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[Op-Ed] Obama’s School Speech

Posted September. 05, 2009 08:05,   


It is customary for a U.S. president to visit schools and play teacher for a day, reading books and talking to students. President Barack Obama is no exception. He visited an elementary school in February shortly after taking office to read books on astronauts to students and take pictures with them. The students and Obama had a good time, with one student asking the president who his favorite superhero was.

Obama will not just stop at reading books to students. He will make a speech Tuesday at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia, that will be broadcast nationwide through the Internet and C-Span TV. The White House said the president will stress the importance of taking responsibility for studying, setting educational goals, and doing what it takes to fulfill the two goals. As the Washington Post aptly said yesterday, Obama plans to deliver a pep talk to students.

What U.S. presidents have said to young students has always triggered controversy, however. In 1991, President George H.W. Bush told high school students to study hard and avoid drugs in a speech broadcast nationwide. At the time, the Democratic Party opposed his speech. This time, conservatives are railing against Obama’s words. The accusations range from trying to brainwash students to using tax money to spread his socialistic ideology and attempting to lift his sagging approval rating, which has plummeted to 46 percent due to trouble in Afghanistan and the debate over health care reform.

American conservatives have branded Obama’s school speech as political intervention. With the controversy intensifying, the White House released the content of the speech the day before he was to give it to schools and parents for review. After that, schools and parents can decide whether they will allow students to hear Obama’s speech, according to the White House. His speech is far from ideological or political. Given that members of the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers’ Union are exploiting schools as a venue for ideological propaganda and political struggle, the conflict over Obama’s speech is a minor problem in comparison.

Editorial Writer Bhang Hyeong-nam (hnbhang@donga.com)