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Obama Speech Good for Wakefield, But I Haven't Changed My Mind

The president's speech at Wakefield High was a wonderful experience for those hard-working students and the school's exceptional staff. I was particularly taken with the president's generosity in answering questions from students before the speech. They will remember this day forever.

But as I said in my much-maligned blog post on Friday, I don't think it was nearly as big a thrill for students who weren't there, but watched it on TV at their own schools. It was a great speech, saying all the right stuff. The president knows exactly what is wrong with our schools, and talks about the solutions more clearly and vividly than I do. But most kids have heard versions of his speech before, and without his physical presence, moment loses a lot of its electricity.

I hope he keep visiting great schools like Wakefield, however. They deserve the recognition and like me I imagine he will learn much talking to those teachers and students.

By Jay Mathews  | September 8, 2009; 12:44 PM ET
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Obama should have mentioned he was lucky enough to go to private school because his grandmother was a bank executive and his stepfather worked for an oil company. That would have impressed upon these public school students that capitalism will ensure you are rich enough to attend elite schools.

Posted by: Cornell1984 | September 8, 2009 1:58 PM | Report abuse

As a middle school Principal, I did not see what all the fuss was about. It was a generic speech, one that I might give at the beginning of the school year. I didn't sense any hidden agendas or politicking.

As adults we must be careful with the message we are sending. As adults, it's ok to disagree with his politics but we want to teach kids to respect the position.

Why people disallowed the speech is beyond me. In some cases I know why, but I don't want to play that "card" right now.

Posted by: rickyroge | September 8, 2009 2:00 PM | Report abuse

How could a principal find nothing wrong with the lesson plan sent out by the department of education? Even the department of education realized it was stupid, political, and not productive for students.

This was going to be a political speech until the internet, not the MSM, alerted parents. One has only to look at Obama's speech to unions on Monday to see how vicious, partisan, and dishonest he can be. Parents have every right to teach respect for the president, but to encourage students to question their government, that dissent is patriotic, and that diversity of thought is as important as any diversity.

Posted by: Cornell1984 | September 8, 2009 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Sorry Jay, I'm not buying your argument that this takes away from precious instructional time, nor that the kids are hearing things that they've heard many times before. It's the first day of school in Fairfax County - teachers are going to go over classroom expectations, policies, and procedures. And it will be exactly the same things they've heard every year since kindergarten. (And yes, tonight, I'll sign and submit a giant stack of forms containing the exact same information that I've submitted to FCPS for the past 11 years.) I think listening to a speech from our President on the importance and challenges of education is a VERY good way to spend one hour of the first day of school.

Posted by: cghoward | September 8, 2009 2:29 PM | Report abuse

"dissent is patriotic" I agree 100%. I guess the former "if yer not fer us yer agin us" administration didn't get this memo. Cornell1984 claims inside knowledge (or so it seems) about the content of the President's speech and how it was changed in response to the internet buzz. It must be nice to be all-knowing.

Posted by: EJDubya | September 8, 2009 4:55 PM | Report abuse

Great idea: teach kids that they don't have to pay any attention at all to anything they don't agree with. That's a great lesson, brought to you by the wingnuts and windbags who seem to speak for the Republican party.
We used to do a lot of things in school that had nothing to do with the curriculum: I particularly remember watching space shots, discussing the Cuban missle crisis. . . .

Posted by: jlhare1 | September 8, 2009 5:20 PM | Report abuse

Our nation is in pretty sad condition when the President cannot give a speech to a group of children, encouraging them to do well in school and take responsibility for their actions, without a group of sore loser partisans from the opposing political party trying to make it into a political attack. If anyone is trying to indoctrinate our children, it is those who are whining, inventing false stories and generally denigrating not only the individual who is our President - legitmately elected by a MAJORITY of our voters - and in the process damaging the position of the Presidency. Frankly, demonstrating to your children that you have no respect for the President, or for anything he says, sets a bad example. It is one thing to express an opinion about a particular position of the President, and we, fortunately, have freedom of speech in our nation, but criticizing the President's speech BEFORE he has a chance to give it is nothing but partisan trash talking. Whether you agree with him or not, showing a lack of common courtesy and basic respect reflects on you, not on President Obama.

