The most controversial “stay in school” speech in the history of America came and went today, and the general consensus is that our kids were not seriously injured by President Obama’s words.
In a speech that brought criticism from conservatives who were afraid that Obama sought to deliver a political message to America’s students, the president stressed the importance of personal responsiblity and told students that “[w]e need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems.”
He added, “If you quit on school, you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.”
With all the emotion that preceded the speech, one would’ve thought that the president was planning to entice students to burn American flags or worship Darwin. And likely for many citizens, no matter how positive or inspirational Obama’s words were, they were tainted by virtue of the messenger.
Thankfully, Obama was not advocating flag burning or evolution. What he did share was a message that, at worst, could challenge students to think twice before giving up on their education; and, at best, inspire them to work their hardest to be tomorrow’s doctors, scientists, lawyers, and presidents.
[W]e 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; you pay attention to those teachers; you listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and you put in the hard work it takes to succeed.
In the lead up to the speech, I witnessed many folks, including some leaders of my own children’s school district, complain that the event would be an unnecessary disruption in the school day and distract our kids from real learning. But it could be argued that Obama’s speech was as important to “real learning” as any math or spelling test.
Obama’s not allowed to talk about the fact that he’s America’s first African American president too much, but the truth is — he’s America’s first African American president!
And not just that. He also is America’s first biracial president, who was raised in a single-parent home, whose cultural background puts him at odds with what many Americans have come to expect in terms of presidential pedigree.
Though he is the President of the United States — the president of all Americans — Obama seems intrinsically aware of the fact that just by standing up and telling people that school is important, he can speak profound encouragement into the lives of many kids who don’t have stable two-parent homes, who don’t feel as though anyone cares whether or not they perform well in school, who don’t think they have a chance at succeeding in life because of their neighborhood or the color of their skin. For many of today’s school-age children, Obama truly is the Role-Model-in-Chief.
And I, for one, am glad that he takes that role seriously.