Opinion: Banned from schools: first Huck Finn, now Obama?


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It was supposed to be the ceremonial equivalent of the first pitch at the All-Star game, but when President Obama visits a Virginia school on Tuesday, he will find himself amid another testy dispute like the town hall confrontations that made August such a hot political month.

Obama is scheduled to visit Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va., at about noon. In his about 20-minute speech, to be released Monday, Obama will encourage students to work hard and succeed in the forthcoming school year. Sounds harmless, but it wasn’t the content of the president’s message that sparked the kerfuffle. Rather, according to conservatives, it was that he was giving a speech at all.


The attacks, including charges that Obama is pushing socialism and big government into spheres better left to the family and the market, were eerily reminiscent of August and the similar conservative complaints about Democratic plans to reform healthcare. The president’s school visit also comes on the day before Obama will address a joint session of Congress on healthcare reform.

There was a time when the first day of school was noted for nothing more than buying supplies, the latest fashions and worrying about what table to sit at in the lunchroom. But the latest furor added a new dimension to political science.

When Obama’s school visit was announced, the Education Department suggested a curriculum that included using the president’s quotes as discussion material. Conservatives immediately attacked the plan and Obama’s visit as another example of...

... Obama pushing his own political agenda and trying to increase the federal government’s role in another area they consider local: education.

Jim Greer, the head of the Florida GOP, was one of the first to condemn the visit. “I am absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology,” he wrote in a widely distributed letter. His complaint echoed through the conservative talk-radio universe and blogosphere, picking up support as some parents demanded a boycott of the speech and even of the opening day of school.

Some districts said they wouldn’t show the president’s speech or would make it optional.

“I think we’ve reached a little bit of the silly season when the president of the United States can’t tell kids in school to study hard and stay in school,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters today.

Gibbs noted that Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush delivered similar speeches. “Look, there are some school districts that won’t let you read ‘Huckleberry Finn,’ ‘ Gibbs said.

As Mark Twain, no stranger to school politics, noted: “God made the Idiot for practice, and then He made the School Board.”

Wonder why Twain’s works get banned?

-- Michael Muskal

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