September 8, 2009
The President: 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."
The fuss over this talk to students raises an important question. What was the commotion about? Socialism? The Europeanization of America?
I don't think so. I think that the people who do not want the president to be heard by their children object to Obama himself and do not want their children to absorb and accept the idea of him.
At home they can control discussions and hope to strongly influence the attitudes that they want their children to have. At home they can continue to nurture the notion that Obama is not legitimately president.
A direct exposure to the man might threaten that structure of illusion and delusion.
This foolishness was not about socialism. It was just plain old racism. pl
I am also sure racism plays a part. However, the same crowd went insane over Clinton, too. Remember that some accused the Clintons of murdering Vince Foster (I seem to recall it even getting mention at the WSJ masthead). Then there was the Lewinsky thing. Etc., etc.
I think that many in the American right are hardcore sore losers. This is the pure, crystalline paranoid style in American politics . . . . (Hofstadter’s essay is as illuminating as ever today)
This foolishness was not about socialism. It was just plain old racism
That’s what i told my husband last night when we were discussing about the reasons these two schools in Florida didn’t want their students to listen to the President.
If Obama was God, a half-black God btw, the wingnuts would still have something to complain – not because of what he represents but because of the colour of his skin.
There have not been many things which I have read which have had as much effect on me as your last two posts on the current political environment. Partly because they were well-written and partly because I don’t feel as alone in my country after reading them.
Nevertheless, I will offer a small disagreement. I suspect Hilary Clinton would have received as much or more demonization as President Obama has. I think tribalism (which includes racism) would be a better word.
And in the meantime, per RTTNews – UK’s Business Secretary Peter Mandelson urged China to take more responsibilities to bring the global economy back on the track of growth and said it should address human right concerns if it wants the 20-year EU arms embargo to be lifted.
So rich… West tells China save our economic kingdoms and we’ll give you a “human rights” pass.
I’d agree that there’s an element of racism involved, but also suspect it has much more to do with the lust for power that was lost last November.
Frankly, it’s frightening to see Americans so willingly led astray by the demagogues such as Limbaugh & Beck.
I agree, it was simply racism.
After the election, I thought the Republican party would search for a leader that could unite the party and grow it’s base, but unfortunately the GOP is rejecting any expansion of base in favor of a Führer.
No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard work.
The one thing one is born to (or not born to) is wealth, and it seems to me that all this brouhaha is being orchestrated – as it has in the past – by those who happened to be good in this department. They’re doing it by stirring up the basest emotions among people (who ought to know better).
“An America in which I don’t automatically get into Yale because my father is rich and went to Yale is an America I don’t recognize” – you can imagine, e.g., a Bush thinking this.
The kind of thing like this (manufactured) school speech “controversy” looks really crazy when you’re watching it in Iraq.
It really does seem like the USA is an insane asylum.
Actually – not to deny racism, or paranoia, or what not – but that misses the point.
The point is that the right wing has learned that it pays for them to drown out the liberal signal by generating noise.
So, we have basically three choices:
Of course, when confronted with a serious obstacle, such as the right wing noise machine has become, crushing it might not be the best approach. Maneuvering around it might be more effective.
That would reduce the needed power necessary to transmit a message; require the rightwing to operate in unfamiliar terrain; and would make noise generation a waste of time.
In other words, use guerrilla tactics rather than standard liberal top-down bureaucratic type approaches.
Colonel Lang, No matter what President Obama says or does, those on the far right fringe will hate him and what he stands for.
There are others, like my 88 year old aunt and my mother’s 75 year old neighbor who hate and fear him because of his color.
Most of these people have Social Security and Medi-Care but they still call the president a communist and state they don’t want any government involvement in their lives, however I don’t see them giving up their SS or MC.
I though his speech was inspiring.
I agree with those who have mentioned the racist element. I think there are Americans who can’t hear his words because they can’t get beyond his color.
I live in Thousand Oaks CA and will be attending a Health Care meeting sponsored by the teabaggers. As a nurse and the mother of 5 adult children, 3 of whom do not have insurance. I understand the tragedy of becoming ill and not having any health insurance. I will be at that meeting as a supporter of a public option. At the last Health Care meeting her, a man had the tip of his finger bitten off after he punched another man in the face.
What is this country coming to.
It’s obviously all about the evils of socialism that Obama brings. His stated viewpoints are completely anti-thetical to capitalism. In a decent capitalistic system, we shouldn’t have to think for ourselves – we should be able to pay someone to think for us. Obama wants to destroy free enterprise!
