I have just watched President Obama’s speech to the nation’s students via CNN.com in my office. I would generally wait for the sound byte on the evening news, but there has been so much media controversy over this speech, I thought I might want to hear it first hand. Lots of school districts were not going to show it and some parents interviewed on the news said they were keeping their students home from school today because they didn’t want their children to hear the president’s speech. Because of the firestorm of controversy, the White House released the text of the speech over the weekend. Before my 9:30 Technology and Education class this morning, I did a wordle of the speech. The words that appear the most in the speech are the largest in the wordle. What words do you see that are offensive, not American, or otherwise unfit for school children to hear?
But, I digress, here is my reaction to the speech from the position of an education professor. I was impressed by the easy way President Obama related his personal story about getting a good education and about his wife’s educational journey to become one of the first in her family to go to college. These personal stories make a positive impression on all students and educators. President Obama was also able to tell eloquent stories of students who overcame incredible odds to pursue their education. Putting a face on education with these stories is an important part of making us all accountable for making the American education system better.
The President also asked our nation’s students to take responsibility for themselves, their learning, and their future. This is something all of the students in the United States need to hear—from kindergarten to twelfth grade and even our undergraduate education majors. Responsibility for one’s self is a trait we, as educators and leaders, all need to model for and encourage in our students. But most of all President Obama asked the students to do their part to make our country great. He asked them to respect their teachers, to do their homework, to get involved in their schools and their communities. He asked them to continue their education so that they can be the people that future leaders will hold up as examples. He asked them to be serious about their education this year and told them he expected great things of each of them.
Now, what was so controversial about that?