The commissioner of New Jersey's Department of Education ordered a review on Friday following the posting of a YouTube video depicting school children singing the praises of President Obama.
Video of the students at the Burlington, N.J., school shows them singing songs seemingly overflowing with campaign slogans and praise for "Barack Hussein Obama," repeatedly chanting the president's name and celebrating his accomplishments, including his "great plans" to "make this country's economy No. 1 again."
One song that the children were taught quotes directly from the spiritual "Jesus Loves the Little Children," though Jesus' name is replaced with Obama's: "He said red, yellow, black or white/All are equal in his sight. Barack Hussein Obama."
There were apparently death threats sent to the principal; of course, such threats are crimes, and should be punished. But I would hope that those responsible for the school project are properly disciplined as well; public school classrooms shouldn't be used to sing the praises of any sitting (or recent) political figure, whether Bush or Obama or anyone else.
That's not a constitutional matter — there's no Establishment Clause for political speech, and of course schools do routinely glorify past political figures, whether Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, or what have you. They also rightly express a calm respect for current elected officials; when an official comes to visit, for instance, it's proper for teachers to give the normal praise offered such visitors, and for students to join in.
But that some degree of ideological indoctrination and glorification is inevitable in government-run schools, and is in fact one of the purposes of such schools (which have long been justified as means of assimilating children into American democratic culture), doesn't mean that it's proper to lead children in songs praising the current President or particular aspects of his political agenda ("Hooray, Mr. President we honor your great plans / To make this country's economy number one again!"). I would have thought that this was pretty clear, and it probably is to most teachers in most schools — but not, unfortunately, in this instance.
"New Low: Beck and Right-Wing Media Minions Fearmongering About Kids to Attack Progressives":
Is it just me, or is that headline just a bit rhetorically over the top? (No, the last link doesn't make a moral analogy, just an analogy in the rhetoric.) "New low"; "right-wing media minions" (why not "nattering nabobs of negativism"?); "fearmongering" -- just a bit much for a credible debunking, it seems to me.
This is especially so when part of the fearmongering that is supposedly debunked is actually not bunk at all; here's the response the site (Media Matters) gives as to the Obama praise song incident:
Conservative media fearmonger about unauthorized YouTube video of school kids "praising" Obama
The Drudge Report: "SHOCK VIDEO: School kids taught to praise Obama ..." On September 23, Internet gossip Matt Drudge linked to a YouTube video purportedly showing "[s]chool kids taught to praise Obama." The video, showing young schoolchildren in New Jersey singing a song about Obama, provides no evidence that the children or their parents consented to having the video posted on YouTube.
America's Newsroom: "Many parents ... just don't want this sort of political cheerleading, if you will, in the classroom." On Fox News' America's Newsroom, hosts Bill Hemmer and Megyn Kelly aired the video and asserted that "many parents" don't want kids "singing praises" to Obama. Before showing the video, Hemmer said: "It is one thing to have kids say the Pledge of Allegiance, but we're not sure what's going on with the videotape now online when students are singing praises to the president and why some parents are saying, not with my kid." Later, Kelly teased the video by saying, it's "getting attention on The Drudge Report website this morning. It shows young children singing the praises, quite literally, of the president." She continued:
KELLY: Well, information posted with the clip says that it is from the Bernice Young School in Burlington Township, New Jersey, but the school won't exactly confirm that for us. In fact, they won't confirm anything for us. We have made multiple attempts to ask them about these students, about this tape and how this came about. We are hoping that they can get back to us shortly, so that we can clear this up.
Already we're getting a lot of emails from our viewers. It went on from there -- you saw a clip of the children singing. Then came a bit of a chant by the children where they praised President Obama for all his great accomplishments, saying, quote, "You're number one. Hooray, Mr. President, we're really proud of you." And on and on it goes.
You know, many would have no problem with this. Many parents would, and just don't want this sort of political cheerleading, if you will, in the classroom. We just don't know the details behind the tape, but it certainly caught our attention and we're trying to find out from, again, from this school, which we have multiple calls into. The B. Bernice Young Elementary School, Bernice Young Elementary School in Burlington, New Jersey. And as soon as we have it, you'll have it. [America's Newsroom, 9/24/09]
The Fox Nation: "School Children Sing Songs of Obama's Glory." On September 25, the allegedly fair and balanced TheFoxNation.com posted the video with the headline "School Children Sing Songs of Obama's Glory."
