Video: Roundtable examines school speech furor

  1. Transcript of: Roundtable examines school speech furor

    MR. GREGORY: Let me get onto a couple of other things here that are also interesting issues. The other speech the president planned to give on Tuesday was an education speech to students coming back from their summer break , and he wanted to talk about studying hard. We brought it up with David Axelrod . Well, this has created such a firestorm. Here's the New Canaan Public Schools , writing a parent letter, and in it they say this."In developing their plans our principals have considered issues such as developmental appropriateness, curricular relevance, the time at which the speech is being broadcast and the importance of teachers assuming responsibility for the selection of instructional materials. In elementary schools the administration and faculty will view the speech, download it and after discussing it, make decisions regarding how it might be used in the future -- including deciding its appropriateness for various grade levels . Parents will be notified, if and when, the decision to show the speech is made." Tom Brokaw , talk about tortured language. What's going on here?

    MR. FRIEDMAN: Signs of the apocalypse. I mean, really.

    MR. BROKAW: It's stunning to me. I come from a time and a place in America where it would be thrilling to have a president of the United States address your school about the importance of studying and staying in school . And this president, whatever else you think about his political philosophy , is a symbol of working hard, coming from difficult circumstances and getting to where he is in part because of education. I think it's so ripe for satire, it's unbelievable. The superintendent of the Gettysburg Public School System said today that they have devised a plan for students to be shielded from a President Abraham Lincoln who will be coming to make an address. Look, that is the most tortured thing I can possibly imagine, what we just read there. It sounds like East Germany trying to form some restrictions on people leaving the eastern sector to go into the western sector. I think it's perfectly appropriate for parents to say, "I don't want my child to hear that. I would rather keep them out or put them in a different school that day." But this is completely out of control, in my judgment. And it's not -- it's not partisan. I mean, if -- when I was a student or when my children were in school ...

    MR. GREGORY: Right.

    MR. BROKAW: ...if it had been Dwight Eisenhower or John Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson or Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan or George Bush , the idea of hearing a president of the United States saying we should study hard and that's how we advance and we all need to get in on, on this, I think is an appropriate message.

    MR. GREGORY: Mayor Giuliani , you ran for president and one of the things that I've noticed in my experience covering a Republican president, George W. Bush , is the lack of respect for the

    institution of the presidency. Whether it's people saying during Bush 's time, "Hey, he's not my president." Well, no, yes, he is. Does that trouble you?

    MR. GIULIANI: Yes, it does, and Tom is right. But the difference is we looked at President Eisenhower or President Reagan , even up to about that point, even President Bush 41 differently. There's a lack of respect for the president, there's a lack of respect for politicians. And David Axelrod said, "Well, this isn't politics." Everything the president does nowadays is politics, for better or worse. And I think that's what you're seeing. You're seeing people distrust the president's motives or the administration's motives. It's not just about the speech, it's about the lesson plan . I think it's unfortunate and I think, you know, what's the -- it almost seems a shame to say what's the harm in a president speaking to a group of children.

    FMR. REP. FORD: I wish when I was in fourth...

    MR. GIULIANI: I think, I think the president should be given the opportunity to do it.

    MR. GREGORY: Governor Pawlenty of Minnesota , Harold , said, "Look, the only issue with this was it was uninvited." There's a sense that it's been kind of foisted on the schools. Is there any legitimate criticism? There were lesson plans that encouraged the students to write letters saying how they could help the president.

    FMR. REP. FORD: I traveled to Afghanistan in February of '02. We took with us letters from students in our own congressional districts . I was along with seven other members of Congress to deliver the students in Afghanistan . We asked them to do it. The -- we thought a clever and smart, an interesting way for kids to connect. I wish when I was in fourth grade the president of the United States -- when I was in fourth grade, it would've been 1978 or '79, Jimmy Carter was president. I wish in '82, when I was in seventh grade, Reagan would've come and said study hard, work hard, obey your teachers. If that's bad in America today...

    MR. GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

    FMR. REP. FORD: ...we have worse problems than the president going into a, going into a school and speaking.

    MR. GREGORY: What...

    MR. FRIEDMAN: But David , you know, you said, it's a firestorm. And we live in the age of firestorms. You know, today, or this week, it's the president speaking in school . What it needs is for people to stand up and say that's flat out stupid, OK? That's flat out stupid what you're talking about. The president of the United States , addressing schoolchildren in this country to study hard, work hard because that's the way you advance in today's global economy . And instead of that, we kind of dance around it, you know. It's flat out stupid.

