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Obama's Object Lesson

President's speech to schools sparks discussion, whether aired or not

President Barack Obama urged students to stay in school, study hard and ask lots of questions, prompting a short discussion at Fairmont Jr. High School in Boise where students were impressed with Obama's personal story and that of Michael Jordan and J.K. Rowling.

"I never would have guessed that about him," said Jacob Dahl-Buffington, 12. "That his family didn't go to college."

Obama's address to the nation's school children was met with objections from conservative talk radio hosts, prompting schools in several states, including Idaho, to not air it. Kacey Schneidt, principal at Siena Elementary School in Meridian banned the president's speech on advice of about 15 calls to the school.

"Only one teacher really wanted to do it," Schneidt said, citing the short time frame to prepare a lesson on the speech. She said parents can watch the speech with the children at home.

Mountain View High School in Meridian also declined to show the speech, but principal Aaron Maybon said it would be shown in the auditorium twice for any students who wanted to watch.

Maybon said no teachers had shown an interest in showing the speech, but two Meridian teachers said they were never asked.

Amy Kohlmeier, principal at Fairmont in Boise said the opposition to the speech and the fact that several schools chose not to show it was both troubling and disturbing.

"This is a great opportunity to have the president of the United States talk about the things that we talk about every day at this school," Kohlmeier said.

Four Fairmont parents opted out. One Washington Elementary School parent was concerned about an opt out form that the school sent home for parents not wanting their kids to see the speech, particularly since the only other opt out she's ever gotten was for HIV/AIDS prevention education.

"I don't get an opt out if I don't want my child to pledge allegiance to the flag," said Boise parent Julie Gill. "They don't bother to let me know if the governor speaks to our kids, if the mayor speaks to the kids ... why the leader of our country?"

In a discussion of the speech in Paul Altorfer's seventh grade college prep class at Fairmont, one student pointed out that since presidents don't really write their own speeches, any president could have delivered a similar message.

Some college-age tutors who help in the class also raised a few objections to the president's delivery.

On Obama's admonition that failing in school was failing the nation, Ally Perry, 20, said that was not necessarily a positive message for young students.

"That's a lot of pressure that they would be failing their country," she said.

And Anthony D'Amato, 20, added that Obama's definition of success—famous athlete, author, doctor or lawyer—is not the only route to success.

"If we don't 'succeed' it's like they're saying we're not trying hard," he said.

Idaho Secretary of Public Instruction Tom Luna also attended the speech at Fairmont, praising the president's message about not quitting in school.

"The president's own story is compelling," Luna said.

The speech, broadcast in public schools across the nation, ended with the usual religious disclaimer: "God bless you, God bless America."