Political News

Parents divided on Obama's message to students

Posted September 7, 2009
Updated October 18, 2011

— In a speech that has drawn fire even before he delivered it, President Barack Obama tells the nation's schoolchildren he "expects great things from each of you."

"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 says, "and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities."

The White House posted Obama's remarks on its Web site at midday Monday. He's scheduled to deliver the talk from a school in suburban Arlington, Va., Tuesday.

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.

Parents divided on president's speech Parents divided on president's speech

Area parents are divided on whether the speech offers a valuable lesson or allows politics to intrude in the classroom.


Watch the speech LIVE on WRAL.com at noon Tuesday, and chat with others as the president speaks. Can't watch at noon? The video will be archived on the Web site for your convenience.


In the remarks set for Tuesday, Obama tells young people that all the work of parents, educators and others won't matter "unless you show up for those schools, pay attention to those teachers."

Obama makes no reference in his prepared remarks to the uproar surrounding his speech, nor does he make an appeal for support of tough causes like health care reform. He uses the talk to tell kids about his at-times clumsy ways as a child and to urge them to identify an area of interest, set goals and work hard to achieve them.

The president acknowledges that "it's hard to be successful," but tells the students the country badly needs their best effort to cope in an increasingly competitive global economy.

"What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country," he says. "What you're learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future."

Obama notes that he was raised by a single mother who made him buckle down and work harder at times. He says he's glad she did.

He also talks about never giving up, using basketball legend Michael Jordan and "Harry Potter" author J.K. Rowling as examples. Rowling's first book was rejected 12 times before it was finally published, and Jordan was cut from his high school team, the president notes.

Obama also warns students that if they quit on school, "you're not just quitting on yourself, you're quitting on your country."

Some conservatives have urged 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.

The Wake County school district has told schools that administrators consider the speech "an optional instructional activity" and said schools that show the address must align it with their lesson plans, must notify parents about it and offer alternative activities for students whose parents object.

Raleigh resident Mari-ann Miller said she hopes her two grandchildren don't see the speech in school.

“It has me a little concerned that he’s trying to back door his policies through the children, which I think is wrong,” Miller said. "At that age, parents need to edit what is being fed to (children)."

Lauren and Brian Weathers, Republicans who didn't vote for Obama in the election last fall, said they think Obama's speech is a great teaching moment. They said they wouldn't object if Pleasant Union Elementary School showed the speech to their 9-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son.

"I think it's a wonderful message from anybody in that office, and I think it's a great thing he's doing, regardless of what (political) affiliation he is," Lauren Weathers said. "I feel sorry people are looking at it that it's something to make a political issue about because I don't think that's what it is."

“I think he’s very sincere with what he’s trying to do," Brian Weathers said. "I think he’s truly trying to help the country.”

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

On Sunday, the education secretary acknowledged that a section about writing to the president on how students can help him meet education goals was poorly worded. It has been changed.

"We just clarified that to say write a letter about your own goals and what you're going to do to achieve those goals," Duncan said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

Former Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush delivered similar speeches to students, the White House has said.

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  • Sep 8, 2009

    Leave it to Orange County to spare my children the Obama indoctrination speech as classroom monitors were off. I do find it funny just like the election how people who support Obama are in a changing cloud of confusion over being lied to, while the non-Obama supporters are just plain racists. I guess I will remain a racist since I do not support Obama, his political and cultural views, his religious views and oh, his color has nothing to do with any of this. I only support Christian American Presidents and Obama is neither.

  • apennyforyourthoughts Sep 8, 2009

    It's nothing but pure hatred by some and plain old insecurity as a parent by others to say or even think that the 18 minute or so speech given by THE PRESIDENT today could somehow harm your child. If it can or does, then you need to question your ability as a parent. So sad that we have such ignorance and hatred in our country. Not sad for the country but for the person that demonstrates such.

  • 2beachy4u Sep 8, 2009

    "To me it comes down to the fact that a president is stepping over the parent responsibilities. My child is in first grade. She knows that I expect grades to be high and her to try her best at all times. Parents should be hearing the talk not the students. Parents determine what clothes ther child wears, the music they listen to, who their friends are, ect. Grades and staying in school are not an option in my house and my daughter knows this. I am not an Obama supporter and think this would be better suited in a television broadcast for families to watch together than taking up instructional time in classroom." ...aycockfamily1

    Thank you....I couldn't have said it better myself. I agree with you 100%!

  • btbt1 Sep 8, 2009

    Maybe President Obama should have just visited an elementary classroom and read (upside down) a story of a pet goat or something. What could possibly happen during this time to affect the our lives?

  • putsomethoughtinit Sep 8, 2009

    First - I do not know why this is even an option. He is the President...elected leader of our country.

    This is just ridiculous...he's not telling kids to jump from a bridge, but to take personal responsibility for their futures.

    His message is being lost amid political agendas and racism...yes I said it. While the race card is not always valid, there are times where it's the only explanation.

  • aycockfamily1 Sep 8, 2009

    To me it comes down to the fact that a president is stepping over the parent responsibilities. My child is in first grade. She knows that I expect grades to be high and her to try her best at all times. Parents should be hearing the talk not the students. Parents determine what clothes ther child wears, the music they listen to, who their friends are, ect. Grades and staying in school are not an option in my house and my daughter knows this. I am not an Obama supporter and think this would be better suited in a television broadcast for families to watch together than taking up instructional time in classroom.

  • nanny Sep 8, 2009

    Let me first state-I'm shocked that people respond to others as being ignorant when they don't agree with them-typical. I do not have children in school now-but if I did-I wouldn't have sent them today and that would be my own personal choice-no matter how you feel about my decision-it's what our soldiers fight for and die for every day-it's called freedom. I have no problem with any President speaking positively to children to encourage them-I do have a problem with a President that sat in a church for 20 years and listened to pure hate and associated himself with the ones I've heard about before the election-no I didn't vote for him and never would and never will-I have no trust in him-has nothing to do with anything else-he can't even seem to be trusted to choose his associations wisely, let alone run a country-so no, he wouldn't be speaking to my children today either. He says one thing and does another-that's the change for you.

  • exteacher Sep 8, 2009

    All you 'educated' people out there need to look up the differences between Nazism and Socialism and all the other -isms and learn the differences. Last I checked Marx was the 'father' of Socialism and, if you don't know, Hitler hated him.
    To 'the fox': not that it has anything to do with anything, but I taught in both public and private schools.

  • skaternum Sep 8, 2009

    "It has me a little concerned that he’s trying to back door his policies through the children, which I think is wrong,” Miller said. "At that age, parents need to edit what is being fed to (children)."

    Could you possibly be any more ignorant?? I hope the folks who started all the hoopla and protests are ashamed for being proven to be so ridiculous.

  • WhysoMad Sep 8, 2009

    I didn't vote for the man and I don't particularly like some of what he does/says, but I hope my kids see the video. It sounds like it is pretty sincere and who knows maybe it will spark an interest in them...I doubt it but maybe.

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