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.

About Joanne


  1. Now that the speech is out there, I can honestly say I don’t care. No hidden messages about serving the president, no exhortations to support his policies, just work hard and make the most of your opportunities.

    Most of the worry that I saw surrounded either the fact the speech had yet to be released or the pitiful accompanying materials first put out by the administration.

  2. Did you expect that there would be anything controversial in it, especially seeing the bruhaha that ensued upon the media getting hold of it? I didn’t. (I still wonder if this were the first draft or a “Plan B” type thing.) However, I’m still against it. He could give his usual flowery, “inspirational” speech full of “Look…here’s the deal” and “Let me be clear” (even though his speeches are rarely clear). That would be fine. But to give lesson plans and have students writing reports on how they can “help” Barack Obama is a bit of overkill.

    I homeschool. We will most certainly watch the speech on C-span, or we’ll just read it on the web. No big deal. We’ll point out the good things about the speech as well as any not-so-good things and the role of an ELECTED government in our lives. We might also get into a discussion about America owing trillions of dollars to countries such as China (even though we’ve already covered that).

    Is keeping PS kids out of school overkill? Yeah…probably. But so is the speech, the lesson plans, the reports, etc.

  3. Thank you Joanne for your clear and honest evaluation of the speech.

  4. I think it is very likely that the speech was changed, as suggested above. However, the real problem has always been the suggested activities; even after the “what can you do to help the President” phrase was removed, the focus of the activities is STILL on Obama and not on kids’ own academic endeavors. That, combined with everything Obama has done from his campaign onward, smells like personality cult.

  5. Robert Wright says:


    Thanks for that info.

  6. “I wonder what the critics will find to justify their fears”.
    In answer to your question, Joanne, I think momof4 pretty well sums it up. They will find a way to view everything he does or says in the worst possible light. They will assign sinister motives to all his actions. Evidence will have nothing to do with it. They just hate the man. Sad.


  7. Tim-10-ber says:

    I wish he would do the speech at night so pRents and their kids
    could watch it and discuss it together. Sorry the government minions er teachers need no more control over the kids and definitely NO more separation from parents. We won’t watch it but my kids escaped the government schools. Thank goodness!

  8. The notion that the administration created a “plan B” speech as soon as they realized their nefarious plans had been discovered just doesn’t hold water. Many people–including Joanne–predicted what he would say. (Thanks, by the way, for an excellent post, Joanne. No surprises there. Obama has been very consistent in his message about hard work and personal responsibility.

    According to poll after poll, Americans think teaching personal responsibility and hard work are among schools’ most important goals. On this point, the president has always been solidly in the mainstream.

  9. This is a speech worthy of dropping instruction time to listen to? And have lessons on? There is nothing new to this that children haven’t heard before. Those that are already seeking an education know this. Those that don’t care will not go “gee, wow! President Obama said I should get an education. I better start doing my homework.”

  10. Richard is correct. That haters will still hate, the stupid will not understand, and the delusional will see what is not there.

  11. Lopez Lady says:

    Mike: “That haters will still hate, the stupid will not understand, and the delusional will see what is not there.”

    But enough about you, Mike. 🙂

  12. Richard said..

    “They will find a way to view everything he does or says in the worst possible light. They will assign sinister motives to all his actions. Evidence will have nothing to do with it. They just hate the man. Sad.”

    I’m a conservative. Obama is being treated just as Bush was treated. What goes around comes around. Karma, baby. I’m not saying it’s right, but some engaged in this type of irrational behavior with Bush. How can they now be shocked, shocked I tell you, that their opponents co-op their tactics?

  13. Oh, and by the way, yes, Clinton was treated badly. And so was Reagan. You know, Reagan, that stupid actor who so badly wanted to start WWIII with the “Evil Empire”?

    Shockingly enough, politics is a tough business. Participants should wear a cup.

  14. John Adams had some pretty nasty things to say about Thomas Jefferson at one point. Aaron Burr SHOT and KILLED Alexander Hamilton.

  15. I’m conservative, but I do have to say that the comparison of leftwingnuttery and the current brand of rightwingnuttery overlooks something fairly significant: the left went wacko over a WAR where people DIED while the right is going crazy over the president telling kids to work hard in school. I didn’t agree with what the leftwing bushitler types had to say, but at least they were going bonkers over some really big issues. The right seems to be willing to descend into complete insanity over the president wiping his nose on his sleeve instead of using a tissue. I’m thinking I may have to go into the closet as a conservative if my side keeps this up.

  16. greeneyeshade says:

    Rebeccat, reverse the politics and you’re pretty close to the way I felt for eight ever-lovin’ blue-eyed years.

  17. Robert Wright says:

    rebeccat, nicely put.

  18. “No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.” Ah, now I know what Lawrence’s problem was, he was in Arabia 🙂 Just curious, will this statement make it easier or harder to teach all those Greek Tragedies 🙂 As many have said this speech seems to aim at basic American values, in other words nothing new. Using the bully pulpit for encouragement is OK with me. But using words like “destiny” seems to be geared more towards establishing a fixed mindset than a growth mindset. I don’t think that was what was intended. Opinions?

  19. I wonder, is this speech actually going to HELP? Is there going to be a kid out there going, “I hate school…but maybe I should work harder because of what the president said?” or “I was gonna drop out but now I’ll give it another chance?”

    I think the problem is that what Obama is saying here, many families already have internalized – and their kids will be successful – but there are also an awful lot of families/kids who will be completely unmoved by it.

    I mean, hasn’t Bill Cosby been preaching essentially this message for years?