Any parent who disagrees with what the President said to our nation's schoolchildren today, who does not tell their children that President Obama was encouraging them in the right direction, who thought it was "better parenting" to make fun of the President and take their children to a pizza party instead of listening to an inspirational speech by the elected leader of our nation, and who does not want the same things for their children expressed by our President today, doesn't deserve to have children. As parents, it is our responsibility to teach them to be good Americans, not good Republicans or Democrats. It is our responsibility to teach them that we may not agree with the outcome of an election, but the winner is the President of ALL Americans, no matter who they voted for. As parents, it is our responsiblity to help our children understand that the UNITED States of America is more important than the opinion of one person, and we should all be the best we can in our own lives AND as members of our nation. No matter who you voted for, President Obama is going to be our President for at least 4 and possibly 8 years, so if you cannot live with that, there are lots of other countries in the world, otherwise, stop hoping our President "fails" and start acting like a "real" American - one who understands that if our President fails, our country fails - one who can express his or her opinion, but wants our President and our country to succeed - no matter WHO won the election.

Posted by: rmcdetal | September 8, 2009 5:42 PM | Report abuse

Sorry Jay, I'm not buying your argument that this takes away from precious instructional time, nor that the kids are hearing things that they've heard many times before. It's the first day of school in Fairfax County - teachers are going to go over classroom expectations, policies, and procedures. And it will be exactly the same things they've heard every year since kindergarten. (And yes, tonight, I'll sign and submit a giant stack of forms containing the exact same information that I've submitted to FCPS for the past 11 years.) I think listening to a speech from our President on the importance and challenges of education is a VERY good way to spend one hour of the first day of school.

Posted by: cghoward

This reminds me about something that occurred when I was taking a flight on Quantas this summer from Cairns to Sydney. At the beginning of the flight a gentleman came on the video screen to do the safety speech and what he said in it stuck with me. It was in essence, that even though you've heard the schpiel before every flight is unique and even if you've been on this particular type of plane before, youprobably have not sat in this particular seat. As a result you need to familiarize yourself with the uniqueness of this particular event even though you might have flown on an airplane dozens or hundreds of times before.

The same thing is true with school. Even though this is the 11th time you've filled out the health form, the emergency care form, and the SR&R form, you're child has probably never been in Mr. Smith's Chemistry class or Mrs. Jones' English class. Some things stay the same from one classroom to another and one year to another, while others change dramatically based on the teacher, debriefs after the previous year's opening, and changes in student dynamics. It isn't all the same.

Posted by: Rob63 | September 8, 2009 6:02 PM | Report abuse

Jay writes, "I hope he keep visiting great schools like Wakefield, however. They deserve the recognition and like me I imagine he will learn much talking to those teachers and students."

Perhaps. But the students at "great schools like Wakefield" are likely not the ones that really need to hear the speech that the President gave today. I would like to see him visit, and at least attempt to inspire, students at some NOT-great schools. I would like to see him talk to them and listen to them and make it clear, through his presence and his time, that they also matter to the future of our country.

Of course, I imagine it would be a Secret Service nightmare...but think of the potential to truly change the climate of a school and the trajectories of those students lives.

Posted by: highschoolteacher | September 8, 2009 6:48 PM | Report abuse

I missed an apostrophe; sorry. The final line should read "...and the trajectories of those students' lives."

That's what I get for all my "why-can't-people-just-learn-to-use-apostrophes-correctly" tirades!

Posted by: highschoolteacher | September 8, 2009 6:52 PM | Report abuse

I am under the impression that no matter what President Obama does, there are going to be those among us who will object. Having seen him speak and heard what he said, I felt vindicated in knowing that all of this noise over the past few weeks was just that, noise.
To think that people among the population actually gave credit to such foolishness is to know that they are an embarrassment to America in the eyes of the world.
My only sadness comes from not having such a wonderful President to speak before I finished school in 1984.

Posted by: MET9 | September 8, 2009 7:46 PM | Report abuse

Thank you rmcdetal. Well said.
Regardless of what people think and their personal likes and dislikes, the President is the President the leader of THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Teach your children to respect their elders and leaders all of them!

Posted by: opinionshelp | September 8, 2009 7:52 PM | Report abuse

I can't find anybody who was against the speech. I think people find monsters lurking behind every bush. Whether those monsters are real or not depends very much on how you judge the sanity of the people telling us about those monsters.

Posted by: Ombudsman1 | September 8, 2009 8:18 PM | Report abuse

If Obama made a speech in support of oxygen, at least 10% of the nation would suffocate themselves in protest.

