I’m no fan of Barack Obama’s platforms or policies, and I admit that I had reservations about his plan to address American school children live, but his speech was a flawless home run. I don’t say this as a teacher or as a parent, but as a conservative.
I did not show the speech in my class–I had a lesson to teach and the students had work to do–but I hope they looked up the text later on in the day, like I did.
Listening to the radio yesterday afternoon and checking out a few news sites just made me sick that so many on the right would indulge in such petty vitriol over the speech after the fact. Bottom line, a Republican could have given that speech and it still would have been great. Be willing to give credit where it’s due.
One complaint that surprised me yesterday is that the speech will do no good. Well, maybe not. But Barrack Obama is the world’s biggest celebrity, a bona fide pop icon, and if he wants to use his status to try to sell kids on hard work, responsibility, and good old fashioned duty, then I say, more power to him. If the kids worshipping him with their embossed T-shorts blow off his counsel, then it will truly bring to light the lie inherent in the cult of personality that elected him, but what have we got to lose? Perhaps some kids really will look up to him and follow his example–I may not like his politics, but his life has been one of discipline and achievement. He’s a valid role model. This is exactly the kind of thing that I’ve been hoping to hear from him.
And why shouldn’t the president use his position to preach these things? Presidents do it all the time. Ever read Roosevelt’s “In Praise of the Strenuous Life?” Now, that’s preachy, and I loved it! I’m overjoyed to see someone using their power to teach American kids how to do well.
I had mixed feelings about his speech to the NAACP over the summer. Some parts were terrific, straight out of the Bill Cosby play book:
We have to say to our children, Yes, if you’re African American, the odds of growing up amid crime and gangs are higher. Yes, if you live in a poor neighborhood, you will face challenges that someone in a wealthy suburb does not. But that’s not a reason to get bad grades, that’s not a reason to cut class, that’s not a reason to give up on your education and drop out of school. No one has written your destiny for you. Your destiny is in your hands – and don’t you forget that.
But others were counterproductive, to say the least:
But make no mistake: the pain of discrimination is still felt in America. By African-American women paid less for doing the same work as colleagues of a different color and gender. By Latinos made to feel unwelcome in their own country. By Muslim Americans viewed with suspicion for simply kneeling down to pray. By our gay brothers and sisters, still taunted, still attacked, still denied their rights.
But no such qualms today. This new education speech was perfect, and I seriously hope it does some good out there. Why shouldn’t we hope that the young people of this country, who for far too long have suffered under the media culture’s expectation of ignorance, might be positively affected by this message?
We need every single one of you to develop your talents and your skills and your intellect so you can help us old folks 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.
That quote, my friends, belongs on a poster at the front of a lot of classrooms. Mr. President, we probably won’t agree on much of anything else, but with this speech you won one conservative’s respect.