September 16, 2010

Permission Slips to Watch the President?

I wanted to share something that has been happening in my children's school system (Gwinnett County Schools, GA) since the 2008 election of President Obama.  Below is the email that I sent to the principal of my son's middle school.  

Mr. Pugh,
I am the parent of one of your honor roll, eighth grade students. I have two children who have attended Gwinnett County Schools all of their lives (for the past 16 years). During those 16 years, we have been through four presidential administrations - two administrations with Bill Clinton and two administrations with George W. Bush. And in all of those 16 years, I have never been asked to sign a Parent Permission form to allow my children to hear and watch a Presidential Address to the nation and to the nation's children. Children in Japan watch President Obama's addresses without parental permission. In fact, his speeches are a part of the curriculum there. However, the parents of American children at Bay Creek Middle School must be "warned" or "alerted" and "consent" to have their children "subjected" to President Obama's addresses.

When I received the first permission slip last fall, I was patient yet incensed. This time, I decided to do some reasoning of my own. I first thought that maybe the controversy over Healthcare Reform was the motivation for trepidation on the part of the school system. Then, I remembered all of the controversy during the second Clinton Administration over the Lewinsky scandal, yet no permission slips. Next, I thought of all of the bipartisan hostility coupled with the fact that we live in a very "conservative" state. However, Bill Clinton was a Democrat, and at times a liberal Democrat, not well liked by the Republican party - and still no permission slips. And, of course, during both Bush Administrations, there were no permission slips to allow children to hear his Addresses.

Now, I cannot help but conclude that these permission slips are predicated on the very precarious subject of race in America. There is no other difference between President Obama and any other president of the United States except that he is the first Black man to hold the office.
Mr. Pugh, please give me another explanation for these spurious and conspicuous permission slips. I do not want to believe that Bay Creek Middle is providing parent permission slips to students in order to appease those parents who loathe Mr. Obama because they have accused him of being a socialist, a Muslim, and everything short of the anti-Christ. But more importantly, I do not want to believe that Bay Creek Middle is providing parent permission slips to students in order to assuage their parents' loathing of the first African American president simply because he is a Black man.
I hope to hear from you soon.
The next day, Mr. Pugh called me.  He expressed to me that he had the very same questions about the parental antipathy for President Obama.  He was very vague, however, about what percentage of the parent population had outwardly expressed opposition to airing President Obama's address to the students.  He would only say that there was such an outcry in the fall of 2009 of angry parents threatening to keep their children home that Superintendent Alvin Wilbanks decided that Gwinnett Schools would send out permission slips.  Therefore, Mr. Pugh claimed that he was acting under the directive of the superintendent.  He asked me how I suggested they handle this "debacle" (my quotes not his) in the future.

I told him that it was a great American tragedy that such a situation existed in the first place, and since a Civil War and the last 50 or more years of Civil Rights advocacy has not changed the hearts of many Americans, America's educational system, at least, had an obligation to use this particular moment as a teaching opportunity.  The current policy of sending home permission slips was reinforcing the hate mongering and perpetuating the underlying racism rather than discouraging it - rather than confronting students and their parents and forcing them to examine the origin of their deep hatred for the 44th president of the United States of America.  Instead of sounding a huge bell via a permission slip that says, this president isn't like the other 43, the school should allow dissenting parents to send their own letter on an individual basis which prohibits their students from watching any presidential address for the duration of the Obama administration.  Those parents who consent need not be disturbed by the bright yellow permission slip. 

Mr. Pugh took my suggestion under advisement.  And of course, I am not sure what that means.  I am, however, not satisfied with this encounter.  I am writing a letter to Superintendent Wilbanks and the Georgia State Superintendent of Schools this week.

I just thought other citizens should know that this is the general tone regarding President Obama in Georgia schools.  If they are not ashamed.  I am ashamed for them.