Obama and "Stuff" at the library



On Monday, Oct. 19, at 7 p.m. a double feature of "The Story of Stuff" and President Obama's Sept. 8 back to school speech—both highly controversial subjects—will be held at the Missoula Public Library.

"The Story of Stuff," a 20-minute animation about consumerism created a hubbub last October when Big Sky High School science teacher Kathleen Kennedy showed it to her class. A parent complained and Kennedy was brought before the Missoula County Board of Trustees for a hearing in January to discuss if her presentation of was out of line and biased. We reported about it here and here.

Similar outcries of censorship and bias—depending on who you talked to—erupted the week of President Obama's Sept. 8 back to school speech that was supposed to broadcast to kids across the nation. Some schools and classes chose not to show the speech and some parents took their kids out of class for the day with many conservatives accusing Obama of "indoctrinating" students. Others were appalled by the resistance to Obama's speech.

Karin Schalm, assistant to the Director of Creative Writing at UM, had originally decided to show "The Story of Stuff" along with Obama's speech at the library in protest to Missoula schools. In a letter to the Indy she states that Missoula K—8 schools backed out of showing Obama's speech when teachers were asked by the Superintendent to draft a letter for parents' permission that would have to be returned back to school the same day. It wasn't, in the end, a realistic request. She wrote:

Teachers received this message on Friday, Sept. 4, the very day that they would have had to send the letter home (because Monday was a holiday). Most, but not all, teachers felt it was impossible to draft a letter, print it, and get it distributed in one day. They decided to skip the President’s speech because “their hands were tied.” I felt the school district had affectively censored the President’s speech by these unrealistic requirements.

Schalm says that she and about a dozen parents scheduled a meeting with Superintendent Alex Apostle to voice their concerns about how the presidential speech to students had been handled by the district.
"We were told that a number of parents had called in with their concerns about the speech the week before and threatened to keep their children home from school if it was shown—even though they had the option of asking for an opt out alternative activity for their children," says Schalm. "Since student achievement is one of the district’s top goals, this threat of absences was taken very seriously."

Eventually, she says, Apostle sent out a new letter to teachers and principals, encouraging them to find ways to incorporate the speech into their lesson plans without requiring parental notification. "He said the speech supported district goals for student achievement and was very appropriate to show," she says.

Schalm's original goal to show Obama's speech had been out of principle, in active resistance But, she says after Apostle clarified his position and students got to see the speech a couple weeks later, she decided to back down. In the meantime, she'd heard from adults who had missed the speech and wanted to see it, as well as home school parents who wanted their kids to see it with their peers. She decided to put together a public showing for families and include "The Story of Stuff" to provide another discussion about controversy and censorship. The showings will screen in the large conference room of the library and will be followed by ice cream and discussion.


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