Obama’s school remarks nothing to get worked up about

Posted on September 7, 2009

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Obama 2008

There’s been a lot of buzz over the last week over President Obama’s planned remarks to schoolchildren, broadcast throughout the nation. Coming on the heels of a contentious health care debate, critics feared the President would use a bully pulpit to indoctrinate kids with his agenda. From my perspective, even if that was the plan, the furor was way too premature, as it seemed the hyperventilation was about nebulous concerns and nothing concrete. If the President said something controversial and out of line, there’d be time enough after the speech to react to it.

As it turns out, the President’s prepared remarks, released today by the White House, are rather innocuous (though Michelle Malkin still has problems with the subtext of the speech). Myself, I hope they in fact inspire kids on some level to work harder and hit the books with more vigor. One speech isn’t going to change the educational culture in America, but it can’t hurt to have the President tell kids about the importance of academics and education. Here’s a few snippets:

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. 
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.
Frankly, I like the preaching of personal responsibility – too bad it’s often contradicted by the messages delivered to adults. The administration made this tougher than it had to be with the release of a study guide accompanying the speech with the exhortation to “help President Obama,” when they should have just kept it simple and merely given the speech. It might also be helpful to note that President Bush was also criticized by Democrats for giving a speech to students, so this is all unfortunately not completely new.
The question remains why the President’s message, while no doubt a worthy and important one, demands broadcast across the nation. Actually, the real question is why the President is broadcasting this on a day when many of the nation’s school districts won’t even be in session– New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle and Buffalo to name a few. What should have been a routine Presidential encouragement to kids turned out to be a needless controversy and another political fumble.

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Posted in: News, Politics