Political News

Parents divided on Obama's message to students

Posted September 7, 2009 12:24 p.m. EDT
Updated October 18, 2011 9:37 a.m. EDT

— 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.

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.