Obama’s speech to the schoolkids

So there’s been all this hue and cry by conservatives about President Barack Obama’s plan to speak to the nation’s schoolchildren tomorrow morning, concerned that he’ll impose upon them some partisan agenda. That’s right: the President of the United States apparently can no longer talk to the nation’s children, as did Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, lest he “brainwash” them or — horrors! — encourage them to academic excellence and even – gasp! – civic engagement. Indoctrination! Thought control! Oh, weep for the poor children!

Get over it. Read the speech after the jump, and feel free to tell me what’s wrong with this.

Hello everyone – how’s everybody doing today? I’m here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we’ve got students tuning in from all across America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I’m glad you all could join us today.

I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could’ve stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.

I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at 4:30 in the morning.
Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, “This is no picnic for me either, buster.”

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.

Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.

Maybe you could be a good writer – maybe even good enough to write a book or articles in a newspaper – but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.

And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.

And this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country. What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.
You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.

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.

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.

So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.
But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.

Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.

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.

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.

That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.

Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.

I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s fought brain cancer since he was three. He’s endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of which affected his memory, so it took him much longer – hundreds of extra hours – to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he’s headed to college this fall.

And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.

Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you. They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same.

That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.

Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.
I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful without any hard work — that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.

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. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.

No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.

And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.

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.

It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.

So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?

Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. 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. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • Warren Wilson

    Tuesday, September 7, 2009

    Diablo View Middle School
    Attn: Principle Mrs. Bannister

    Dear Mrs. Bannister:

    Please let this letter serve as notice that my children [W.J. and Christina Wilson] will not be participating in the showing of Barack Obama’s education speech today, September 8, 2009, nor will they be participating in any of the so called “lesson plan” discussions or activities after the speech. I plan on dropping them off at 0930. If the Obama indoctrination activities continue after this time, I will expect your staff to please escort my two children to another room to participate in the activity(s) of either working on their homework or studying “legitimate” educational material.

    Let me begin by apologizing for my passion in this matter. Some things it is better for me to deal with in writing because I simply become too emotional to talk about them face to face. I love my country and I love freedom. Having said that, I do believe you think you are sincerely doing the right thing, by our children, by having agreed to have Obama’s speech piped into the classroom. However, I believe you are sincerely wrong and here’s why:

    1. Many people’s tax dollars, including mine, are paid to the State and Federal coffers each year so that we can send our children to the public school system to learn basic educational subjects [reading, writing, math and science]. Because the public school system is a bureaucratic nightmare [as is anything the government takes over], it has become very expensive, teachers are paid too little, those in charge have way too much power, and the quality of education is pathetic at best. What little time the teachers have during the day to teach the important subjects is whittled away even more by “making African masks” and teaching, “why Sally has two mommies and Alfred has two daddies.” Now you are telling me that we are going to take more precious time away from our children by participating in the Obama indoctrination speech? Very bad idea…

    2. I have heard over and over again that as Americans we need to respect the, “Office of the Presidency.” However, what people really mean by that statement is that we need to make sure and not make our President look bad under any circumstance. Although, I do agree that we do need to respect the “Office,” I would disagree with most American’s way of doing that. I believe that our Founding Fathers were very respectful of King George and his authoritative position as their king. However, even given the fact that he was a ruler over them [until our independence], when King George became a tyrant and started conducting himself in a manner contrary to the laws of God, the colonists took steps to remedy the situation in the most peaceful manner possible. They started with dialogue hoping to appeal to the king’s sense of humanity and reasonableness. However, sometimes what’s inside a man’s heart is not given over to these sensibilities, as was the case of King George. So, the tyranny continued. When dialogue with the king didn’t work the colonists began a campaign of public displays of disobedience. They did things like place cartoons of the king in newspapers, hang effigies of British soldiers in the street, etc. The people who did these things were not just your average colonist. No, they were people like Patrick Henry who cried in defiance to King George…”Give me liberty or give me death!” So, to tell me that by not going along with the program and participating in Barak Obama’s program of adolescent indoctrination you would be disrespecting the “Office of the President” is ridiculous. Not going along with this type of activity is what sends a much needed and wholly “PATRIOTIC” message to Mr. Obama! In fact a very strong case can be made that we as Americans have disrespected the “Office of the President” by having this Kenyan native in the White House! Therefore it is my reasoned opinion by studying the evidence related to this impostor, that any form of peaceful, civil disobedience is actually a way of showing true respect to the “Office of the President.”

