President Obama will deliver a "back to school" message to children across America tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. CDT. What was intended to be a "feel good" motivational talk about how students can set goals and be better students has become a controversial move. I say, to the general plan: "What a great idea." The first African-American president speaks live to a high school in Arlington, Virginia, and the kids around the nation get to see it live on C-Span. But the bitter opposition to President Obama is now so strong that this has turned into a major political controversy.
Arizona state schools superintendent Tom Horne, a Republican, says plans for teachers made by Obama's Education Department "call for a worshipful rather than critical approach." That is not all. State Senator Steve Russell of Oklahoma says this speech gives the appearance of a "cult of personality." Districts in Texas, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Virginia and Wisconsin have decided not to show the speech, proving the president has no control over local matters. Others were thinking about their response over the past weekend. Some are allowing students to opt out of the class and miss the speech.
What drives all this hoopla? It would appear that it is conservative bloggers and radio talk show hosts who are urging parents to fight back. They argue that Obama is using this time to promote a political agenda and is overstepping the boundaries of federal involvement in public schools.
The White House promised to release the president's speech online (today) and said parents could read it and then make up their own minds. The original White House release about this speech told students how they could write letters to themselves "about how they can help the president." The White House backed off that language saying it was "in-artfully worded" thus they "corrected it."
President George H. W. Bush made a similar address to schools in 1991. Like President Obama he also experienced a wave of protest. Democrats accused Bush of making the event into a campaign commercial.
Do you think the far right and far left have poisoned our society? I do. I think they also poison the attempt of Christians to engage in legitimately civilized conversation. I am determined to do everything in my power to model a different approach. I am sure I sometime fail but I will not stop trying. We so need to learn how to have mature conversations without the fear, anger and hyped-rhetorical edge. The Scripture has a whole lot to say about this very kind of talk and what its says clearly condemns much talk on the left and the right.