Beck: Song sounds like "a hymnal for a dictator." On the September 24 edition of his radio show, Beck said: "I want to show you, and tonight I'm going to play the tape for you, of indoctrination that is going on. We've been going through all of this indoctrination for the last few days. Tomorrow, I do a full hour live with moms, and their children, and we're going to talk a little bit about things they're concerned with -- and indoctrination I know will come up. Play this, this is -- do we know where this is from? Elementary School in Burlington, New Jersey. The B. Bernice Young Elementary School. The woman who did this is, I believe, an activist, she's the principal, or the teacher. I don't have her name here. But listen to -- this is -- these are elementary school children, and they are singing a song for Barack Obama." After Beck played audio of the video and read the words out loud, he said it sounded like "a hymnal for a dictator. ... Does anybody see what's going on? Does anybody see what's going on?" Later, Beck said: "This is indoctrination. This should horrify the American people." [Premiere Radio Networks' The Glenn Beck Show, 9/25/09]
Beck also promoted the video September 24 on his Twitter feed: RT @keepthemhonest: How young does Obama target (more indoctrination video) http://is.gd/3C1Qc @glennbeck #tcot
Burlington Township School District superintendent: Song is from Black History Month activity, and the "recording and distribution of the classroom activity was unauthorized." The school board's superintendent wrote in a letter to parents that "[t]he video is of a class of students singing a song about President Obama. The activity took place during Black History Month in 2009, which is recognized each February to honor the contributions of African Americans to our country. Our curriculum studies, honors and recognizes those who serve our country. The recording and distribution of the class activity were unauthorized."
Really, that's it for the site's explanation for why this story is supposedly "fearmongering": The event took place during Black History Month; it "honors and recognizes those who serve our country"; and the video was "unauthorized" (note that the "unauthorized" meme makes its way even into the section header). Move along, folks, nothing to see here, nothing to fear, just regular honoring and recognition of public servants, plus the video of the event was unauthorized, which is somehow very important.
"The Principal of a New Jersey Elementary School "
where young students were videotaped singing the praises of President Obama is making no apologies for the videotape and says she would allow the performance again if she could, according to [three] parents who spoke with her Thursday night....
Parent Jim Angelillo said [Principal Denise] King told him the lesson was merely part of Black History month, and not an attempt to indoctrinate students, as critics have charged....
King has long been a fan of Obama, hanging pictures of the president in her school's hallways and touting her trip to his inauguration in the school yearbook.
Included in the full-page yearbook spread were Obama campaign slogans ("Yes we can! Yes we did!") and photos King took in Washington on Jan. 20, when she attended the inauguration.
There also were photos taken at the school depicting students doing Obama-themed activities about their "hopes for the future," featuring posters of Obama....
Attempts to reach King on Friday were unsuccessful....
I should stress that one should always be cautious about second-hand accounts of oral conversations; it may be that the parents misunderstood the principal, or that important context was omitted. That's why I hope that the principal, who is after all a public servant, does indeed publicly explain her position herself.
Some commenters said they were surprised that I've posted several times about the Obama praise song issue; they suggested that the matter is minor enough not to merit three posts (or, I suppose, now four, depending on how you count this one).
How many article a newspaper publishes about a particular incident may well reflect the importance of the incident. But bloggers operate differently. Among other things, (1) bloggers are more likely to post about amusing things they found in the course of researching the story, (2) bloggers are more likely to post follow-up factual updates, even relatively minor ones, (3) bloggers are more likely to criticize other responses to the story (whether from the media or from others), (4) bloggers are more likely to use the story as a launching off point for a discussion about other matters, such as blogging practices and the difference between blogs and the media, and (5) bloggers are more likely to react to reader comments, either to respond to them or to post something that the comment highlights as interesting.
This is what happened here. I posted the original story this morning, chiefly because I saw some academic friends of mine comment on it on a discussion list that I'm on. That was post 1. I then decided to do a bit more searching, to see how other media outlets were covering this; a news.google.com search for "Bernice Young" pointed me to the Media Matters post, which struck me as having a laughably over-the-top headline. A newspaper reporter likely wouldn't have written another story just about that, but I thought it was amusing and worth noting. I then saw that the substantive defense in the Media Matter post item was quite weak as well, so I included that in the post. That was post 2. The news.google.com query also showed me that there was a follow-up factual story in the news about the principal's response; a commenter to the original post also quoted from it, so that led me to conclude that this was a useful factual update. That was post 3. And the comments to post 3 led me to step back and remark on the difference between multiple blog posts and multiple articles in the newspaper, hence this post 4.
Now this is surely not one of the great stories of our time -- not even close. But my point is that the presence of multiple blog posts, unlike the presence of multiple articles in the same newspaper, need not be closely related to the importance of the story.