President Barack Obama’s plan to deliver a speech to public school students on Tuesday has sparked a revolt among conservative parents, who have accused the president of trying to indoctrinate their children with socialist ideas and are asking school officials to excuse the children from listening.
The uproar over the speech, in which Obama intends to urge students to work hard and stay in school, has been acute in Texas, where several major school districts, under pressure from parents, have laid plans to let children opt out of lending the president an ear.
“The thing that concerned me most about it was it seemed like a direct channel from the president of the United States into the classroom, to my child,” said Brett Curtiss, an engineer from Pearland, Texas, who said he would keep his three children home. “I don’t want our schools turned over to some socialist movement.”
The White House has said the speech will stress the importance of education and hard work in school, both to the individual and to the nation. The message is not partisan, nor compulsory, officials said.
“This isn’t a policy speech,” Sandra Abrevaya, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said. “It’s designed to encourage kids to stay in school. The choice on whether to show the speech to students is entirely in the hands of each school. This is absolutely voluntary.”
Obama’s speech was announced weeks ago, but the furor among conservatives reached a fever pitch Wednesday morning as right-wing Web sites and talk show hosts began inveighing against it.
Chris Stigall, a Kansas City talk show host, said, “I’m not letting my next-door neighbor talk to my kid alone; I’m sure as hell not letting Barack Obama talk to him alone.”
Previous presidents have visited public schools to speak directly to students, although few of those events have been broadcast live. Obama’s address at noon, Eastern time, at a high school in Virginia will be streamed live on the White House Web site.
In 1991, President George Bush, a Republican, made a nationally broadcast speech from a Washington high school, urging students to study hard, avoid drugs and to ignore peers “who think it’s not cool to be smart.” Congressional Democrats accused him of using taxpayer money — $27,000 to produce the broadcast — for “paid political advertising.”