Gordon directed me to the official teaching materials that the Department of Education has posted. Gordon especially took exception to this part of the materials: "Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president. These would be collected and redistributed at an appropriate later date by the teacher to make students accountable to their goals." I pointed out that this item came from a list of bullet points headed "Extension of the Speech," which clearly means it's in the context of the speech on personal responsibility and academic goals.
But Gordon begged to differ. "Why are you willing to accept that in good faith, the Obama administration is asking them to write a letter in the context of the speech," said Gordon, "but you're not willing to accept in our release, where we're saying there's no guidelines that it has to be in the context of the speech?"
"We would certainly support teaching our children to respect the President of the United States in his capacity as the leader of the country," Gordon added. "That is different from writing letters to themselves about what they can do to help the President, which is one of the many things stated in this teaching guide."
Gordon also pointed to this question from the materials: "What new ideas and actions is the President challenging me to think about?" "So clearly, the President is challenging students to be talking bout new ideas," Gordon said. "Well maybe the President's new ideas don't reflect the values that parents will be teaching their children."
"Our point is that there are some questions about this address that need to be answered, and parents need to be given the option to choose whether or not their children who are students are going to be expected to watch this propaganda in a public school," Gordon later explained. "Students can't pray in school, but they can discuss new ideas and actions that the President is challenging them to think about. Well, I know that a lot of the President's ideas don't reflect my values and don't reflect the values that I would be teaching my children. And to be quite honest, there are a lot of the President's ideas that I wouldn't want my children discussing in a public school. It's not appropriate, the place for that is in the home."
I asked Gordon how this is any different from presidents routinely visiting classrooms, or the President's Challenge in gym classes (which I certainly hated, being the non-athletic nerd that I am). "This is different than trying to make sure that you have a good level of physical fitness," she said. "It would be a different if President Obama were going into a particular classroom on the first day of school and encouraging students to work hard and achieve academic goals. It's diff from sending out a blanket set of guidelines for a specific address that is supposed to be shown in every school, talking about how you can help the President advance his new ideas."
In follow-up e-mails, I asked Gordon how she would reply to people who see this as a tin-foil hat, conspiracy theorist sort of thing. "I would ask them what their response would have been if these same materials had come from the Bush Administration," Gordon said. "The people saying this is a scare tactic are the same people who accuse the voters at health care town halls of being rabid right-wing extremists. This is an abuse of power and an attempt by the Obama Administration to indoctrinate young Americans into supporting his socialist agenda. Parents should be extremely concerned."
I also asked Gordon about an Internet campaign that has risen up, encouraging students to skip school on Tuesday. Does she support students skipping school, or walking out of the address or the activities? Gordon replied: "That decision is up to the parents, not the RPOF."