Tuesday, September 08, 2009

President Obama's Speech to our Children

Oh, the unmitigated horror! The President of the United States wants to speak to our school-aged children and encourage them to get a good education! Stuff their ears with cotton, and send them to school blindfolded, Mildred! We don't want our children exposed to this sort of nonsense! Maybe the kids should take a sick day.

(Text of President Obama's speech)

I told my husband Monday night that our youngest son came home from school last week with a letter. A letter that said his teacher had decided to show the speech in her classroom, and if we objected to our son watching it, sign the bottom of the page, return it by Friday, and he'd be pulled for an alternative activity while his classmates watched the speech.

My son CHEERED when I crumpled the paper up and tossed it on the floor of our minivan. He WANTS to watch the speech. More than that, *I* want him to have the opportunity.

Back to what I told my husband...He asked, "Is there anything in the speech that we would object to?"

I replied, "I have no idea. I think we should, yanno, WATCH it, LISTEN to it, then decide if we want to object." What a novel concept. Let's know what we're talking about before we start waving our arms and screaming about how the sky is falling. Imagine. How irresponsible of us to want to make an informed decision based on facts rather than supposition and political rhetoric.

Knowing that the text of the speech had been made available online, I googled it and read it.

Quite honestly, I don't see what the hoopla is about. Why are the conservatives in a rabid tizzy over this speech? Is it because President Obama starts out by empathizing with the kids because summer vacation is over, and what a bummer they have to be back in school? He even opens up to share with the kids that yes, even he, the President of the United States of America, didn't like going back to school, whined about it to his mother, and the horror! His mother told him, essentially to suck it up, kid, "This is no picnic for me either, buster." What a horrible man, telling kids that he, President Barack Obama, can identify with them on that score. EEEEK! Bring the kids inside and hide under the beds.

What struck me as the most salient points?

1. President Obama encouraging our students to take responsibility for their education and the choices they make in their lives.

So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I’m here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I’m here because I want to talk with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this new school year.

Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about responsibility.

I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to learn.

I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.

I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards, supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.

But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.

And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.

And from further into the speech:
But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.

2. President Obama suggested that our students owe it to our country to do their best, to seek a good education, to never give up no matter how hard the going gets. National pride with a strong dose of personal pride.

We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.

What a concept. Be successful. Have pride in your talents, skills and intellect. Don't be a quitter, son! President Obama, how dare you tell my sons not to be quitters! Yes, there's quite a bit of sarcasm hidden oh-so-subtly in that statement. Now I do realize that not every child is raised in the most advantageous environment, and I'm not talking geography or the fact that they live in a single parent home. I'm talking about the kids who don't have supportive parents. The kids whose parents tell them on a daily basis "You're a failure" or "You're never going to amount to anything" or "You'll be earning your living flat on your back, so what does it matter that you know MacBeth from The Iliad?" or "You're going to end up just like me."

President Obama speaks directly to the kids less-than-advantageous situations:
Now I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork. I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.

The President goes on to admit he didn't always make the best choices, that he got many second chances and that he worked hard to overcome the disadvantages life dealt him. Another empathetic moment in his speech.

Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.

This, in my opinion, needs no further comment from me other than a standing ovation. Please excuse me a moment, I need to stand up and clap. I'll be back in about five or ten minutes.

4. Perseverance.

But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.

That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently next time.

The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best.

5. Don't Quit.

If you quit on school -- you're not just quitting on yourself, you're quitting on your country. I'm working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But you've got to do your part too.

Puts quitting into a new perspective children rarely consider. Quitters in general don't usually see the long range ramifications, or take in consideration the ripple affect their quitting causes. And again, President Obama suggests our children have a personal responsibility in this: the President is doing his job, the kids need to do theirs, too. And yet again, President Obama is on their level, their point of view and sharing a bit of his responsibility to them, with them.

Yes, this speech is clearly something we all need to be afraid of---President Obama is going to indoctrinate terrible ideas and concepts in our children. As a parent, why would I want my children exposed to the notions of personal responsibility, national and personal pride, the thought that my children are in charge of their destinies, perseverance, or that quitting is not a Good Thing? I know many parents. I don't know their political ideologies or leanings, but I'd guess that there's a good mix of conservative and liberal leaning adults in the group. Funny thing is, politics aside, I think we all want to raise our children with similar values---like the ones mentioned in President Obama's speech.

Truth of the matter is that the person who has the most influence on your child is YOU. Yes, I think it's impressive my children have the opportunity to listen to a speech written just for them and given just to them by the President of the United States.

