Nelson Mandela: A life in pictures
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Next week, President Obama will address the nation’s public school children. They may or may not end up happy about it — a lecture on why education’s really important doesn’t always go over so well — but on the right, there’s already a lot of unhappiness, and some accusations that the speech is really about politics and indoctrination.
“I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology,” Jim Greer, the chair of Florida’s Republican Party, said in a press release. “The idea that school children across our nation will be forced to watch the President justify his plans for government-run health care, banks, and automobile companies … is not only infuriating, but goes against beliefs of the majority of Americans, while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power …. President Obama has turned to American’s children to spread his liberal lies, indoctrinating American’s youngest children before they have a chance to decide for themselves.”
Greer isn’t alone in feeling this way. Blogger and columnist Michelle Malkin claimed Obama’s trying to create “junior lobbyists,” and wrote that “parents have every right to worry about their children being used as Political Guinea Pigs for Change.” She also took the opportunity to remind her readers of Obama’s connection to former Weather Underground member Bill Ayers, suggesting that it’s really his plan to radicalize school children that’s being put in effect. And Gary Bauer, a leader of the religious right, told supporters, “the Obama Administration is using its power in unprecedented ways, this time injecting itself into the nation’s classrooms. Tuesday may be a good day to sit in on your child’s classes.” There have also been suggestions in some quarters that parents should simply hold their children back from school that day.
This isn’t the first time a president has addressed U.S. public school students, and it’s not the first time there’ve been accusations of politicization, either. President George H.W. Bush gave a similar talk in 1991, PolitiFact notes. At the time, then House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt said, “The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students.” (As PolitiFact also notes, Newt Gingrich defended Bush’s speech.)
So clearly there’s room to question the need and the utility for a speech like this, and to wonder whether it really will inspire students to work harder. But the indoctrination accusation simply doesn’t hold up — it’s clear from the material the Department of Education has released thus far that Obama won’t be talking politics. In a letter to principals, Education Secretary Arne Duncan explained, “The President will challenge students to work hard, set educational goals, and take responsibility for their learning. He will also call for a shared responsibility and commitment on the part of students, parents and educators to ensure that every child in every school receives the best education possible so they can compete in the global economy for good jobs and live rewarding and productive lives as American citizens.”
But the Department of Education has already started giving in to the pressure, changing some of the language that critics had focused on. In material for teachers about possible lesson plans to follow up on the president’s address, there was originally a suggestion that students could, “Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president.”
In context, it’s clear that was an attempt to get kids to think of working hard in school as something they were doing not just for themselves, but for the president — and not politically, either. But that’s not how Obama’s opponents saw it. So now the sentence has now been revised to “Write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals.”
Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon. More Alex Koppelman.
Nelson Mandela and his wife Winnie in this undated file picture.
Mandela is accompanied by his former wife Winnie, moments after his release from prison February 11, 1990 after serving 27 years in jail. (Reuters)
In this February, 1990 photo, shortly after his release from 27 years in prison, Nelson Mandela, gives the black power salute to the 120,000 supporters packing Soccer City stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg. (AP Photo)
Nelson Mandela showed his passport in February 19, 1990, shortly after his release from prison. The South African government authorized an application for himself and his wife Winnie - (Juda Ngwenya / Reuters)
In this July 27, 1991 photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro, and Nelson Mandela gesture during the celebration of the "Day of the Revolution" in Matanzas, Cuba. (AP Photo)
In this July 4, 1993 photo, President Bill Clinton and Nelson Mandela listen during Fourth of July ceremonies in Philadelphia during which Clinton presented the Philadelphia Liberty Medal to the African National Congress president and South African President F.W. de Klerk. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson)
President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela acknowledges cheers from the crowd as he prepares to unveil the ANC's official election platform in 1994. (AP Photo/David Brauchli)
African National Congress (ANC) leader Nelson Mandela greeted residents of Mmabatho in March 1994, during a visit after the nominal homeland came under South African control following the ousting of the former President Lucas Mangope. (Reuters/Howard Burditt)
South African President Nelson Mandela smiles with actor Sidney Poitier at a press conference in Cape Town in 1996. Poitier played Mandela in the film "One Man, One Vote" (AP Photo / Sasa Kralj)
South African President Nelson Mandela waves to crowds as he sits next to Queen Elizabeth II in a an open carriage on the way to Buckingham Palace.(AP/Louisa Buller)
Chairman of the Constitutional Assembly Cyril Ramaphosa, left, holds up a copy of the country's constitution which was signed by President Nelson Mandela, in December 1996. (AP Photo / Adil Bradlow / POOL)
Nelson Mandela at a news conference in Johannesburg in February 2000. (AP Photo / Denis Farrell)
South African rugby captain Francois Pienaar, right, received the Rugby World Cup trophy from President Nelson Mandela also wearing a South African rugby shirt, after South Africa defeated New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup , in 1995. (AP Photo / Ross Setford)