Posted by: lacooper68 | September 8, 2009 8:47 PM | Report abuse

To cghoward: Not all schools start on the same day, like my classes (I'm a sophomore in the HCPSS) were in session as of last week. So, it might not have taken up time for your kids, but it certainly did for me and my peers.

Anyway, I once again fully agree with your argument Jay. While I'm only a teenager, I found this speech a waste of instruction time and a bore. Wouldn't the better option be to actually educate instead of just talking about it?

Posted by: AaronMcDuffie | September 8, 2009 9:13 PM | Report abuse

Some things don't the fact that there isn't a teenager in the world who deliberately prefers to go to class and listen to the teacher.... especially the beginning of a school year after two months off for summer.

Posted by: 4taz | September 8, 2009 9:40 PM | Report abuse

@ 4taz

I going to take a guess that your comment was pretty much referring to me. You do realize that some teenagers take hard, challenging classes (like AP Gov, or PreCalc, etc. etc.) and kinda wants to get the most out of EACH class so he or she can pass the AP Exam? You gotta think outside of the box, not all teenagers are the ones portrayed in the media.

Posted by: AaronMcDuffie | September 8, 2009 9:46 PM | Report abuse

I totally agree with the argument that too much precious learning time is wasted in school. I struggle to catch my DC 3rd graders up to their wealthier peers everyday.

However, for these same kids I thought the Presidents message would hit home. They are huge fans who idolize his every move. Nonetheless, the speech was entirely over their heads. I stopped it midway through and didn't waste any more class time.

I should have suggested that their parents showed it and discussed it with them.

Posted by: dcteach2 | September 8, 2009 9:50 PM | Report abuse

Posted by lacooper68: "If Obama made a speech in support of oxygen, at least 10% of the nation would suffocate themselves in protest."

I think you are on to a grand idea!

Posted by: tazmodious | September 8, 2009 9:53 PM | Report abuse

Posted by AaronMcDuffie: "challenging classes (like AP Gov, or PreCalc, etc. etc.) and kinda wants to get the most out of EACH class so he or she can pass the AP Exam? You gotta think outside of the box, not all teenagers are the ones portrayed in the media."

You will learn one day when you are out of school that there really isn't anything that challenging that you can't set aside an hour for some lateral thinkling. You will get all of the same classes in college as college has become the new high school.

You are way too high strung for a high school student (AP or not). Relax and live life or else you will look back and regret that you didn't have fun in your youth.

For your information, I am a high school science teacher.

Posted by: tazmodious | September 8, 2009 10:02 PM | Report abuse

ATTENTION ALL WINGNUTs i think YOU are called THAT, DO YOU have the IQ to understand you MUST pull your kids out of school,AT ONCE, you see the bus driver could be a democrat, god forgive the teachers could be them awful democrats.and that old guy pushing the mop, i bet he voted for FDR. the football coach is a black guy he,s gotta be a democrat. DON,T WAIT for your GOD LIMBOUGH TO TELL YOU TO DO SO, HE IS BUSY TAKING PAIN KILLERs.

Posted by: dv1236 | September 8, 2009 10:14 PM | Report abuse

While I firmly agree that too many assemblies are taking too much time out of the school day, thinking back to high school I can think of several I'd eliminate before nixing the President's speech. I was hauled out of class twice so Jostens could try to sell class memorabilia to me. I did not need to spend an hour and a half listening to a Josten's rep give us a spiel about how high school was the most important time of our lives and how we won't be able to remember it without a class ring. Then there were assorted fund raising assemblies for cookie dough sales, candy sales, wrapping paper sales, etc. They could have passed out the packets in home room, but no, they had to take 45 extra minutes out of the day to "motivate" us to go fund raise. Oh, and how can I forget the in-school dance they held for honor roll students one year. Probably the most awkward dance I've ever attended.

Replace any single one of those with the President's speech, and you haven't lost any class time. Depending on which assembly you replace, you'll have even gained time. I also don't buy the "without his physical presence, moment loses a lot of its electricity" argument. So FDR shouldn't have given his fireside chats because he couldn't actually be right there and the moment would have "lost a lot of its electricity"?

Posted by: theGelf | September 8, 2009 10:28 PM | Report abuse

Dude: There's a typo in your blog. If you are going to criticize the president and his attempt to keep kids in school, you should at least carefully edit your post.

