Friday, September 04, 2009

How Some Alaska School Districts Are Handling The September 8th Barack Obama Speech; Many Alaskans Remain Suspicious Of Obama's Motives

Like other school districts around the nation, some of Alaska's school districts have had to grapple with community concern over the proposed speech by Barack Obama to be delivered to schoolchildren nationwide on September 8th at 12 Noon Eastern Time (8 A.M. Alaska time). And three of Alaska's school districts have disclosed their plans.

From the Anchorage Daily News:

-- The Anchorage School District has instructed teachers that if they want, they can air the speech on education and work it into their curriculum, and that parents can opt to not have their children watch. Schools will set up alternative activities for pupils who opt out.

-- The Matanuska-Susitna School District will simply leave it up to teachers and schools to decide to watch it or not.

-- Alaska Department of Education spokesman Eric Fry said his non-partisan state agency was also taking a hands-off approach, leaving it up to districts, as it does most decisions. This is different than most other states, where their respective Departments of Education aren't even expressing an opinion, but simply leaving it up to the districts.

From the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner:

An unofficial response from the Fairbanks-North Star Borough School District was posted in the comments section of this letter to the editor. The upshot is that the Fairbanks District will have teachers air the speech and then work it into their curriculum, and that parents can opt to not have their children watch, and will offer an alternative to those who opt out. She cautions that if a parent holds a child out of school, it may be counted as an unexcused absence, depending upon individual school policy. Here's the full comment by Heather Johnson, a health education teacher:

Being a teacher in the FNSBSD, I would like to take this opportunity to answer the questions that I read in this blog. The school district is planning on viewing the speech in classes - however the viewing is optional. Parents absolutely (as always) have the right to say that their child does not have to view the speech, and our school plans on offering an educational alternative for those who opt out. A student will not be penalized for not viewing, however their absence may be counted against them if they are out all day. Please check with your individual school for the answer to that.

The speech is being given in the morning, so please don't deny your child the education that the rest of the day will offer. With the flu going around, there have already been FAR too many kids missing school.

I do recommend that you allow your kids to watch this address to the country, no matter what your political beliefs may be. The address is that of EDUCATION. It is meant to encourage kids to continue growing academically and NOT become a statistic.

My own kids will be viewing this speech, and I think it will serve as a wonderful opportunity to open up various topics for discussion.

I encourage you to get involved in your kid's education, don't fight it.... TALK to them, ASK pertinent questions, EVALUATE together the outcome of the speech. Perhaps you can explain and teach your child that there are always going to be as many various thoughts and opinions as there are people in the world.

I would also like to reassure parents that teachers respect the differing views of ALL of our students. Our job is to make sure that each student gets their educational needs met in a fair and supportive manner. I have yet to "indoctrinate" anyone. I work extremely hard to make sure YOUR kid excels and learns every single day.

I hope this helps, rather than hinders, whatever your views and opinions may be.

Heather Johnson
Health Education Teacher

I classify it as an unofficial response solely because Heather Johnson is not an official district spokesperson.

Nevertheless, many Alaskans remain suspicious of Barack Obama's motives, although the Department of Education website clearly states that Obama will urge students to will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning. Alaska Republican Party Chairman Randy Ruedrich, in reference to the plan for teachers to have students write letters to themselves outlining what they can do to help the president, said, "I don't believe that type of enlistment is a proper mission as part of their education. Especially when they were supposed -- then the faculty was supposed to collect these and then return them to see if the youth had met their goals." And Anchorage District Superintendent Carol Comeau reports that she has been inundated with negative e-mails. Watch KTUU Channel 2 news video embedded below:

As I contemplate the prospective impact of Obama's speech, I find it's a tempest in a teapot. I don't see how anyone will benefit by holding their kids out of school, particularly at the risk of an unexcused absence. There are more productive ways to express opposition to Obama's agenda rather than by using kids.

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