Other bloggers have addressed this issue more thoroughly than I plan to, so I will refer you to them if you are looking for something more in-depth than my personal opinion.
1. Presidents have been talking to schoolchildren for ages. As such, I can't get too worked up about the fact that the current President is doing the same thing. Especially because most kids are attending government schools and he is the leader of the government. When I attended Catholic schools, we listened to the Pope every once in a while. What I'm trying to say is that I think it's silly that people seem to be surprised by the fact that Obama is giving a speech to the government-schooled kids. Not the most shocking thing in the world.
2. However, the PR around it is interesting and somewhat alarming. As Dana of Principled Discovery mentions, the word "historic" in the DOE Secretary's Letter to the Principals is a bit over the top.
3. The fact that there are two versions of the teacher talking points is also very telling and rather more alarming. I'm glad they edited the part about having the students write letters to themselves about what they're going to do to help the President. But as someone on Twitter (sorry, I can't remember who, but will link if someone can find it for me) noted, it's pretty amazing that whoever wrote up and approved the original version of those "teacher talking points" didn't notice and/or think there was anything off about that language. Given the cult of personality surrounding the President, it's par for the course and, of course, alarming.
4. I plan to watch the speech, and depending on what he says, I may let the kids see it. But I probably won't--they are young and have better things to do with their time, honestly.
Dana writes a bit about why she thinks people are so riled up about this speech, and I want to quote her because I think she's on to something. She writes (my emphasis):
Both Bush’s went much further than Obama toward making our schools a national stage for federal education politics. Granted, Obama wishes to go further still, but the course has already been charted.
For twenty years, we steadily shift the power in education from the local community toward the federal government, and do nothing but occasionally grumble. The president makes a speech, however, and we call for a National Keep Your Child at Home Day. Suddenly, we’re worried about brainwashing in a “totalitarian-type telecast” befitting “banana dictators.”
Compared to the power we have willingly handed over (even demanded to be taken from us), I must agree with Joanne Jacobs on this one. What is so sinister?
How much of it really has to do with the speech? Not much. Instead, it is expressing general frustration over the direction the country is heading. It is a direction we have very little control over individually, but we certainly can pull our kids out of school for one day.
Education has been moving toward national standards and centralized control for my entire life. Finally, some people are standing up and saying “Enough.” Unfortunately, it is an insignificant gesture aimed at an irrelevant event.
On the one hand, I'm glad the people are willing to make even this one small gesture, if they feel this strongly about keeping their kids out of school so they won't see the speech. Because it shows that we still have some fight left in us.
On the other hand, it IS a small gesture, precisely because we have let the Feds take away our liberties incrementally over the decades and barely noticed. Still, even the smallest gesture means something, I think.
By the way, this is exactly the reason I think so many parents get worked up into fits when their schools consider peanut bans, or even peanut tables or food-free classrooms! Many parents send their kids to government schools because "that's how things are done," or sit by and not question some of the things their kids are learning even when they feel uncomfortable about them (I'm not saying this is everyone--but I know parents like this, unfortunately, and so do you).
But the minute this school tries to make a safety accommodation for a child with a life-threatening allergy, well, look out! Suddenly, by GOD, this is the thing the parents need to stand up to the government schools and school boards about. Suddenly, there are children across the school district who will "only eat peanut butter." (I have personally never encountered a child who literally only eats one food, and I have picky eaters.) Suddenly, it's about the RIGHT to eat peanut butter in school! Suddenly, parents are circumventing what they see as a stupid rights-violating rule by sending in covert peanuts with their kids.
These parents rarely question the more important principle to which they've already given their tacit assent: the idea that there is a RIGHT to education. (I do not think that is a right, just so we're clear.) Because if they did, they'd have to concede that a food allergic (or diabetic or what have you) child has the same Right to an Education that their child does. And if their kid has a Right to Peanut Butter, well then, what to do? How can two contradictory "rights" exist? (Answer: rights can't contradict, which should give you a clue about the fact that one or both of those so-called rights is not, in fact, a legitimate right.)
On the one hand, it's refreshing to see parents stick up for their peanut-eating kids. It is, for the same reason it's good to see parents standing up about this Obama speech. Because it tells me that we, as a culture, aren't totally giving up. Not yet.
On the other hand, we need to be fighting for the right things--for ideas, for liberty, for individual rights, and for a real understanding of the meaning of rights. Or else we'll all just be, well, rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, never noticing that big iceberg in our way.