Published Friday, September 11, 2009 in opinions of Southeast Valley community sections of the Arizona Republic as “Obama’s speech to kids reaffirms American values.” (note: the published version cut off the part starting with the Constitutional Convention reference)
“And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.
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.”
–President Barack Obama’s Tuesday, September 8th address to the nation’s school children.
When I first learned the President would be addressing the nation’s school children on what for many, though not in Arizona, was their first day of school, I was delighted.
I was rather surprised by the outcry from some conservative commentators and Southeast Valley parents. Our Republican State Superintendent of Public Instruction even weighed in to criticize and politicize the speech as well.
President Obama has a gift to inspire, especially young people. In May President Obama addressed graduates of Arizona State University; he impressed upon graduates to think beyond themselves and said nothing objectionable.
Far too many children struggle in school, and too few are ready for college. At least one in five K-12 students in Arizona fail to graduate from high school.
The president’s speech (http://www.whitehouse.gov/MediaResources/PreparedSchoolRemarks/) focused on hard work, seeking out help, not making excuses and learning from failures, rather than letting failure defeat you—all shared American values, not Democratic ones that Republicans abhor.
No educated person should have expected otherwise from the speech or would misinterpret the accompanying teaching ideas as lacking a critical component. Having students reflect on their own success and set goals as they move forward is most appropriate. In fact, they are already part of learning objectives at my children’s middle school. Having the president reinforce that is ideal.
What parents wouldn’t want their child to hear a message like this?
Barack Obama, whether you voted for him or not, is our President. If former President George W. Bush had given a similar speech, I’d be glad to have my children hear it.
Speaking to kids about succeeding needs to rise above politics for both parties.
Parents pulling their children from the speech sent a dangerous message about intolerance and political divisiveness.
Has it come to the point where some can’t even be in the same room as a person we have political differences with?
In the summer of 1787, 55 men converged on Philadelphia to work through the challenging and difficult process of reforming the Articles of Confederation. The challenge they faced was how to structure the Constitution to preserve their interests without so negatively impacting others that we’d not have a unified country.
They had strong political differences, and, yes, some left due to them. But the final document on September 17, 1787 that emerged from their political debates and numerous compromises occurred because in the end they respected each other and looked for what could unite them, rather than divide them.
Those parents ought to discuss these principles with their children and watch the president’s speech together.
Dave Wells of Tempe holds a doctorate in Political Economy and Public Policy and teaches at Arizona State University. Reach him at Dave@MakeDemocracyWork.org. The views are his own.
Read the associated materials and details on the speech
Schools address Obama’s speech unease
Many offer parents option to have kids skip talk
By Ray Parker, Arizona Republic
Some Gilbert parents vow to keep kids home over Obama speech
By Emily Gersema, Arizona Republic
Mesa schools will show Obama’s speech on Tuesday
By Ray Parker