Posted by: joenkim | September 8, 2009 10:38 PM | Report abuse

@ tazmodious

Haha, really? I'm high strung? I'm would consider myself more like a 'free spirit" but maybe I'm more like Tracy Flick than I thought! :)
But anyway, thanks for the advice, but I think that I am enjoying my youth, it's not like I don't have anytime for friends and activities not related to school (i.e responding to comments on news sites at 2250!) so yeah... And I hope your kidding about that! Someone else said that on a NYT article a while back, was that you? :/

Posted by: AaronMcDuffie | September 8, 2009 10:54 PM | Report abuse

There was nothing in this speech that would not have been in a George W. Bush speech to children . . . if he had been articulate enough to deliver such a speech. Frankly, I think that's a point that's been missed. As an educator, it is so refreshing to finally hear a president capable and eager to model correct grammar, pronunciation and coherent sentence structure. I found it absolutely painful to watch the former president give speeches. I found myself wondering how much effort he was devoting to affairs of state if his standards for the English language were so lax. Sadly, it's become rather apparent that his standards for governing the country were similarly lax. Hopefully, many young people will heed the call from President Obama and haul themselves up by the boot straps to become our future leaders.

Posted by: tbarbre | September 8, 2009 11:27 PM | Report abuse

first of all i would like to thank president obama for taking the time and speaking to the children of the united states. I know this is a very busy time for him. I will tell you a little about myself first. i am a mother of one daughter who is in her second year of college. i have worked 2 full time jobs since 1998. in the year of 2000 i was advised that i have a rare eye diease and have been declare legally blind but that has not stopped me from working 2 jobs. the story he told about the people and there sturggles touched me and it has inspired me to not only encourage my daughter to continue school, but it has inspired me to finish my colleg education, because there are program that can assist me in getting my college degree. i felt like president obama was a father talking to his billion of children telling them to stay in school and to do their best alway. i loved it when he said that everyone has a talent and is good in something. i deeply thank him and i will seek trying to attend school in january. i have read and heard the commits that several people has spoken about and the one that strike me the most was mr. learry stating that president obama lied about his child hood. he needs to deal whith the issues that he has and leave other people past alone. i hate to think that this country is so petty that a year or two made a driffent when his father left. it does not make a different wherhter the motther left or the father left. i do not think it matter whether he went to a private school or not he worked hard and did as he should. i think he had to work harder than anyone else in that private school just because he was there and because he is an african american. all in all i felt that it was a grat speak and i pray in january he does another to keep the childrn an myself motivated and this was aobut our childen and not about politics. i add i pray for him daily

Posted by: ann17 | September 9, 2009 12:35 AM | Report abuse

Soo many people migrate to America because of how United and education oriented America is,but i find it very sad and disturbing that Americans themselves either have no value for or does not respect education and unity.
How can anyone have a problem with the president of the United States encouraging kids to stay in school and study hard to achieve thier dreams.Is it a coincedence that people come to America to get degrees but America lacks behind the other rich nations interms of advancement and inventions?-i will leave the Glenn Becks and the Shaun Hannity followers to answer this question. I am a foriegner studying here and have read comments from different site that makes me sick to my stomach as to how illitrate and brain empty most Americans are. Freedom of speech is good,but you need to make sure you know what you are talking about and its impact on other people around you.just like one of my teachers in grade school said there are those that speaks from thier stomach and those that speak from thier brain. Most Americans for that matter speaks from thier stomach without given thier speeech a chance to be processed in thier brain to filter out the nonsense.
Obama will be glorified after he leaves office and most of the sensible things he says now will be remembered afterwards.He might be black but his gift and common sense is undeniable.

Posted by: azigiza | September 9, 2009 1:11 AM | Report abuse

@ Aaron Mcd

As a former AP/Honors student, I am fully aware that there are some students that love to keep their nose to the grindstone. However, on the flip side, as a former teenager, even my classmates who classes also had 2-3 college classes Senior year, did not have problems with finding anything that would break up the monotony of 'school.'

That said, it is apparent that sitting out an hour today did not make you worse for wear. For all of the AP classes (Pre-calc is normally 8th grade, not 10th.....Gov't 12th grade) instead of studying and preparing for tests quizzes and getting a jump on the paper that is are on the computer, "goofing off posting on this board.'

Methinks that if you are really, really a teenager, you really needed to pay attention to what President Obama had to say. Regardless of whether you are a teen or an adult, your priorities are not in order!

