not controversial subject matter.
I read President Obama’s speech Monday and also read President’s Bush’s speech in 1991. Both are asking children to work hard and understand that hard work is needed for a good education, messages PSD supports.
When parents do not want their children to participate in a school event, options are provided.
I have learned something from this experience. First, the district must continue to operate so that it hears from all points of view and provides an education to children that respects parents’ rights, but does not impose one set of political values over another. Our civic dialogue is best conducted in an environment for which all views are respected. However, this is often a one way street. In this dynamic, school officials are often maligned by people expressing their points of view. This type of intolerance is difficult to accept. Also, schools have had a tremendous volume of communication, making this issue overwhelming. In this environment, people are attempting to sway our school officials, who have to weigh public opinion and do what is best educationally in their school communities.
Democracy is a challenging form of government, but one that is highly successful. The road to freedom is protected by being able to air our views openly. I hope that in all our communication we can respect one another’s rights and be respectful of the character of those whose points of view we are criticizing. At the end of the day, we want the same for our children—a sound education for a just democracy.
Jerry Wilson, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools
Poudre School District
President Obama delivered a speech on Tuesday, Sept. 8, about the importance of education, and will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning. Access the video and transcript of his talk here.