Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Obama's address to students: some remarks

As a person who works in a high school, and as a member of the American public, I really looked forward to Obama's Address to Students yesterday. I know from my day-to-day experience that many students lack the drive and the motivation to give it their all and do well in school. How great it is, I thought to myself, that our president is going to talk to students about this school year.

I arrived at school yesterday to a virtual boatload of emails from teachers, many voicing their opinions that this address should not be shown in their classrooms. Several parents had apparently called in and stated that their children were not to watch the address. Teachers who felt uncomfortable showing the address planned alternate activities for students to get away from the television.

I just...didn't understand. I was so happy to read an email sent by the head of our counseling apartment, which I will copy and paste here:

From my understanding, there is no specific party-line being represented in this 18 minute speech that focuses on the responsibility of students to make good educational choices, to study hard, to have goals, etc. This is our collective President of the United States speaking. A person who should have been one of our educationally "at risk" students given his socio-economic background, being raised by multiple generations in his family, and being a minority (black male). He is a living example of what we hope all of our students strive for in terms of education. I am confused by the public outrage over this speech. However, I also believe students should have a "choice" as to whether to watch this or not. Having said that, I believe this speech will be of great value to all of America's young people and could be a uniting factor in that the issue transcends party and is critically important to all of us. I hope our school and our community sends a message that we will not allow special interests to paint this as a indoctrination of children. That is an absurd notion.

I headed over to the other high school to eat lunch and watch Obama's speech with my friend and coworker, Becky. Let me just say that I was so, so impressed with this address to students. Obama said everything that I try to tell my at-risk students, each time we meet. But he said it better. I have to repost my favorite excerpts from this speech, because to be honest, it brought tears to my eyes.

Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.

...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.

...[people succeed] 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.

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 thte courage to admit when you don't know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust - a parent, granparent 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.

So, now, I ask you...what is so controversial about this speech? Are we not supposed to motivate our students to do better? Are we not supposed to expect great things from America's youth? They are the ones who will be running this country when we all head for retirement. Don't we want them to expect more from themselves, and give more of themselves to their country?

A colleague told me that a friend of hers (who is a school principal!) said her husband wouldn't allow their children to go to school yesterday because of Obama's speech. Please tell me why this makes sense...because I just don't get it.

This is not the first time a president has given an address to students. In fact, the last three presidents to do so were George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan. All right-leaning Republicans, to say the least. And need I mention that Laura Bush threw her support behind Obama's education speech?

Becky and I watched CNN as some of the emails/comments/phone calls came in after the speech yesterday. One person from Canada wrote in and said something along the lines of, "Whether or not we agree with our Prime Minister's politics, we respect him. And if he were to give an address to our students, they would watch it, plain and simple."

It does indeed seem plain and simple to me.

I forgot to mention something else I just wanted to throw in. Yesterday on the news, I saw that an Indiana school district refused to show Obama's speech yesterday, and several high school students protested. The students who spoke on TV did not voice a partisan opinion on either side of the aisle...instead, they stated that Obama's speech was directed at them, and they should have had the choice to watch it or not watch it. Now, all students who protested will be in detention all day on Friday.

Let me further add that this blog post is not written from a partisan standpoint. I did not voice my personal political viewpoint in this post and, instead, am merely voicing my opinion about one specific thing that occurred yesterday.


Lucy Marie said...

I'm not American but I do agree with you. I think there is no reason why parents should forbid their children from watching this. All that does it teach their children that it is okay to be disrespectful of other people's opinions and viewpoints. And like you said, I think that the issues he discussed are relevant to anyone, regardless of their political affiliation.

Ruthy said...

I found this article
that may help explain "the other side" and what the actual issue was. I think you are looking at it from the stand point of an educator. Which is perfectly understandable and I believe that you are correct, that your kids who are in high risk situations could use this advice. Not sure that the little ones understood or needed to hear this but I digress..

If you really want to know what the beef was, I'll tell you my opinon. I believe that there are many Americans who are unhappy with the Presidents agenda and the direction that he is taking the country in. The protest was more about politics than about the message.

When GB did this same thing back in 1991 the Democrats go so whipped up they launched an investigation. While many people are saying that the president should be able to address kids, the past tells us that when the a Republican President did this, the Dems protested and the pres came under harsh criticism (see article here)

So history is just repeating itself. It was probably just not on your radar back then.

Rachel said...

I would want my kids to get a little speach from ANY American President, I don't care who it is! I think they could all learn something from it.

Paul said...

Just like the Armageddon that would befall us in the year 2000, the speech that was suppose to indoctrinate our youth. Now who was spreading the baseless lies…..hmm…..oh ya, “Fake News”. Is anyone real surprised? Too funny.

Lisa said...

It's an issue of respect.

I think that, regardless of one's political affiliation, we should respect whomever the President of the United States happens to be. I may not have personally liked or agreed with the politics of George Bush, but I certainly respected him and his position. Heck, I didn't always like or respect Bill Clinton, but I respected him as our President.