One of the most outstanding memories I have is when President Reagan came to Nevada, to speak at the University of Nevada-Reno (it was hypenated then, not comma'd as it is now). I was in high school. My Dad took my sister and I (but not our youngest sister who was very young at the time) out of school to go see the President and hear him speak. We were probably a good one half to two-thirds back in the crowd that filled the quad before Morrill Hall, and I'm short. I remember my Dad lifting me up so I could SEE President Reagan. I remember shouting out in my excitement, "I can SEE him!" I'm grinning at this point in my remembrance because my Dad nearly dropped me and urgently hushed me. I didn't appreciate at the time that very likely a good portion of the crowd around us were Secret Service agents. I understand and appreciate it now, having lived in D.C. area for several years and rubbing elbows with men who were Secret Service (their sons were in the same pack as mine, where we lived). As a parent now, I understand my Dad's panic, but I also appreciate that all the Secret Service agents around realized I was simply a very excited teenager, delighted by an in-person sighting of The President of the United States.

What I hope my children gain from hearing/seeing President Obama's speech in school today? The thrill that President Obama cares enough about the youth of our great nation to address them on THEIR level. Read the speech in whole. He's talking to the kids. I hope my children take President Obama's speech to heart, that they internalize what the President says. I absolutely intend to discuss President Obama's speech with my boys. You bet I'm going to steer the conversation to the points I discussed above. Appsatively posolutely, we will talk about how they can meet President Obama's challenge to them---what they can do, goals they can set.

I realize that many of my sons' schoolmates may have parents who've decided they need to go participate in the alternative activity. Parents who may feel it's ludicrous to take children away from their learning to listen to President Obama's speech. To them I have only this to say: I'd rather my sons be taken away from their daily instruction for this opportunity rather than to attend, say, an assembly where the kid who sold the most gew-gaws for the PTO's fundraiser is lauded.

To those who are up in arms over President Obama daring to speak to our students, I wonder what they are so afraid of? It's a speech about education. Period. I read it. Word for word. I'm sorry, is it not okay for Democrat President Obama to tell the children of Republicans that school is important? Is the import of the message somehow more sinister because the President's political leanings? Does this negate the wisdom he has to impart? That this is all code for President Obama's "real agenda"? Um...and just what would that "real agenda" be? Responsibility, national pride, personal pride, self-determination, perseverance, and don't quit-a-tude are detrimental to society as we know it?

I'm astounded by the uproar surrounding President Obama's speech to our children. I don't understand it, I can't honestly say I want to understand it. I think an open mind is a valuable asset. I think a closed mind is a scary thing. I think a suspicious mind is a scary thing, too, especially when it's married to a closed mind. Even if you don't agree with President Obama's policies, an integral part of education is being able to listen and form your own opinion---and children deserve that right too. How else are we going to raise the next generation of informed citizens if we don't let them think for themselves?

The Obama administration made waves last week after announcing the president would deliver a speech to the nation's schoolchildren, urging them to study hard. While the administration insisted it had no ulterior motive, some conservatives accused Obama of using the speech to plug his legislative agenda.

Some school districts are refusing to broadcast the president's live remarks, after parents complained that Obama is using the address to indoctrinate their children.

I'm sorry. What has the President been accused of? Using the speech to plug his legislative agenda? To SCHOOL CHILDREN? Because they're a broad, untapped voter base that no one has ever considered before? How many kids out there really care that much about what's going on in the nation's capital? I don't imagine many students gather around the old tetherball to discuss health legislation and the implications thereof. He's going to indoctrinate our children in a short speech? Wow! I didn't know President Obama had those kind of powers. I wonder if he also has laser vision and if Superman wears Barack Obama p.j.'s to bed.

The Department of Education, suggested lesson plans to accompany President Obama's speech. One of the radical ideas what that the students write a letter about how they can help the President.

Yet even that benign idea has caused an uproar, even though there is precedent for it:

Oddly enough, the original wording of the Obama lesson plan is remarkably similar to the request made by the first President Bush back in 1991, when he said in that eight grade classroom, "Write me a letter about ways you can help us achieve our goals."

One mother is quoted in a CNN article saying,

"Thinking about my kids in school having to listen to that just really upsets me," suburban Colorado mother Shanneen Barron told CNN Denver affiliate KMGH. "I'm an American. They are Americans, and I don't feel that's OK. I feel very scared to be in this country with our leadership right now."

I'd just like to say that it sucks having the shoe on the other foot, doesn't it? Think about all the liberals who were scared to death about the leadership under the previous administration. But yanno what? That's the great thing about our nation: we are all welcome to have our own opinions and express them. Not everyone in the world is fortunate enough to have what we've come to see as a basic right. But, for the love of chocolate, is it really necessary to read a hidden agenda into everything President Obama says or does?

