WASHINGTON — In a speech that drew fire even before he delivered it, President Barack Obama is telling 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 said. “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 Wakefield High School in suburban Arlington, Va., Tuesday. It will be broadcast live on C-SPAN and on the White House Web site.
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.
Obama got a bit of a boost from former first lady Laura Bush on Monday when she said she supported Obama’s decision to address the nation’s school children.
“There’s a place for the president of the United States to talk to school children and encourage school children” to stay in school, Mrs. Bush, a former school teacher, said in a CNN interview.
When told some parents were keeping their children home because of the president’s address, she said “that’s their right .. to choose what they want their children to hear in school.”
She added that it was “really important for everyone to respect the president of the United States.”
And Florida Republican party chairman Jim Greer, who said last week he was “absolutely appalled that taxpayer dollars are being used to spread President Obama’s socialist ideology,” said Monday he now favored the speech after changes he said the White House, under political pressure, had made to supporting materials for teachers and to the speech itself.
“It’s a good speech,’ Greer told ABC News. “It encourages kids to stay in school and the importance of education, and I think that’s what a president should do when they’re going to talk to students across the country.”
In a Labor Day speech in Cincinnati, Obama mentioned his upcoming address. “I’m going to have something to say tomorrow to our children telling them to stay in school and work hard ’cause that’s the right message to send.”
“It’s a sad state of affairs that many in this country politically would rather start an “Animal House” food fight rather than inspire kids to stay in school, to work hard, to engage parents to stay involved, and to ensure that the millions of teachers that are making great sacrifices continue to be the best in the world,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday. “It’s a sad state of affairs.”
In the prepared remarks, Obama tells young people that all the work of parents, educators and others won’t matter “unless you show up to those schools, pay attention to those teachers.”
Obama made no reference in his prepared remarks to the uproar surrounding his speech. Nor did he make an appeal for support of tough causes like health care reform. He used 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 also warned students that if they quit on school, “you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.”
Obama acknowledged that “being successful is hard,” but told 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,” Obama says. “What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.”
The president noted that he was raised by a single mother, who made him buckle down and work harder at times. He said he’s glad she did.
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.
Duncan’s department has also taken heat for proposed lesson plans distributed to accompany the speech.
On Sunday, the 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.
(By Ann Sanner | AP)
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