The words of the criminal conviction standard of “No Reasonable Doubt” should come to mind. What you basically have is the wingnuts on the right trying to use the trial lawyer defense tactic of raising “some doubt” in order to prevent their own conviction as beign guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of trying to reverse the standards adopted in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the US and the Lincold Gettysbury Address of “whether government of the people, by the people, and for the people will not perish from this earth.” That is the key standard because clearly the MSM and corporate world and the Republican Party no longer believe in the above and that power flows from the people not to the people from the government. The reason that this tactic or strategy is at least somewhat successful is that the Democratic Party is also led by those who believe they owe their jobs solely to there campaign contributors and that only by their incumbency can they contribute to the national dialogue. This is not a great receipe for the success of US and its citizery. Something has to give jus tnot sure what? My guess as the best hope is party re-alignment over several decades which I think began in election of 1992. The independent vote is the key and small slices of the electorate by voting or not voting are causing a perilous swing between the parties as they resolve the best politics is to vote “The Ins Out.” IN other words don’t leave the pigs too long at the trough. Unfortunately the timeing of as you reap shall you sow is sometimes justice delalyed, but never forever. Sharpen those pitchforks because the peasants will need to be armed when storming the Bastille.
Thank you for posting this. I have my own issues with President Obama, but the assertion that he’s some kind of wild eyed Marxist would be laughable if not for he fact that a very small minority of the citizens of this country are acting like spoiled (and heavily armed) brats. Unfortunately, that is one problem with America; Too many guns, not enough brains.
You hit it right on the head…these folks are sore losers. Their grandparents, several generations ago, are probably the same folks that called Dwight Eisenhower a communist.
Although there was pressure on the school board to block the presentation dedicated to “working hard, taking responsibility, and graduating”, it was defused by offering the opposition a 10 minute rebuttal to espouse the merits of [goofing] off, blaming others and dropping out. They’re still looking for a spokesman. (Yes, a man because no intelligent woman would rise to the bait).
Just to show you how amazingly effective putting few firebrand idiots on the airwave. It is always possible to appeal to the reptilian side of a society.
Imagine how effective taliban is in largely illiterate society like afghanistan. Few words on God, honors, mysticism, pious talk, easy money, a dab of charisma, you can make any large group of people start doing something very stupid.
Anybody still think doing regime change in the US is not possible?
And there I was this morning, red banner in hand and the International all cued up…
While I do agree that there is an aspect of racism in some of the comments that have been made about the President and his speech, perhaps revanchism better captures the spirit of those opposed to the speech. I can understand how eight years of the being the majority would give some an unrealistic sense of still wanting to be in power, no matter the cost.
Sent wirelessly via BlackBerry from T-Mobile.
Green Zone Cafe, from the vantage point of Iraq, thinks we have become an insane asylum. If sanity is defined as having a common set of reality based facts that we all agree on, then he’s absolutely right. We don’t.
Doonesbury said it well on Sunday. Those of us who believe in facts and the reality they’re based on are seen by the cartoonist as “Reasonists.” In one fell swoop, Trudeau places us in the same category of irrational folks as the “Birthers,” “Deathers,” etc. who create their own facts and reality to fit their beliefs.
IMO, Trudeau’s point is that if we’re not careful us “Reasonists” will forget that we won’t solve anything if we get caught up in trying to convince the other side of the insanity of their position.
I think Kinder’s got it right. A new application for the COIN manual?
The same talking points Obama made in his school speech attracted many conservatives during his campaign. I’ve read letters to the editor from Republicans who welcome his speech as inspirational, after all no reasonable person can argue with its content.
The hysteria does seem to be a viscerally racist reaction. If this speech had been given by a white president, the same parents who pulled their kids from school today would have approved of the message.
This is a case of ignorant parents keeping their children ignorant. I have been giving a lot of thought over the last several days about the level of political discourse, it appears from my little foxhole that both shrill voices of both the extreme right are drowning out the reasoned voices of the center.
Hank Foresman (COL USA RET)
While I find the rhetoric behind the opposition to Obama’s speech disingenuous and contemptible, I find myself generally in favor of keeping guns, drugs and politicians away from school zones. For me, it is a public health question.
What’s your sense of the impact of a more kinetic, ct approach on the commitments of our NATO allies? Also, I am wondering if we could be sure of our legal status if we scale back our support for Afghanistan’s central government. Finally, I am also curious about whether or not such approach and its effects would make certain logistics more susceptible to international political intrigue?
I ask these questions, knowing very little about Afghanistan or Central Asia and finding myself agreeing with you in the main, but just wonder about what new ‘challenges’ such an approach would bring. You have stated that you oppose withdrawal, so can I assume that you are okay with some population-centric, institution-building window-dressing as long as we are not carried by any illusions?
This is more than the racism of the “separate but equal” racists, it is also the ‘separate but equal’ crowd who willfully segregate themselves from society, whether the are homeschooling children, living in gated communities, or restricting access to only the ‘true’ source of information – such as the bureaucrats who restrict access to your blog due to the danger of thinking outside of the required orthodoxy. Afterall, knowledge is power. Even that great southerner, Francis Marion, recognized such. I believe he quite vociferously supported public education – http://www.amazon.com/Life-General-Francis-Marion-Revolutionary/dp/0895871963#.
your last two sentences are exactly spot on.
isn’t it amazing how the village magpies just cannot understand the rightwing hoohaw against obama and what drives it. watched a coupleof minutes of hardball last nite to see mike barnicle, chuck todd, politico’s jonathan martin all chin-scratching in permanent perplexion over republican behavior, when your simple declaration covers it all.