Posted by: 4taz | September 9, 2009 2:17 AM | Report abuse

I objected to Obama's benediction at the end...the "God Bless Amercica." I thought public schools were strict about the no religious expression by government workers (aka teachers.) A short prayer expressed by a POTUS is inappropriate in the public school when it is directed at the students. What were the muslim children to do? Assume success in school requires one to believe in God instead of Allah?

Posted by: EdwardMyers | September 9, 2009 7:23 AM | Report abuse

Our students in California community did not get the speech due to technical difficulties. I am a conservative and I teach my children to respect the position of the President. Despite my own political views of this administration I chose not to keep my children from hearing his speech. OUr school districts in L A Unified had the option for parents to op out their children from listening to the speech (a speech that did not get to the students at my children's schools).
I remember in 1991 when Bush gave a speech to the children there was a Congressional Hearing due to his speech. The same people who constantly cry foul are the one's who want it different for them. The rules so not apply for some extreme Liberals.
We can have different political views but at the end of the day, aren't we all still Americans. I urge parents to keep their politics from their children, why have polarization in the classrooms. Are schools are teaching children to dislike according to political views. Check out your children's text books, my children's are full of Labor Union rhetoric. My husband belongs to a Union (because he has to for his job) I don't believe young impressionable minds need it crammed down their throats (it is in my son's history and Language lesson texts).
Again, it is up to us as parents to instill values in our children and have conversations with them pertaining to what they are taught in school.
My son came home from school yesterday and said his teacher was very upset they did not get to hear the speech and she expressed your own political views to the children. She has several pictures of Obama in her classroom. I have no problem with one photo of a president, because of the position. However, 5 or 6 is overkill and is a nonverbal expression of her political alignments.

Posted by: marksx4 | September 9, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Would everyone who is touting us to respect the president be so respectful if Bush43 was speaking to the school children???

BTW->the problem was with the dept of ed lesson plans for k-6 not the president's speach.

I do hope the president fails at implementing all his policies. He campaigned on exactly what he is trying to enact. I did not like it during the campaign and like it even less now. I want the US to be successful, but not this administrations agenda. Kinda like the I support the troops but not the mission rhetoric we were all inundated with for the last 6+ years.

Posted by: cadlecreek1 | September 9, 2009 3:05 PM | Report abuse

@ 4taz

1) Your right, it didn't. We actually only missed 15 minutes due to a conflict in our schedule. It's just like Jay said a "generic speech, but still great speech" that honestly wasn't necessary.
2) Oh, maybe it's a regional thing. Government for HoCo is in 10th grade so we don't take HSA's in 11th & 12th grade. And PreCalc in 8th?? The highest you can go here is Geometry (which is what i did) then Algebra 2, than PreCalc, but then again, must be another regional thing.
3) Methinks your an adult (which I'm just assuming), so I'm sorry if I participate in "adult" activities, like posting on a news site, but I like it, so you can just deal with it.
4) Methinks you have no business telling me how I should live my life. I post three times and you think you can tell me I have a lack of time management? *rolls eyes*
5) I'm 15 dude, and although it's kinda funny that you STILL insist that I'im adult, it's kinda dumb...So that's the end of my rant. Bye y'all

Posted by: AaronMcDuffie | September 9, 2009 4:01 PM | Report abuse

I've seen several posts in various places that attempt to draw a parallel between the opposition to Obama's speech, and criticism of a speech given by Pres. G. H. W. Bush back in 1991 (I think it was). Please note one gigantic differnece between these situations: the criticism of Bush41's speech was criticism of the actual text and content of a speech that had been delivered. The opposition to Obama was based on speculations about the content of a speech that he had not yet delivered. One case represents political dispute and argumentation; the other represents paranoia and fear.

Posted by: ScienceTim | September 9, 2009 4:53 PM | Report abuse

To dcteach2, thanks so much for that story from inside the classroom. You added much to this lively exchange.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | September 9, 2009 5:30 PM | Report abuse

I am not an American so I probably should not comment about this. Americans wonder why they are not as admired in the rest of the world as they use to be, they should take a look at the image the Republicans present of Americans to the rest of the World.They make all Americans look stupid. I wish that my own country had a leader that would take the time to speak to our young people and inspire them to stay in School and be the best they can be, how lucky American Children are to have such an inspirational Leader. By putting the President down, Republicans are teaching their children to disrespect the Leader of the Free World, how sad. No wonder so many adults can't control their children when they are the one who teach their children to disrespect authority.

Posted by: leaand2 | September 9, 2009 7:03 PM | Report abuse

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