March 22, 2012
Va. middle-schoolers assigned opposition research on GOP candidates
Published: 1:16 AM 03/22/2012
By Kalyn McMackin – The Daily Caller
A Virginia middle school teacher recently forced his students to support President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign by conducting opposition research in class against the Republican presidential candidates.
The 8th grade students, who attend Liberty Middle School in Fairfax County, were required to seek out the vulnerabilities of Republican presidential hopefuls and forward them to the Obama campaign.
“This assignment was just creepy beyond belief — like something out of East Germany during the Cold War,” one frustrated father, who asked for his family to remain anonymous, told The Daily Caller.
The assignment was for students to research the backgrounds and positions of each of the GOP candidates for president and find “weaknesses” in them, the parent explained. From there, students were to prepare a strategy paper to exploit those weaknesses and then to send their suggestions to the Obama campaign.
Liberty teacher Michael Denman, who declined to comment, unveiled the assignment in mid-January when he broke the Civics Honor’s class into four groups, one for each Republican candidate. The students were then to collaborate as a group and research the backgrounds of their assigned candidate.
Denman assigned two kids to write a paper revealing the identified “weaknesses,” two to write the attack strategy paper and two others to locate an individual inside the Obama campaign to whom they could send the information.
“My classmates don’t actually know a lot, but a few of us tended to agree that the most recent instruction on this project just didn’t seem right,” one of the students told TheDC. “Mr. Denman didn’t tell us where to find the information, just to research on them.”
As a result, the school received multiple phone calls from parents frustrated with the political nature of the assignment, the father told TheDC.
“I was shocked that a school teacher would so blatantly politicize the curriculum of a middle school classroom,” the parent said. “I asked [my child] if a similar assignment had been handed out to examine the background and positions of President Obama to see if the teacher was at least being bipartisan.”
No similar assignment was given to research Obama’s history, identify his weaknesses or pass them along to the Republican candidates.
John Torre, a spokesman on behalf of the Fairfax County Public School system, insists that students were never instructed to actually send their results to the Obama campaign.
“Instead, the teacher simply asked his students to find out the name of the office that would receive such information,” Torre wrote in an email to TheDC.
Torre explained that Principal Dr. Catherine Cipperly, who refused to comment, discussed the matter with Denman, citing that students should have been given a choice to research candidates from either major party.
“The principal advised the teacher that he should emphasize to his students that this assignment was meant to learn a process and not to endorse a particular candidate,” Torre said. “The teacher agreed with the principal’s direction.”
A district policy, which addresses employee political activities, states “employees shall not involve their schools in political campaigns, distribute political literature on school property or attempt to indoctrinate students with their personal political beliefs.”
Despite the rule, Denman’s intention was to exercise “a simulation activity with the intent of teaching students about the research process that a campaign committee goes through prior to an election,” Torre said.
The father, who describes himself as conservative, thought Denman’s behavior went too far and needed to be addressed.
“Teachers acting in such manner need to be called out,” he said. “I have no personal animosity toward the teacher in question at all, but let’s be real.”
In hopes of bringing this to the attention of other public school teachers, this father just wants one thing clear: “Leave politics out of the classroom,” he said. “Present a balanced viewpoint, teaching children to listen to all sides and think for themselves.”
Fairfax County, a suburban area situated across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., is by far Virginia’s most populous county and among the state’s most liberal. In 2008, Barack Obama won 60 percent of Fairfax County’s presidential votes, compared to just 39 percent for Sen. John McCain.