On Campus

Obama's controversial address on education

President to urge students to 'make us all proud,' fulfil their educational responsibilities

Take responsibility for your education. Go to class and listen. Don’t let failures define you. That’s the advice President Barack Obama will give schoolchildren Tuesday in a speech that drew fire even before he delivered it.

“We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems,” Obama said. “If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.”

The White House posted Obama’s remarks on its Web site Monday.

The president was to deliver the talk at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia, a Washington suburb. The speech will be broadcast live on a cable television network and on the White House Web site.

In the prepared remarks, Obama tells young people that all the work of parents, educators and others won’t matter “unless you show up to those schools, pay attention to those teachers.”

Obama’s planned talk has proven controversial, with several conservative organizations and individuals accusing him of trying to pitch his arguments too aggressively in a local-education setting. White House officials, including Education Secretary Arne Duncan, have said the allegations are silly.

The president got a bit of a boost from former first lady Laura Bush, wife of Obama’s Republican predecessor George W. Bush, on Monday when she said she supported Obama’s decision to address the nation’s school children.

“There’s a place for the president of the United States to talk to school children and encourage school children” to stay in school, Mrs. Bush, a former school teacher, said in a CNN interview. However, she said believes that parents who were plan to keep their children home because of the president’s address had the right to do so.

Florida Republican party chairman Jim Greer, who said last week he was “absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology,” said Monday he now favoured the speech after changes he said the White House, under political pressure, had made to supporting materials for teachers and to the speech itself.

Obama made no reference in his prepared remarks to the uproar surrounding his speech. Nor did he make an appeal for support for tough causes such as his health care overhaul. He used the talk to tell kids about his at-times clumsy ways as a child and to urge them to set goals and work hard to achieve them.

“At the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents and the best schools in the world,” Obama said. “And none of it will matter unless all of you fulfil your responsibilities.”

Some conservatives have called on schools and parents to boycott the address. They say Obama is using the opportunity to promote a political agenda.

Schools don’t have to show the speech. And some districts have decided not to, partly in response to concerns from parents.

Duncan’s department has also taken heat for proposed lesson plans distributed to accompany the speech.

The education secretary has acknowledged that a section about writing to the president on how students could help him meet education goals was poorly worded and has been changed.

In his remarks, Obama also leaves the students with some words of encouragement.

“I expect great things from each of you,” he said. “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.”

– The Canadian Press