The speech

President Obama’s speech to students has been released. As I suspected, he will call  for students to work hard, learn from their failures and make no excuses.

. . .  at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities. Unless you show up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed.
He will tell kids they owe it to themselves to find out what they’re good at.
. . . You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it.
The country needs the knowledge, problem-solving skills, insight and ingenuity of a new generation to solve its challenges.
We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.

Obama will talk about growing up without a father and without much money.

Maybe you don’t have adults in your life who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.
But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.
Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.

He gives examples of young people who succeeded despite obstacles and urges students to set goals for themselves.

Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn.

Success comes hard, Obama says in the speech. You won’t do everything right the first time, but you can learn from your failures and try harder the next time.

You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions.”  Don’t give up on yourself.
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.
“Get serious” about your education, Obama concludes.
I think it’s an excellent speech. I wonder what the critics will find to justify their fears. He uses himself as a role model? Well, he says he made mistakes but got second chances that let him pursue his dreams. That doesn’t seem very “Dear Leaderish” to me. Should he tell students they have a duty to their country — not just to themselves — to become the problem solvers and innovators of the future? It’s not what I would call a radical idea. These are old-fashioned American values.
Update: Former First Lady Laura Bush, a former teacher and school librarian, told CNN, “There’s a place for the president of the United States to . . . encourage schoolchildren” to stay in school. She added that it’s “really important for everyone to respect the president of the United States” and said her husband believes President Obama is tackling a tough job and deserves “respect and no second-guessing” from a former president.  If ever there was a role model of grace and civility that nobody’s going to follow . . .
Mickey Kaus comes up with some gag-worthy phrases:

Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have the education you need to answer these questions. I’m working hard to fix up your classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn.

Kaus thinks Obama should concentrate on “two wars and a health-care bill” and leave refurbishing schools to people who aren’t president of the United States of America.

Is he Superman? Obama’s willingness to cut out all the other players does suggest an unnattractive solipsism and egotism at best and  … a troublesome cult-building instinct well, let’s just leave it at that.

In other words: Keep your day job, Mr. President.

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