08 September 2009

Obama's Speech to Schoolchildren Part 2

I'm betting most of you people out there who made a huge flap out of this speech, saying it was going to push socialist values on our little children, bring about a new age of liberally-minded ideologues who would follow the president's every word like flies to honey, and generally ferment the Apocalypse are feeling slightly stupid right about now. And you should be. Anyone who knows me knows that I'm no liberal. I believe in the good that limited government can bring, and I know for myself that the Republican Party generally has a better hold these days than the Democratic Party on the right track for the country overall. But in this case, I sincerely, truly, and wholeheartedly hope that the Republican Party's purposeful willing of parents and kids and school districts NOT to watch the President of the United States speak on the topic of kids' personal responsibility did no harm to what ended up being a beautiful message. Some of the passages that resounded with me (from MSNBC.com's text of the President's prepared remarks):

At the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying. Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.

That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education – and to do everything you can to meet them. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter. Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.

The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do anything less than their best. It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other. So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this country?
I especially liked the final passage there, about the story of America. It was people taking personal responsibility and doing their very best job to give what Abraham Lincoln called the "last full measure of devotion" to their country, state, community, and home to make something better. And throughout this country's 233-year existance, we have done great things: wiped out smallpox, sent a spacecraft (Voyager) competely out of our solar system into deep space, stopped dictators like Hitler and Stalin from destroying the world, became a role model for how millions if not billions of others around the world wish they could live, and shown our courage and resolve in the face of terror. I have threefold hopes for this speech's impact. First, for students, I hope that those of you who were allowed to listen to this speech listened well and will take at least some of it to heart about doing your best, striving to overcome adversity, and recognizing that failure is the key to learning, not giving up. I know there are times I could use that recognition in my own life today. For those who did not get to hear the President speak, seek out the text of this speech, either at the link I provided above or elsewhere on that other American invention: the internet. Secondly, for the parents of schoolkids: sit down with your kids and talk about what the consequences are of taking to heart this speech's message. Discuss personal responsibility, the importance of school and graduating, and of learning not just to survive in this beast of a world right now, but also for just the simple sake of learning and satisfying one's curiousity. And finally, for the President and his advisors: as much as I liked this speech and thought it was well-founded, now is the time to back it up. You talked about getting in gear to provide books, better classrooms, more supplies, higher teacher pay, and a better learning environment. From where I sit as a substitute teacher in Arizona, those things are more important than getting a universal healthcare plan published this year. Drop the junk in your agenda and focus on training tomorrow's leaders. The other pieces that will restrengthen this country and finally be able to help more and more people with other aspects of their lives will fall into place when the nation as a whole is educated and ready to accept hearty and intelligent debate on the issues. Doing anything else, like trying to shove through proposals on any topic without educating the citizens first is going against everything you just said about civic duty and personal responsibility. I hope that this hearkens in a new era of passion for learning, and a reawakening of individual values in an apathetic world, even though I know that one speech is hardly a Renaissance. I just hope something good comes of all this.

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