Talking to Students

Note: Some people have said that they won’t vote for school levies if the schools let students watch the President. If you’re one of those people, please don’t read this. It’ll probably only make you more upset than you already are.

President Obama's Back to School SpeechAnd so, after a week-long firestorm in the political world, President Obama will address the nation’s schoolchildren Tuesday. Or, at least, he’ll address some of them. At some point. Neither the school district in which I live nor the school district in which I work are permitting teachers to show the address live to students. Both have said that teachers may preview the speech later, and use it in a future lesson if it’s curricularly appropriate. I don’t recall any other point in my career when teachers were expressly forbidden to watch a speech by the President of the United States. There certainly wasn’t this level of protest over President Bush’s speech, or even President Reagan’s question-and-answer session.

President Obama is going to talk about the importance of education. He’ll talk about his own experience in a single-parent household having to get up at 4:30 with his Mom to supplement his education. He’ll talk about working hard, about overcoming adversity. He’ll talk about America being a land of opportunity. He’ll talk about personal decisions and the power to make one’s own future. He’ll talk about setting personal goals, and working hard to achieve them.  Looking over his remarks, I don’t see anything about socialism. There’s nothing about Democrats or Republicans. There’s nothing about race. There isn’t even anything about education reform. It’s the least-politicized address to students made by a U.S. president in recent memory.

This summer, I was extremely fortunate to visit President Obama’s grandmother in Kogelo, Kenya. Our team leader, Sharon, asked Mrs. Obama what advice she would give to teachers in North America and Kenya. She replied that teachers should teach the students well, to teach them to have respect, and to teach them to be someone in the future.

I think, regardless of your political affiliation, these are sentiments we should all be able to agree on.