Reading, Writing, Arithmetic and Race

The controversy over President Obama’s school speech is mostly about race. And those parents are teaching their kids exactly the wrong thing.

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“I don’t want our schools turned over to some socialist movement,” Brett Curtis, a parent in Texas told the New York Times last week. He said he would keep his three children home from school rather than have them listen to President Barack Obama’s speech to the nation’s school children.

Jim Greer, the Republican Party chairman in Florida, said he “was appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology,” according to the Times. And a political commentator on the Rush Limbaugh show compared President Obama to Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong-il, the communist North Korean leader.

For the past few days as news outlets have reported on school districts and principals around the country being inundated with calls and e-mails from angry parents demanding that President Obama’s speech today not be broadcasted to their children, the story line has been that partisan politics was driving the controversy. What has not been as widely discussed, however, is how much the president’s race has also factored in the debate as the underlying force driving the parents’ outrage. It may be subtle, but the message is clear to any thinking person listening to the angry parents. Not only do they oppose a supposed socialist lecturing their children, they also don’t want a black man doing it, even if he is their president.

What’s most irksome about this fake controversy is the level of hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty being exhibited by the parents protesting President Obama’s alleged attempts to indoctrinate their children using subliminal messages cloaked in socialist ideology.

Among some of the lines from the president’s speech: "Your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country.”

And this: "What you're learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future."

Surely such scandalous socialist propaganda cannot be tolerated. Never mind that the suggested lesson plan that was to accompany the speech and was at the heart of the socialist conspiracy was just that, a suggestion. School administrators did not risk losing their jobs or face a trip to the gulag if they decided to use their own lesson plans.

One can’t help but wonder, if it’s socialism these parents are worried about then why are they taking marching orders from General Rush Limbaugh and the other conservative commanders of the far right who have laced much of their criticisms of the president in race-based language and called the president himself a racist? These demigods have exploited the racial fears of irrational, uniformed people and made them captive to group think that posits that white people are losing more and more control over their lives every day because the black man in office is hell-bent on denying them the white privilege that, until his election, was their birthright.

While it’s true that some on the left criticized Republican presidents when they addressed school children in the past—House Democrats accused President George H.W. Bush of playing politics when he gave a nationally televised speech to students at Alice Deal Junior High School in Washington, D.C., in 1991, encouraging them to study hard and avoid drugs—there was no widespread move to take children out of school so they wouldn’t have to listen to President Bush’s speech or to bully school principals and superintendents to not show it. Nor did parents vociferously attack the president.

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