A Letter to My Sons’ Principal

Dear Dr. X:

After reading the statement on the Provo School District web page essentially endorsing our children seeing President Obama’s speech this week, I was thrilled that my two children would be able to see the President speak to them in the classroom despite the rancorous public controversy. I was also thrilled when our governor and even many of our state legislators came out in favor or letting children hear the President’s words. However, when my children came home and I discovered that they had not heard the speech, I was flabbergasted. I understand you were likely dealing with many angry parents, and I know first-hand how difficult this decision must have been to make. However, I believe that, when faced with the easy/wrong choice or the difficult/right choice, you opted for easy and wrong. And you sent a powerful negative message to our children and our neighborhood.

I have lived in Utah valley most of my life. I was born and raised here and went to Provo public schools. I vividly remember hearing many politicians speak at school events. Since this is Utah valley, almost all of them were Republicans with whom my parents disagreed. But my parents taught me to respect the office even if I didn’t agree with the office holder. My parents taught me to listen to differing opinions with respect and assume good character in political discourse. This was in the middle of the Watergate years, when many nasty things were being said about Republicans. I was taught good civic manners. I regret that such a lesson was not taught to students at Provost this year.

I have attended the patriotic service put on by the Provo school district many times, complete with images of Republican office holders, and I have always respected that decision. I have always assumed that we share a common heritage as Americans.

My father was in the Navy during World War II and my father-in-law, Hugh Nibley, landed on Utah Beach on D-Day. Both sacrificed for their country. Both were active in the local community. And both were strong, committed Democrats. They would have been proud to know that President Obama cared enough about our children to address them, and both would have been highly offended that my children were denied that privilege.

I am particularly troubled by your decision since the text of the President’s speech was online many hours before he spoke, and one could easily see that it was a non-partisan address, one meant to inspire the very type of students enrolled in a Title I school like Provost. Furthermore, both Presidents G.H.W. Bush and Reagan addressed students during their presidencies. I suspect those addresses were seen by students in Utah valley.

Last year I was a candidate for the state legislature, and ran on a platform dedicated to local, public schools. My wife and I have long believed that community public schools are the basis of democracy. However, your decision has me rethinking my position. I am seriously thinking that my children may be better off in a charter school where they can hear the words of the President of the United States.

Your decision also contributes to a disturbing incident in our family. On the Fourth of July this year, we bought a bunny for my third-grade son, Nate. In a patriotic gesture he named the bunny Obama. Two days ago one of his friends told him that when she told her mother that Nate had named his bunny Obama, his mother said “well, we ought to shoot it then, because Obama wants to make slaves of all the white people.” My son, needless to say, was traumatized and could not sleep that night, afraid that someone was going to kill his bunny. Of course I was very disturbed that a grownup would make such a comment. But what disturbed me more is that your decision reinforces the belief in our neighborhood that our President is evil, and may even contribute to a racist ideology that, I believe, lurks behind some of this current hatred.

You had the opportunity to help educate our youth, to help them overcome political divisiveness, to eradicated racial stereotypes and fears, to give them a chance to see that our President is a good example of working hard to overcome difficulties and creating a successful life. I am extremely disappointed in your decision to censor the President’s message.

I think you owe all of us an apology.


Boyd Petersen


5 thoughts on “A Letter to My Sons’ Principal

  1. An inspiring letter. I appreciate your even-handed tone. You speak with sincerity and authority. I completely agree with you about the problem of not respecting either the office of the President or the need for tolerance of other political positions. I sent our school district a similar letter by way of my blog post (http://bit.ly/77jEN). I wish I’d read this first, since the bunny incident reflects the issue of political bullying that I addressed. Thanks for taking the time to be thoughtful in this way.

  2. Nice job, Boyd. We have been fuming all week to the point of blood boiling. We thought our district (Nebo) was sending home a letter from the board this week with all of the children (as was mentioned at the board mtg Wed night)trying to explain their decision and to invite teachers to show the speech next week, only to find out it was sent as an attachment in an email to all of the teachers. I wonder how many of them are going to print them off and send them home. Sheesh.

  3. I agree with where you are coming from, I have just graduated from high school myself and am an Obama supporter, yet knowing that there are two sides to every story if not more, they all have their positives and negatives, and I know that I want my children in the future to know how to decide who gets to run this country, and learning politics at a young age is the only way in my opinion that we can continue to have a strong running government. And knowing that a principal wouldn’t allow his students to watch a speech by THEIR president addressed to THEM is shameful.
    Anyways I stumbled upon this post and it was well written. Two thumbs up 🙂

  4. I agree with you wholeheartedly. When schools like Nebo give in to bullying parents it gives the message to the students that Obama is not a good person, and even worse than that, someone they should fear. The Neoconservatives latch on to any reform, any action- anything the President attempts and twist the facts – adding their own brand of nasty prejudice.
    When I heard parents were in uproar over a Partisan speech Obama was to give in America’s public schools in an attempt to indoctrinate the children with a Socialist Agenda, I knew something was amiss- I knew that could not be true. I knew the Neo-Conservatives were spreading another ugly bald-faced lie to the American people in hopes of propelling hate and discourse among us.
    I jumped on-line immediately to see what damage control I could do and quickly found the complete text of this supposedly Partisan and Socialist flavored speech. Of course it was none of the above and was actually a very effective, unpartisan, and very motivational speech- which essentially told the kids that he believed in them and had faith that they could conquer adversity and achieve anything- even when the odds are stacked against them.
    I posted a link on my Facebook account where a lot of my Republican friends and neighbors (I live in Florida) would be certain to see it and might read it so they would know the true nature of his speech. Almost immediately I got a comment from a friend saying that “I am the parent and it’s my business weather I let my child watch the President’s speech” and he didn’t think his child “Needed to hear what Obama had to say”. He came to this decision without reading the speech, though, which in my opinion is ignorant and irresponsible and the exact reason we have so many Republicans, (and even some Democrats)scared their parents are going to be killed off by the gov’t when they get too expensive medically. The schools that didn’t show the speech and won’t ever apologize to the parents and kids who would have like to see the speech for the decision, most likely all still believe the President was trying to indoctrinate the children by advocating Socialism.
    Some people believe everything they hear or read when the truth is just a Google search or library visit away! If they educate themselves with the facts then they won’t be able to bully anyone, and bullying is on what many Republicans thrive. They need to have a group to put down- to hate and bully, weather it be gays, blacks, or the Democrats that believe our President deserves respect- or they just can’t stand it. Your letter was great! Thanks for sharing it.

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