News

Varied policies on president's school speech

Showing address in class was optional for most local teachers

As controversy over President Barack Obama's address to students last week flared up across the country, administrators in local districts left the decision to air or not to air the speech largely up to individual teachers.

"If people thought that it was appropriate to show it in their classrooms they could show it in their classrooms," said Mountain View-Los Altos High School District Superintendent Barry Groves.

Keith Moody, principal of Mountain View High School, estimated that around 150 students at his campus watched the address in class. He said they had no "special broadcast" or school-wide showing of the address.

Administrators in the Mountain View Whisman School District kept a similar policy for the Tuesday, Sept. 8 speech.

"Our district will not be taking a stand on Obama's address to school children," wrote Kathi Lilga, executive assistant to the superintendent, in an e-mail to the Voice. "We entrust our teachers to make the decision about the relevancy of this activity to our standards-based curriculum and if it is aligned with classroom, school and district goals."

"Some teachers elected to show it if it fit in the curriculum," said Principal Gretchen Jacobs of her staff at Graham Middle School.

Marcy Birnie, executive assistant to the superintendent of the Los Altos School District, said teachers were given the option to show the address or not. She said that because the U.S. Department of Education encouraged broadcasting of the speech, the district also recommended it. The decision, however, was ultimately made at the school level, she said.

Last week, Birnie reported that at most schools some or all of the students watched the address. She had not received reports from Almond or Oak schools.

Blach was the only school where the staff decided not to air the address at all on campus.

"We were all told as principals that it was suggested that you show it but there was no pressure that you had to show it," said Principal Leslie Crane. "I had a discussion with my staff and I shared with my staff that I was getting some pushback from parents that didn't want to participate in the showing. ... We decided we needed to stick with our curricular and instructional plans."

Crane noted that Blach students could see the speech on their own by recording it at home or watching it online. For that reason, she said, "I didn't think anything would be taken away from not experiencing it in the moment."

When the Voice asked in a follow-up question about the number and nature of complaints received, Crane said, "At this time I have no more comments about Obama's speech. I am moving forward."

Though most local and national coverage focused on the mostly conservative outcry heard before Tuesday's address, some parents voiced concern after the broadcast because their students didn't have the opportunity to watch it in school.

"It seems to me that people will always make the decision not to offend rabble-rousers," wrote Gwynne Young, a parent of two Huff students, in an e-mail to the Voice, "and in this situation, people who didn't want kids to listen to the president's speech were the rabble-rousers. Ergo, it was easier to choose not to air the speech."

"I think the district should have just aired the speech and have been done with it," Young said.

Comments

 +   Like this comment
Posted by Oscar's mom
a resident of North Whisman
on Sep 18, 2009 at 2:33 pm

It seems reasonable to me that individual teachers should be able to decide whether the President's broadcast would be appropriate/could be used for some of their learning goals (civics, communication, writing, etc.). I can imagine it would be a lot harder for k-2 grade classes to sit through the speech, let alone use it for classroom learning. Teachers can decide best what is appropriate for their classes.

It is a shame the principal of Blach school was unwilling to allow her teachers that freedom or to meaningfully engage with the author of this article. However, I suppose we could ask follow up questions ourselves. Her email address is posted on the staff directory Web Link


 +   Like this comment
Posted by eric
a resident of another community
on Sep 18, 2009 at 3:23 pm

For crying out loud.

I have no problem with teachers choosing to focus on their lesson plan (I know some teachers taped the speech and showed it at more opportune times). I have a huge problem with schools caving to pressure from a small group of dingbats. Next step-- no evolution?

Younger children especially would react positively to being addressed directly by the president.

(Yes, I would have reacted the same a year ago)


 +   Like this comment
Posted by June Welsh
a resident of another community
on Sep 18, 2009 at 5:08 pm

My mother was the school's librarian when I was growing up; so I heard about these things called "banned books". As a prolific reader, I made it my mission early on - as soon as I thought I was up to the level of comprehension needed for each book - to read as many of those "banned books" as I could get my hands on, just to see if I could figure out why they got banned. Other than most of them being very good, the one thing they all seemed to have in common was that you needed an open mind to read them. It was easier for a parent to petition for a book to be banned than to innoculate their kid from being adversely affected by the contents of the book. Worried your kid will become a racist if they read Huck Finn or Tom Sawyer? Just ban the books, it's SO much easier than bothering to teach your kids about the horrors of racism! And watch out for works by authors like William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, & Jonathan Swift - they're just chock full of all kinds of illicit & immoral behavior!
To those parents who're worried about the effects on their kids of what words might come out of the President's mouth when he KNOWS he'll be addressing 'impressionable' children...you might want to take a closer look at your kid, they're surrounded by lots of bigger problems than just one speech that they'll probably not be able to summarize, let alone remember, a week later!