    MR. GREGORY: You talk about Van Jones as well, you know, the fact that in this, in this media age, what he said, by anybody's estimation, was objectionable, to sign a petition saying the government was behind 9/11. But it goes to something that's going on in this information age ...

    MR. FRIEDMAN: David , yeah...

    MR. GREGORY: ...which is you can be a target real fast.

    MR. FRIEDMAN: David , when everyone has a cell phone , everyone's a photographer. When everyone has access to YouTube , everyone's a filmmaker. And when everyone's a blogger, everyone's in newspaper. When everyone's a photographer, a newspaper and a filmmaker, everyone else is a public figure . Tell your kids, OK, tell your kids, OK, be careful. Every move they make is now a digital footprint. You are on " Candid Camera ." And unfortunately, the real message to young people , from all of these incidents, OK, and I'm not here defending anything anyone said, but from all of these incidents, is you know, really keep yourself tight, don't say anything controversial, don't think anything -- don't put anything in print. You know, whatever you do, just kind of smooth out all the edges, and maybe you too -- you know, when you get nominated to be ambassador to Burkina Faso , you'll be able to get through the hearing.


    MR. BROKAW: Well, I've -- one of the things I've been saying to audiences is this question comes up a lot, and a lot of people will repeat back to me and take it as face value something that they read on the Internet . And my line to them is you have to vet information. You have to test it the same way you do when you buy an automobile or when you go and buy a new flat-screen television. You read the Consumer Reports , you have an idea of what it's worth and what the lasting value of it is. You have to do the same thing with information because there is so much disinformation out there that it's frightening, frankly, in a free society that depends on information to make informed decisions. And this is across the board, by the way. It's not just one side of the political spectrum or the other. It is across the board, David , and it's something that we all have to address and it requires society and political and cultural leaders to stand up and say, "this is crazy." We just can't function that way.

    MR. FRIEDMAN: You know, David , I just want to say one thing to pick up on Tom's point, which is the Internet is an open sewer of untreated, unfiltered information, left, right, center, up, down, and requires that kind of filtering by anyone. And I always felt, you know, when modems first came out, when that was how we got connected to the Internet , that every modem sold in America should actually come with a warning from the surgeon general that would have said, "judgment not included," OK? That you have to upload the old-fashioned way. Church, synagogue, temple, mosque, teachers, schools, you know. And too often now people say, and we've all heard it, "But I read it on the Internet ," as if that solves the bar bet , you know? And I'm afraid not.

updated 9/6/2009 12:18:33 PM ET 2009-09-06T16:18:33

The furor surrounding President Barack Obama's plans to address the nation's school children is "just silly," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Sunday.

Duncan's department has taken heat for proposed lesson plans distributed to accompany Tuesday's speech, and he acknowledged that a section on writing to the president about how students can help him meet education goals was poorly written. It has been changed.

Debate about conservative objections to the speech has dominated cable television and talk radio for several days, signaling again the stark divisions in the country both over politics and social issues.

Some opponents to the speech claim Obama would try to indoctrinate school children with what they call his "socialist" agenda.

"That's just silly. They can go to school. They can not watch. It's just, you know, going an 18-minute speech," Duncan said.

‘Put out by teachers, for teachers’
He said Obama had no intention beyond talking "about personal responsibility and challenging students to take their education very, very seriously."

Duncan said the guides distributed to schools "were put out by teachers, for teachers. And there is one that wasn't worded quite correctly. It was talking about helping the president hit his goal of having the highest percent of college graduates by 2020. He's drawn a line in the sand in that.

"We just clarified that to say write a letter about your own goals and what you're going to do to achieve those goals. So again it's really about personal responsibility and being accountable, setting real goals and having the work ethic to see them through," the secretary said.

Declaring that viewing the speech is "purely voluntary," Duncan said the hubbub is something "I frankly don't pay any attention to." Rather, he said, he is focused "laser-like" on the big problems in the U.S. education system.

The secretary said the speech text will be posted on the White House Web site on Monday "and people can have a look. Again this is all about the president challenging our young people to take responsibility for their education."

Duncan spoke on CBS"s "Face the Nation."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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