President Barack Obama steered clear of politics in a pep talk to students Tuesday that sparked controversy locally, leading St. Charles Parish parents to online forums to voice their concerns regarding the address.
“My kids don’t need him to tell them how important education is,” one online post read. “They already know. It’s not his job.”
While parish schools did air the speech, they also gave parents and students the option not to watch and provided those kids with other activities.
“Viewing the president’s speech was strictly voluntary,” said Rochelle Cancienne-Touchard. “Students who did not watch the broadcast were placed in an alternative supervised setting.”
Yet only 130 parish students out of approximately 9,600 chose not to view the president’s address.
“The response from our students and parents has been very positive,” said Cancienne-Touchard. “Both high schools agreed that their students were very receptive and thoroughly enjoyed it. I personally found the address to be very engaging.”
The speech, which was available for review on the Internet prior to the live broadcast, challenged students to work hard, set goals for their education and take responsibility for their learning. Obama did not use the opportunity to discuss his political agenda.
The U.S. Department of Education encouraged teachers to create lesson plans around the speech, using materials provided on the department’s Web site that urge students to learn about Obama and other presidents.
“I am aware that there were tools available to teachers who want to incorporate the president’s speech,” added Cancienne-Touchard. “However, this also was not mandatory and I am not aware of any teachers who did change lesson plans.”
Presidents often visit schools, and Obama was not the first one to offer a back-to-school address aimed at millions of students in every grade. Yet several conservative organizations and parents warned that Obama was trying to sell his political agenda through his speech to children.
“Every single one of you has something that you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer,” Obama told students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va., and children watching his speech on television in schools across the country. “And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is.”
Obama, accompanied by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, met with 40 students gathered in a school library before the speech carried on the C-SPAN cable channel and on the White House Web site.
The uproar over his speech followed Obama to Virginia, near Washington, as his motorcade was greeted by a small band of protesters. One carried a sign that read: “Mr. President, stay away from our kids.”