07 September 2009

Obama, Bush, School Speeches

On 8 September 2009, President Barack Obama will address the nation's school children. Notification of this upcoming speech set off a storm of controversy; I highlighted some of the extreme rhetoric present in one online discussion site in "Say What? Obama and the Children." A more productive consequence of the firestorm was that it drove me, a historian, to look at another Presidential speech: President George Bush's 1991 address to students at Alice Deal Junior High (now called Alice Deal Middle School).

President Obama's speech is available on the White House website.

On 1 October 1991, President Bush addressed students in Cynthia Mostoller's classroom at Alice Deal Junior High in Washington DC. The message was broadcast live over CNN, PBS, the NBC radio network, and the now defunct Mutual Broadcasting System.

House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt criticized the speech, according to the Washington Post, "the Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students." The cost was $26,750. The Scripps Howard News Service called it the "Bush teach-in" and highlighted the political significance.
Bush's appearance was part of a White House effort to discredit Democratic charges that he has no domestic agenda by promoting the education goals he laid out for the nation six months ago.
"Bush Tells Children Stupidity is Not Cool," Scripps Howard News Service (2 October 1991)
The Baltimore Sun compared Bush's effort to the style of President Theodore Roosevelt, "the effect was part bully pulpit, part campaign ad" (quoted in The Volokh Conspiracy).

I'm in the process of writing something focused on the context of Bush's speech. Look for "Revolutionize American Education" later this week.

For clearheaded, rational analysis of why Obama's speech, as well as it's predecessors by President Reagan and President Bush should all be resisted, read Popehat's "Why I Oppose President Obama Speaking to the Nation's Schoolchildren."

Update, 8 September 2009

The Billings Gazette (Montana) has a video of local students' reactions.

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