I have a story to tell that relates to the brewing controversy over President Obama's speech to the nation's school children next Tuesday.
It was during the war years of 1943-45. Our grade school teachers made it a contest. Who could raise the most money for Infantile Paralysis. The money was for research to cure the disease that crippled President Franklin Roosevelt in the prime of his life. The campaign was based on the slogan "March For Dimes."
My parents nor the parents of many of my fellow second and third graders were fans of FDR, not because of the war but because of his landmark social policies to move the nation out of the Great Depression.
No one, not even those in rock-ribbed Republican Orange County, Calif., suggested for a second that joining the March of Dimes was furthering FDR's political agenda. The drive to cure the terrible disease was greeted with the same enthusiasm as buying war bonds for $18.25 which, in 10 years, were worth $25.
We didn't take home notes from teachers for parental authorization. We took home Mason jars to be filled with pennies, nickles, dimes and quarters.
Flash forward to 2009.
President Obama's speech at a Virginia high school essentially urges students to study hard, finish school and accept personal responsibility. There's no more political overtones in that message than the March For Dimes drive honored for FDR.
Michelle Malkin, just one of many ultra-right conservative voices, claims it is a well-known fact liberal Democrats want to brainwash our nation's children with their social agendas she and others like her oppose.
The fact is, President Obama's speech is not the problem. He's the straw man.
What the critics really are complaining about is several lesson plans suggested by some unthinking zealots in the U.S. Department of Education for teachers to ask their students to write an essay how they can help our president. To that, I would agree, poses a problem to some parents.
Each school district is setting its own protocol. At Davidson Elementary in San Bernardino, Calif., Principal Joyce Payne said nearly all her teachers in grades higher than kindergarten will show the speech, which she expects to be "a wonderful learning experience for kids." She also anticipates that her teachers will use the accompanying classroom materials prepared by the Obama administration.
I was curious how my old school district is handling it.
Ken Lopez-Maddox, a former Republican assemblyman who is a school board trustee for the Capistrano Unified School District in Orange County, said he has no problem with the president addressing students and schools.
"To the degree he's emphasizing education, I think it's great," he said.
The district issued a news release saying it was not "encouraging nor discouraging classroom viewing," and urging parents who do not want their children to watch the speech to contact school principals.
Maddox said he respected the rights of parents to choose what their children watch, but added: "I would think it odd that they wouldn't want them to know what the president is going to say."
I mentioned Ms. Malkin earlier. Here's another critic touching on the same subject:
On Thursday, Jim Greer, chairman of the Florida Republican Party, accused the president of attempting to "indoctrinate America's children to his socialist agenda." According to Greer, "the idea that schoolchildren across our nation will be forced to watch the president justify his plans for government-run healthcare, banks and automobile companies, increasing taxes on those who create jobs, and racking up more debt than any other president, is not only infuriating but goes against the beliefs of the majority of Americans, while bypassing American parents through an invasive abuse of power."
One of the most common assignments teachers require is writing essays on a timely subject or memorizing a classic speech delivered by our presidents. Consider yourself in the fifth grade during the Civil War and the teacher made you memorize the Gettysburg Address by President Lincoln. Would the school need authorization from the parents? I don't think so.
The White House plans to release the speech online Monday so parents can read it. Obama will deliver the speech at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va.