Obama’s Speech on Education

440px-Official_portrait_of_Barack_ObamaAt 11 a.m. central time, President Obama delivered a speech addressed to school children across the country. The hullabaloo that has preceded this event has amazed me; last week, Florida Republican party chairman Jim Greer said he was “absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology.” A Facebook poll that asked whether President Obama should “be allowed to do a nationwide address to school children without parental consent” was running at 50.2% saying “no,” 46.1% saying “yes,” and 3.7% saying “I don’t care,” as of just before 11 a.m. this morning.  Another online poll, on Newsvine, showed that 81.3% of the respondents indicating they’d let their children hear the speech, 16.9% saying they wouldn’t, and 1.8% indicating that the idea of a speech was fine, but that there wasn’t enough time in the school day for such a thing.  This isn’t, of course, the first time that a sitting president has addressed school children.  In 1991, George H.W. Bush gave a speech at a junior high school, “urg[ing] students to study hard, avoid drugs and turn in troublemakers.” Democrats criticized the speech as “paid political advertising.”

As I read the text of President Obama’s speech, I find it hard to discern “socialist ideology” or even “paid political advertising.”  (Let us remember that pretty much everyone to whom his remarks are addressed is unable to vote!)  His remarks seem more “Republican” than not.  The themes of personal responsibility and hard work pervade the speech.  He says, “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”? He exhorts students to avoid making excuses about their role in their education.  “[T]he 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 not trying.” And he reminds students that success is hard work and that they should learn from their failures.  “[Y]ou can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you.”

How could any parent find fault in such advice?  Is it simply because the messenger is from a different political party or is it something else entirely?  Barack Obama is the president of the United States.  A demanding job, to be sure, but also a job that is heavy with symbolism.  There shouldn’t be anything inherently political in the simple fact that the county’s figurehead wishes to press upon the country’s future – its school children – that they ought to do their best in school and work hard.

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Jim Dimitri

    Well said!

  2. Tom Kamenick

    As someone who disagrees highly with many of President Obama’s policies, I still see nothing wrong with him making such an address. Granted, he -could- have done some very inappropriate things with a captive and suggestible audience, but I never spent a serious moment worrying that he would, and won’t go analyzing his speech word by word to try and find some hidden brain-washing.

    That so many people would do both or either of these things leads me to believe much of “the right” has decided to descend to the base level of irrational hatred that they saw from much of “the left” during the later Bush years.

  3. Richard M. Esenberg

    Agreed, but there is a little more to be said.

    Although I had no objection to the speech, I tried to explain the apprehension of some conservatives on On fairness to critics, they did not have the text of the speech and their concerns or objections were fed by the administration’s lesson plan which suggested that the speech would be personalized in a way that is, I think, inappropriate for such things.

    It is also the case that, when George H.W. Bush delivered a similar speech, Democrats objected and called for an investigation. Such is our politics.

    Having said that, I believe that the speech was within the unspoken etiquette governing apolitical speeches by a President and I agree with Lisa. No one should object to it.

  4. Sue Barranco

    I can say without question that Obama’s ’04 convention speech has had a substantially positive effect on my life. My Republican father wouldn’t contest that fact, nor did he object (too much) to the fact I was watching the Democratic convention to begin with, nor did he contest my sending him the full text of that speech the day after it was made. (His comment: “Man, he’s good. He should be a Republican!”) Funny that this man’s ability to inspire is viciously attacked, and yet in him there lies so much potential to produce the nation’s leaders of tomorrow. Or am I evidence proving these fearful parents’ concerns? By being inspired, of all things!

    Here’s to the world Obama described way back in Oh-Four, here’s to the idealists–left and right, here’s to belief in a world of productive partisanship! They say they deliver us the news we crave. Well, let’s challenge our media not just to copy and paste the stale left/right story line! Let’s make new, brighter and better stories.

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