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Farragut parent views on Obama’s speech to students mixed

President Barack Obama’s speech to children aired nationally in many public schools while some Farragut-area schools chose to “opt out” of the Tuesday, Sept. 8, broadcast, resulting in mixed opinions from parents.

The decision to air the speech in Farragut-area schools was left to individual principals and teachers, according to Russ Oaks, spokesperson for Knox County Schools system.

“Our principals and teachers were well-positioned to make a judgment as to whether the address would be educationally valuable to their students in the context of what their students are learning this week.

“Some of our teachers chose to participate, seeing the address as a potential ‘teachable moment’ regarding our democracy, and a unique opportunity for our students to hear directly from the president about the importance of working hard and taking responsibility for their education,” Oaks said.

“As is our practice with potential issues of parental concern in our social studies and health curriculum, parents were given the opportunity to request — in writing — that their children not participate. Students whose parents requested that they not participate engaged in an alternative educational activity,” Oaks added.

As principals, teachers and parents decided whether or not to allow their students and children to see Obama’s speech, setting aside personal opinion was critical.

In an e-mail response, Gary Stapleton, whose son is an eighth-grader at Farragut Middle School, said he couldn’t be happier with the opt out: “Farragut Middle School chose not to air the speech, for which I am grateful. From what I have read (and I have not read the entire speech), it was too focused on President Obama.

“He is our president and as such deserves our respect; however, he does not deserve our worship. I blame the Department of Education for giving it the ‘serve Obama’ spin,” he added.

Many wanted the speech to air simply because of the office Obama holds. Mothers such as Mary Robinson, whose seventh-grader also did not get to hear the president, said, “It was a good message to all the students. Everyone should see the video and hear our president when he says there are no excuses. It’s a message that needed to be heard.”

Obama’s speech, unlike those of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, focused primarily on himself and the choices he made. Obama said his early childhood was difficult and took a toll on decisions he made growing up, but he didn’t give up. He admitted to getting a lot of second chances, for which he is grateful.

Rebecca MacLean’s Farragut High School child was not able to see the speech during her theater class.

MacLean said, “I think the whole country is split politically and hyper-sensitive. Everyone should have had a chance to hear our president speak.”

In another e-mail response, Seth Ferriell, who has children at Farragut Middle and Intermediate schools, said, “I have no issue whatsoever with a sitting president speaking in a motivational manner to any child. What made this ridiculous were the assignments the Department of Education sent out to go along with the speech at the direction of the White House. They included very politicized items like, ‘Write a letter to yourself listing ways you can help President Obama.’”

Ferriell added, “Most of these items were washed over in the press and the headlines became ‘Crazy Republicans think the president can brainwash their children in a single speech.’ The final product ended up fine. Who can argue with ‘stay in school, be respectful to adults, try hard, make an effort and push yourself?’”


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