The furor over the Presidents attempts to indoctrinate students with socialists propaganda boiled over today immediately after the President’s speech was aired.
In Sacramento , conservatives , outraged by the speech, set fire to a Public Light Rail railcar yelling “Down with public transportation!”
In Ft. Wayne, Indiana, young people teepeed a public park. “Socialism is wrong”, said one young person as he smashed a drinking fountain with a hammer.
In Dallas, Texas, angry patrons burnt piles of books at the public library and spray painted the words “public libraries are socialists” on walls.
Police and firefighters In Boise, Idaho, were pelted with eggs by enraged mobs. “Those public servants are putting private guards and “for profit” firemen out of business.” cried one angry participant.
And at Cape Canaveral Florida, unhappy residents picketed a NASA office with signs reading:
“Get government out of Space” and “Bring our flag back from the moon”
Along with racial bigotry there is the program in some mass media to attack President Barack Obama for something, every single day.
As Green Zone cafe wrote above, this “controversy” over Obama’s speech to schools is manufactured.
I wish I had the time to do a comparative study on the content of syndicated radio talk shows and cable television, but I am able to listen some when driving, and no matter what Obama does, it is attacked each and every day. The points made on different radio talk shows often are identical.
This is driven on nationally syndicated talk shows by Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and Mark Levin. They also promote their own books, through one another’s shows.
For whatever reasons, the components of mass media that are doing this are aligned with the Republican Party, since when Bush jr. was president, he could do no wrong, except for the immigration bill, and then the criticism was not as vitriolic and personal as it has been about Obama.
These same radio talk show people, and Fox News, who claim to be “conservative”, never want to say anything about or have as a guest Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX, 14th District), a true conservative if that word has any meaning, as well as a physician. Rep. Paul beat the others to the punch with a book entitled “The Revolution, A Manifesto”, and has a new one out this month, “End the Fed”, as in the Federal Reserve Bank (ISBN number 0446549193). Anyone want to guess the probability that Rep. Paul and his new book will be promoted on any of the national radio talk shows or on broadcast or cable television?
Barack Obama is not nearly as adroit as Bill Clinton or some others in extemporaneous speaking. This makes it tough when the Big Wurlitzer gets cranked up against him, as noted by Duncan Kinder above.
Ironically, all the mass media as one chorus promoted the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and still are, but I suspect that the part opposed to Obama are going to continue to attack him each and every day, until his last day in office.
Yep, racism with a good dose of stupidity thrown in for good measure.
Paraphrasing the late George Carlin:
When you think about how stupid the average American is it’s disappointing to contemplate that half of the people are even stupider than that.
Trying to remember how old Franklin and Washington were when they left school.
Trying to remember how Prussian the american mandatory public school system was in 1776. Trying to figure out why it is the job of a public servant to lecture to children no matter how innocuous the subject matter.
But on the bright side it was a half an hour the children did not have to waste listening to a local bloviator.
Itwould appear that the Republicans are following Bill Krystals advice that if they can block health care reform they can destroy Obama’s prseidency.This is seen by some as their most effective way to return to power. All of this is simply part of that course of action. It is almost completely nihilistic.
I just spoke to my daughter who teaches 3rd grade in NC and her Principal chose to not let the students here Obama’s speech until the teachers could listen to it and decide if it were relevant. What incredible nerve. Of course the speech has not been heard and since many teachers have concerns about keeping their jobs, it will probably never be heard. Intimidation is alive and well in the USA or at least parts of it.
This morning I drove out to Kelley Point Park, where the Willamette and Columbia rivers meet, to walk and swim my dog. I was stopped by a security guard who said, “There’s a security event going on.” He looked at the backseat and asked,”What do you people want.”
First, I was taken back that he had recognized the humanity of my Golden/Lab and I envisioned the security event to be some type of Homeland Security exercise I wasn’t interested in crashing. “I don’t know. What’s going on?” I asked.
“Hemp Fest, the parking lot’s full,” the guard said.
I turned the car around, not wanting to be a part of some Obama sponsored Fabian Socialist creep. First our kids will be wearing hemp Birkenstocks and then smoking you know what.
What would George Washington and Thomas Jefferson say about growing hemp in America?
It did happen…sort of. Here’s the proof. I love this park:
Lewis and Clarke landed here.
That fuss guarantees most of them will take the trouble to see it on You Tube. It also gives the whole hard work and responsibility thing an attractive whiff of the countercultural+transgressive.
It sounds like the first amendment is a real problem for you, because you propose that the free speech of the right must be stopped. In doing so you lend credence to their arguments that the left is unconstitutional and doesn’t want real debate, just dominance.