It was with great sadness and shame, but not much surprise, that I read the following news in my morning paper. The Elmbrook School District will be blocking the telecast of the president's speech in response to parent complaints.
When President Barack Obama makes a speech Tuesday to America's schoolchildren that will be carried live on television and the Internet, students in at least one Wisconsin school district won't be allowed to see it - at least, not if they're where they're supposed to be.
Elmbrook School District Superintendent Matt Gibson told parents Thursday that schools in his district would not show the president's speech live on Tuesday, although he encouraged families to watch it at home and provided a link where it would be archived...
...At Elmbrook, Gibson said he heard from a number of people in his conservative Waukesha County district, some with partisan and some with instructional concerns, about the upcoming speech.
"The majority of people who called in on it, pretty much the essence of their message was, if we show it en masse Tuesday, they would keep their student at home," he said. Several School Board members also contacted Gibson with similar concerns, he said.
Now I realize that this is a conservative district. But, to my knowledge, it is the only district in southeastern Wisconsin that will be blocking the speech. I wonder how many districts will follow suit, now that Elmbrook has shown such 'leadership'?
In an email sent out district-wide to the staff, one can hardly make sense of the district's position:
We have made the decision to not show the president’s talk during the school day. This decision was made to honor class time throughout the district, and because we have no opportunity for prior review to determine if it relates to curriculum, is appropriate for all age levels, and is non-partisan regardless of the political party in office. The address will be archived and may be shown in individual classrooms at a later time, if it relates to curriculum and if parents receive prior notice.
You really have concerns about age-appropriateness and relevance to curriculum? But Dr. Gibson already said that many of the concerns expressed by parents were strictly partisan. Was this the position of the district for speeches to schools given by President Reagan (where he discussed tax policy) or either of the Presidents Bush?
A friend of mine made an excellent point. Will teachers now be required to secure parental permission to show Reagan's speech marking the 50th anniversary of D-day? How about FDR's address after Pearl Harbor? Best of all, are teachers still free to discuss the Gettysburg Address?
The email continues:
In honor of the president and advanced publicity that his message will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their own learning, we encourage students and parents to watch and discuss it at home.
Now you just said that you have no opportunity for prior review. One paragraph later, you are honoring his message about hard work, goal-setting and personal responsibility for learning? But, you don't want that message to be discussed...at school?
Plainly and simply, the Elmbrook School District is practicing censorship and telling its students (and parents) that they don't have to confront any ideas that they don't like and that they cannot find anything positive in the voice of 'opposition'. I am, honestly, at a loss.
UPDATE: Here is the district website:
Elmbrook School District website