    3. Having Barack Obama piped in to all the schools nation-wide and then having to participate in a lesson plan connected to his speech handed down by that unconstitutional haven for Socialist indoctrination called the Department of Education, is just plain weird. I’m sorry, but much of what Mr. Obama’s campaign and now presidency reminds me of was how Adolf Hitler used the media, symbols, songs and children to adorn his sycophant, completely narcissistic ego! People have this very unhealthy, almost hypnotic romanticism with this man’s charisma. What we need in this country is “statesman,” not career politicians. Barack Obama’s allegiance is to Barack Obama not to this country or our beloved Constitution! Because Obama is a career politician, the public is everything to him and for us to send him the message that we are ok with what he’s doing by allowing him into each and every classroom in America is just crazy!

    By now you probably think I am a “racist” or that I have some kind of grudge against Obama because he’s African American. Well, let me set the record straight! I don’t. I was just as much against what George Bush stood for, and the legacy of Constitutional abuses he left in his wake as I am currently against Barack! Ex President Bush and his ilk effectively used one of the most horrifying displays of terrorism in the history of mankind as a pretext to render our beloved “Bill of Rights” powerless! Not only that, it was under the Bush regime that the biggest “anti-freedom” Federal bureaucracy that has ever been created during any administration was formed. The Department of Homeland Security is arguably the biggest, most militarized, law enforcement agency in the country. It basically has unlimited power to harass, incarcerate and terrorize at will. Was Bush a man of principle and character, fit to serve as our Commander in Chief? NO WAY!

    Now let’s talk about Barack Obama’s record over the last 7 or so months.

    He campaigned on a platform of “Change.” He campaigned on a platform of “Transparency.” Well, so far, he has done NOTHING of the sort. More troops are in the Middle East that when Bush was in office, he has spent millions of taxpayer dollars to fight against coughing up his “Long-Form” birth certificate; he is forcing a very blatant Socialist/Fascist agenda down the throats of Congress with his take over of the auto industry and health care. Ultimately he [as has every administration since Andrew Jackson] is abrogating his sworn duty to “Uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States” every chance he gets! So, does this sound like someone who should be put before our nations children as an example of what’s good and healthy for a free America?! I hardly think so!

    Finally, Mrs. Bannister, I want to ask you a very personal question. I want you to give it some serious thought and then I want you to write yourself a letter and answer it in your very own words…are you ready because here it comes…



    Warren L. Wilson



  • Cory

    What’s wrong with it?

    Well, first of all, it’s not the job of the President to address the schoolchildren. It’s not the job of the Federal government to be involved in education at all. There’s no authority granted to the Federal government by the Constitution to be involved in education.

    It’s certainly not a partisan piece, but it certainly is a pro-state piece, intended to inspire children to serve the state rather than achieve for their own benefit and that of their families.

    There are plenty of lies in the piece. For instance, the President claims that those who “found” the nation were sitting in the same place 250 years ago. There were no compulsory government schools in the 18th century, and the majory players in the founding of this nation were often home schooled (George Washington), self-educated (Benjamin Franklin was a drop out), or educated by religious institutions.

    The government schools of today are purposely designed to teach children to *not* want to revolt against the government but to instead be good governemnt citizens.
    The Declaration of Independence could not have been written by men (or women) educated in the government education system today. They would have been ignorant of such principles, preferring instead the notion of the collective “good”.

    Note how Obama suggests that the people who achieved anything did so out of “love of country.” Not love of achievement, or love of independence, or love of family, but love of “country” which, since it comes from the top bureaucrat in the nation, simply means “love of state.”

  • Has anyone read the article that was written? or is this just a posting exercise?

  • Chet

    Great article and thanks for posting the speech being given by Pres Obama. I find nothing wrong with the President’ speech. He is committed to helping improving education in our country and hearing such a speech from the President can only help. Too bad that Obama haters can’t let our youth see such a speech. I guess they are the dumb and they want their kids to be the dummer.

