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.