Yanno, way back when, when I was teaching, I required my students to write a letter to our senior state Senator (that would be Senator Harry Reid, incidentally). I don't remember why, but there was a reason. The excitement my students felt when they started getting letters back from the Senator from Nevada was contagious. Okay, yeah, the letters were dictated, but each letter was signed by Senator Reid (or was a reasonable facsimile of his John Hancock), but none of that mattered to the kids. What mattered was they wrote to him and they got a response on an official letterhead. *I* got a letter, too, and I was just as ecstatic as the kids! I still have the letter here somewhere, too.

Go, President Obama. Please. Speak to my children. Dare to tell them success requires hard work, life isn't fair, responsibility belongs to each individual, that it's okay to be proud to be an American and that it's okay to be proud of ourselves for the talents we have. Tell them it takes perseverance to reach your dreams but that those dreams are attainable. Tell them they shouldn't quit, even when the going gets tough. Talk to them on their level, make yourself accessible to them and their point of view. And feel free to make this speech a tradition each school year while you're in office. Oh, and by the way, please go wait by your mailbox. I'm going to have my sons write you a letter about what they liked best about your speech and what they're going to do to "do their part."

One final word on the subject. This is a Presidential speech to school children. What should be an exciting, special event for our kids has been turned into a partisan event by conservatives who feel that somehow President Obama is using this speech to push his "socialist ideology" rather than seeing what it really is: A non-partisan speech of encouragement to our children to get the best education they possibly can and the role children have in their own futures. If the ideals of responsibility, personal pride on one's accomplishments, and perseverance are virtues only socialists are allowed hold, I'm switching political parties right now. I clearly won't be switching to the conservative side of the aisle since I can create my own monsters under the bed without outside help.


Read more about the President's speech:

Medford officials screening Obama's school speech

Obama to Push Personal Responsibility in Controversial School Speech

Many Conservatives Enraged over Obama's school speech

Hot Air blog: Obama school speech released


Disagree with me? Don't like my sometimes snarkastic take on this topic? Great! Feel free to comment. Agree with me? Great! Feel free to comment. Let's embark an open, intelligent conversation about this. Isn't freedom of speech a terrific freedom? As is the freedom to disagree.



Laura Hamby said...

http://www.star-telegram.com/242/story/1590670.html A link to an editorial entitled "Reaction to Obama’s school speech is tragic, sinister and sickening".

Laura Hamby said...

Republican strategist Rich Galen said he didn’t have a problem with Obama reaching out to schoolchildren because “he is everybody’s president. But you have to be very careful that it is not seen as literally propaganda. The original idea to have them write letters about how to help the president crossed the line and the White House realized that.”

But Democratic strategist Chris Lehane said the protest against the presidential speech “shows at some level how desperate the right is to find an issue to challenge Obama on ...They have gotten some traction on health care, but the mere fact that they have jumped on this reflects that this is a party without a voice. Are they going to run in the mid-terms on a ‘Presidents shouldn’t talk to kids’ platform?”

Read more:

How is encouraging children to have a voice by writing to the President crossing a line? What line? Who drew the line? Why did they draw it? What purpose does it serve? Shouldn't we all, as responsible citizens, participate in our government? Children can't vote, but what's wrong with writing a letter to the President telling him how they can help him do his job? Today's children/students are TOMORROW'S voters. How is opposing President Obama's speech based on the belief that he's attempting to indoctrinate our children (to his socialist views) any less an indoctrination on its own? Don't tell me my kids can't watch this speech because YOU object to it. Great. Object to it. It's your right. Just as it's MY right, and my childrens', to watch President Obama speak---with open, knowledge-thirsty minds and a tolerance for different points of view.

Joanna Sandsmark said...

Great post, Laura. Standing ovation on this one. I hope you get a lot of readers of this post because it deserves it.

Laura Hamby said...

Thank you, Joanna. :D I'm blushing.

Laura Hamby said...

"But US Education Secretary Arne Duncan also acknowledged on Tuesday
that some of the prepared guidance for school officials included a
suggestion that students could compose essays stating how they could help support Obama, an idea the Duncan acknowledged was wrong-headed." (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10596137)

This is what I've been looking for all day. The trigger. And there it is. I can see how this would cause concern. The wording is off. Just goes to show, it pays to be super-anal about word choice. Instead of saying "support Obama", they'd've been better off with "...could help support our country", which I *think*, and I'm reading into this, was the intention to begin with?

Ms. M said...

Charles County crumbled and we didn't show it even though our kids would have responded. The official line was that our "technology system couldn't handle the demand"

Laura Hamby said...

What a cop out, Ms. M. But then, not a big surprise.