  • Elwood

    Thank God for Catholic schools.

    The principal at the Catholic school my grandchildren attend was not even aware that Tuesday is worship Obama day.

    Fortunately, my grandchildren have their own God, and He is not named Obama. And He never will be.

    I would think that the chosen one for whom everything he touches turns to crap (Iraq, Afghanistan, the economy, huge deficits, trillions of dollars thrown at auto manufacturers, banks and unbelievable inflation soon to come would have plenty to do without this Quixotic incursion into the public schools. But with an ego as big as his and his disciples nothing would surprise me.

  • Elwood

    Oh, and medical care. Did I mention medical care?

    We have to wait until Wednesday for the chosen one to tell us how he’s going to solve that little problem.

    I can hardly wait!

  • Allen Payton

    Josh, it’s not the content of the speech, it’s the fact the students are required to listen to the President of the United States give it and the associated “lesson plans” that have people upset.
    I didn’t like it when Reagan or Bush gave a speech to students across the country, either.
    When the POTUS gives a nationally televised speech or press conference we can choose to watch or not. Unfortunately, the students don’t have that choice.
    It’s also the top-down approach of this administration and so many before it, instead of the bottoms up, local control where parents – who are the primary educators in a child’s life, not the state – can have the greatest input, specifically to their school board members, their kids’ teachers and administrators.
    Those folks are merely our agents hired to help educate our children.
    Any nation-wide speech by a POTUS to school children which they are required to watch smacks of “1984” and Soviet/Chinese Communist-style indoctrination.
    Sure Obama’s speech may be innocuous now, but again the content is not the real issue of concern.

  • ted ford

    when I was a kid growing up near Boston in the 50’s there was TV show for kids at noon hosted by ‘Big Brother’ Bob Emery. We all ate our PB&J’s watching this show. At one point Bob would turn to a wall photo of President Eisenhower and raise a toast of a glass of milk to the President while a recording of “Hail to the Chief” was played. I think every grade school kid in the Boston area would stand up in front of their TV set in respect for the President. We didn’t realize it was such seditious stuff.

  • Indoctrination: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-in-a-National-Address-to-Americas-Schoolchildren/

    I feel for Warren Wilson’s kids and Elwood’s grandchildren. To be encouraged to shroud one’s self in willful ignorance is not education at all.

    If you want to see an actual political message/indoctrination being inserted into the K-12 curriculum, check this out: http://www.dailykostv.com/w/002107/

    (Earlier post contained incorrect link.)

  • Elwood

    Perhaps you should read Allen Payton’s post, DD.

    It’s not the content of Obama’s sermon so much as it is the thing in itself. The Obamassiah should not be in the schools. If it makes you feel any better, I don’t think it was right for Reagan or Bush 41 to make political pitches to schoolkids either.

    Don’t worry about my grandkids, DD. They’re receiving a much better education than they ever would in our godawful public schools.

  • I did read Allen Payton’s post, and he’s wrong on the both accounts that neither Reagan nor Bush gave such speeches. Both did, and both arguably contained much more partisan-mongering than anything Obama said. Elwood, if you disapprove of those speeches by Reagan and Bush, then where’s the evidence of you speaking up at the time? Or a ruckus being raised by the likes of Allen Payton or Warren Wilson? None exists, because there were no objections when a Republican was president.

    As a proud product of California public schools (including for graduate school), it doesn’t surprise me that you think they’re so awful.

  • EchoFool

    I much prefer pedophilia catholic schools over public ones!


  • Elwood

    Hello, DD, you OK?

    Both those speeches were 20 or more years ago. Give me a moment to dig into the evidence locker. Would a signed affidavit from Bush 41 suffice for you? Jeez! As to the activities of Payton and Wilson, you should check with them. They don’t keep me abreast of all their activities.

    I’m glad you’re so proud of CA public schools. It’s the exception that proves the rule they say.

  • Elwood

    Dream on, EchoFool!

    Teachers in Catholic schools are now largely lay men and women.

    But I could probably arrange for some special treatment for you, if that’s what turns you on.

  • EchoFool

    Truly brilliant!