I do not think the President giving a "stay in school and you'll succeed" speech to students should ever cause the uproar that it did, neither now nor in 1991.

I would NEVER assume the President (ANY President) would use a speech to minors as a pulpit for partisanship, and find anyone who thought this would happen to be absolutely ludicrous.

If, as Ruthy said, the issue was about "politics," and not the message of the speech, well, that's just sad. You can protest the President and his politics any day of the week. (And the people protesting the hardest yesterday probably do already.) I think we can all agree that the youth of this country need all the help and support they can get - so why try to tarnish this speech, which was decidedly not political, with a political smear campaign?

This is exactly why politics, in general, disgusts me.

Anonymous said...

I second all of Lisa's comments. And lastly - all young people should have a right to develop their own political opinions. If we simply hide them from all things political (or in this case, simply a pep talk that happens to be from the President) how will they ever develop their own political views. Watching ANY U.S. President talk about ANYTHING is a learning experience for all young people. Shame on anyone for not giving them that opportunity to learn. -becky

Beth Blatts said...

We have a short memory no? 1991 seems like a lifetime ago and no one seems to remember the bad behavior displayed back then over this very same issue. If you are looking for hypocrisy and amnesia, you need look no further than to politics..and that would be on both sides. Neither party is immune or exempt.

brown eyed girl said...

Re: the comment posted by Ruthy, I understand that people disagree with Obama's politics, but leave the children out of it? That's just how I see it. Keeping a child out of school, to me, appears passivie-aggressive if the reasoning is "because I disagree with Obama's policies and the direction in which he is moving the country". That's harming the child and hardly making a statement with regard to Obama's policies. I am not in any way saying people don't have the right to be upset with Obama's policies and what's been going on, but just leave the kids out of it? The third party is innocent and doesn't deserve that? I guess that's what I do not understand.

Like I said, I think there is so much that educators and parents can do with Obama's speech. It can set the frame in which the class operates, it can be a healthy discussion to revisit throughout the year, it can be so much more than just a debate and the debacle it caused. That's just my opinion.

Legallyblondemel said...

Well said.

As you know, I agree with you entirely. Interesting to hear this from your perspective given that you work in a school.

Ruthy said...

Regarding my earlier post. I was merely answering Post Smith's question as to "why?" this happened. I was not saying that I agree or disagree with the view point of protestors or that the actions of protestors were reasonable or unreasonable.

This was simply my opinion as to "why" it happened.

Also, I didn't mean to speak for all of those who protested. I shouldn't pretend to know what everyone is thinking. I stated that this was just my opinion as to why this happened.

Please don't confuse my attempt to explain "why?" with my personal views which I purposely did not post.

Hope this clears my comments up.

ms. mindless said...

It seems to my like liberals were wrong in '91 for protesting a presidential speech and conservatives are wrong for protesting it now. The fact that Democrats opposed Bush's speech in '91 is not a valid argument for protesting Obama's speech today. The "you do it too" argument should be left on the playground and is too often brought into politics, in my opinion. The speech was fine. The lesson plans that people objected to were optional. It seems like much ado over nothing to me. But what do I know, I'm a crazy liberal :) I just found your blog and love it so far!

Katie said...

here is my theory--I wouldn't see anything odd about it at ALL if every president has done this. It seems slightly to me there may be something going on as far as an agenda, because honestly, it looks 'good'. But seriously--I have no problem with it. I don't love Obama, didn't vote for the man. I am a teacher. I don't really see any problem with him giving a speech, or my kids hearing it. Just my thoughts!

kilax said...

I agree with the Canadian person you quoted. He is the president, and should be shown respect.

But like everyone is saying, this is obviously about politics, not education. And I hate feeling like I am forced to watch something.

Brittany Ann said...

I'd weigh in, but I get so heated up as an "educator" that I won't.

All I'll say is, we don't give our children enough credit.

And we don't take enough responsibility for our children. Parents, not an 18-minute speech, are the biggest factors in these kids lives, and with that big picture in mind, both sides of this debate (now and back in '91) are ridiculous.

Exposure is not indoctrination. Period.

And as parents and teachers, if we can't teach kids to be critical thinkers, we're failing. Not the President. Not the Republicans or the Democrats. Not as the religious right or the liberal left. We are.

We are "protecting" our children, not helping them learn to thrive and live good, moral lives in a country where they will agree with some things and strongly disagree with others, where they will face evil and temptation right along with good people. They need to learn discernment. They need to learn how to make good choices.

OK, so I just said I wasn't weighing in. And I kind of did anyway. But I could have gone on forever, so this is OK in the grand scheme of things.

Shaina, good for you for posting this!

Jenn said...

i'm as right-wing and conservative as it gets - and even i agree that the uproar over this speech is insane. he didnt say "be a democrat or die" in the speech - he encouraged children to stay in school and try to make something of themselves. i see absolutely nothing wrong with that. am i enamored with obama? No. But, i agree with lisa - regardless of what political line you sit behind - you should respect our President.

Beth Dunn said...

I think the whole thing is a mess.

The Blonde Duck said...

Popped in from Pretty's to say hi!