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Carl
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Sep 18, 2009 at 6:01 pm

I agree with June. Disney's Song of the South should never have been banned from distribution.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by curious
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 19, 2009 at 9:43 am

Does anyone even read the other stories on Mtn View schools in the Voice? The schools here are failing miserably in educating the students in basic skills like reading, mathematics, writing. So now they are supposed to set aside class time to have the kids indoctrinated by a politician?

And for all you overwrought liberals thinking deep thought about 'racist book burning'--take a deep breath. The kids' parents can tape the speech. It is available all over the internet. Actually, Obama is everywhere. You can't turn on a television, radio, look at a magazine cover, or read a newspaper without seeing the guy. Talking about deep thoughts, this reminds me of the supreme leader in George Orwell's 1984. Now there's a book that the communists and leftists DID ban.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Student
a resident of North Whisman
on Sep 19, 2009 at 2:55 pm

In my classroom, the speech was not shown. However, I did read the speech on the internet (I accidentally saw a link to it on one of my favorite websites). I think the schools should have sent home permission slips with three boxes, and the parents would check one:

1. I want my child to see the speech.
2. I do not care if my child sees the speech. (This would leave it up to the teacher.)
3. I do not want my child to see the speech.

I don't agree with people who say that some teachers and administrators did not want to show the speech because Obama is half African-American.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by close reader
a resident of another community
on Sep 19, 2009 at 3:40 pm

Curious,

- the schools are not "failing miserably." They are managing to teach the kids who can be taught, i.e. kids from affluent backgrounds, and the others they are not. Also, this fact is irrelevant to the Obama speech.

- no one was indoctrinated, unless you think the message of staying in school is propaganda. You are paranoid.

- Orwell was a socialist. Even bringing up 1984 proves it is you who are overwrought. "Take a deep breath!"


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 19, 2009 at 3:48 pm

close reader:

I'm confused when you say:

"They are managing to teach the kids who can be taught, i.e. kids from affluent backgrounds, and the others they are not."

Isn't such a statement, by definition, a sign that the public schools are failing miserably?


 +   Like this comment
Posted by close reader
a resident of another community
on Sep 19, 2009 at 4:06 pm

Observer,

Thanks for the question. No, I don't think it is a sign that by definition they are failing miserably. School ain't what it used to be. In the "old days," people with a respect for learning (whether or not they were educated or uneducated, rich or poor, immigrant or native) sent their kids to school with the understanding that support for that education would be coming from the parents and community. (Even back then, not all kids succeeded -- calling into question the "100%" benchmark NCLB will soon require of all schools.)

Not so anymore. These days, there are large numbers of kids in our schools who are there as a sort of day care. Their parents did not send them there to learn -- in fact their parents don't know or care much about learning.

This latter group are the kids I mean when I say they can't be taught. The more of them in a school, the worse that school's numbers are when the yearly reports come out. Then everybody is up in arms and blames the schools and says the administrators should be fired, etc. Those kids cannot be taught, because they were not raised to respect school, or learning, or teachers. For them, school is day care.

Many of them drop out before 11th grade or so, which is why the high school numbers are so much better.

By the way, none of this has ANYTHING to do with Obama's speech.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 19, 2009 at 4:13 pm

I see your point, only let's not forget that in a classroom half full of learners and half full of non-learners, the teacher is most likely not fully challenging the learners given the distraction of the non-learners.

This all does have something to do with the Obama speech given that on one hand, there is little time available to sacrifice, and on the other, the non-learner day-care types really wouldn't get much from it any way.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by Claire
a resident of another community
on Sep 19, 2009 at 4:31 pm

The reason the speech was not made mandatory in MVWSD was because the real power in the school district are the people with money, which means Republican, and you can be assured that the money grubby superintendent is not about to cut that line off.


 +   Like this comment
Posted by SG
a resident of another community
on Sep 20, 2009 at 9:47 pm

Totally stupid. Take a look at the polling results for MV precincts. Obama won big in MV. People with money n MV are both R , D , and I.


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