  20. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Please don’t tell me how I feel or who I hate. If I say that the assignment to write about what you can do for Obama creeped me out, that does not mean I hate Obama. I just saw in that, as I have in the faux presidential seal he tried and dropped during the campaign and in the on-going use of the Obama emblem rather than the presidential seal something that approaches the Cult of the Leader adulation I used to laugh at in dictatorial countries.

    If you wish to maintain civil discourse, please do not insult me. I expect respectful discourse in this forum.

  21. Homeschooling Granny, I reckon we’re on opposite sides of the political spectrum, and I found the original “lesson plan” questions inappropriate as well.

  22. rebeccat,

    The rightwing is going nuts over the incredible expansion of government under Obama during a time of extreme economic strain. Oh, according to the polls independents are going nuts as well. Some people think the irresponsible spending of our political overloards is pretty important, too.

  23. Richard Aubrey says:

    I question what in the speech was supposed to be addressed by the original lesson plan.
    What in the speech would be relevant to …write yourself a letter about how you would help the president.
    Seems as if this was, indeed, Plan B.
    Just what every school board, teacher, principal, and many parents say at about this time every year.
    I do see a report that a similar speech by Bush I was denounced by the NEA.
    I have said before, and I repeat, the idea that the pres comes into the classroom is creepy. He’s the president, originally a weak position, not your preachy uncle. There are intervening institutions which are closer and more closely attuned to you, the individual kid, than some guy on a screen, and which are, or should be, more important to the polity.
    It all depends, which isn’t new.

  24. Stacy, people weren’t showing up on TV crying because of their grave concern over the deficit; they were crying over the prospect of Obama talking to their kids. (Besides which the supposed expansion of government largely hasn’t happened yet and much of the expansion of the deficit is the result of actually accounting for the cost of Iraq and Afghanistan properly instead of running it off books like Bush. Add in TARP which was also Bush and you have the better part of our deficit.) Bringing up the supposed expansion of government now is at best a diversionary tactic and a desperate attempt to find cover for those who lost their freaking minds over the idea of the duly elected president of our very own country telling their kids to work hard.

    And really, aside from all of that, how can you expect people to take our criticisms of the Obama agenda seriously when we have people screaming “keep the government’s hands off my medicare” and crying over the president telling school kids to work hard? When conservatives go so far above and beyond the call of duty to appear to be insane, delusional wackjobs, it’s not all that credible to claim that, really, we’re just worried about sound fiscal policy.

  25. rebeccat –

    There have been people on the right/libertarian wings of the polity making reasoned points and protests about the expansion of government since Bush started with all this TARP nonsense. The problem is, it doesn’t fit the narrative of the MSM. Wackos talking about keeping the goverment’s hands off one’s medicare and crowing ceaselessly over Obama’s speech do.

    As has been demonstrated repeatedly by the internet, TV news is anything but reality TV.

  26. Richard Aubrey says:

    One congresscritter did admit that Medicare was going to take some hits. That will cost the older folks. So, for whoever is on Medicare, they are right to be concerned that the government may take away some of their benefits.

  27. Deirdre Mundy says:

    Hmm… I DON’T think it’s that great a speech. It’s long and pretty dull and mostly boilerplate. As a kid I would have been happy to have the time with the lights out to take a nap, but inspiring? More like another lecture from another adult.

    (note: In elementary school, we did have a speaker in who gave essentially the same speech as Obama’s. And we listened. Because while he talked he was juggling, yo-yoing twenty yo-yos at a time, and hula hooping……. But a guy in a suit who’s on the news every night nagging you to work hard and pay attention? blah. The VICE PRINCIPAL does that, not the president of the US…….. )

  28. I don’t have a problem with this speech or the idea of the president speaking to school children. The original lesson plans don’t seem to have been well thought out, but even that was pretty benign. I’m pretty libertarian, but I just don’t see any excitement to this. I’ll save my opprobrium for when it’s needed.

    What I don’t get is why President Obama wants to do it. It serves no pedagogical purpose and I can’t see it serving any political purpose. As someone else pointed out, Bill Cosby has been serving up this message for years; as have all good teachers and parents. One speech is obviously not going to have a lasting effect on the kids. Is this to become a regular thing?

    Mostly, I’m just imagining the howls of indignation we would have heard if President Bush had tried a thing like this!

  29. Cardinal Fang says:

    At the time of his election, and even now, Obama was and is phenomenally popular with just the young people we’d like to reach with the message of working hard and staying in school, a message he has been consistently delivering since he came into national prominence. Both he and Michelle came from modest backgrounds and succeeded by working hard in school. Maybe some other kids from working class backgrounds or single-parent families, maybe other black kids, will see him talking about education and think, if it worked for him it’ll work for me.

  30. Oh, and then there is this:

    When George HW Bush gave a similar speech in 1991, Democrats not only complained, they held hearings and opened a congressional investigation.

  31. I have stayed away from this conversation in all its many iterations because it has seemed to be such a tempest in a teapot. Even the curriculum guide (and does anyone actually read those things, anyway), while perhaps lame, merely repeated what was handed out when George H. W. Bush had offered. I am saddened that in this country we have taken to government bashing to the extent that a vocal segment finds exposure to the duly elected president to be cause for alarm.

    But, as I scanned down through the reactions here today, and the suggestion that the message is not new (which it is not), and the whole thing likely to be just boring, I recall my son’s interest in watching the news on election night. This kid, long written off by his schools as interested in nothing that they had to offer, couldn’t wait for the polls to close so that the local coverage of the election. And then to wait for the polls to close on the west coast so that the stations could call the election in favor of now president Obama. He stayed up with the TV on all the way through the acceptance speech. It was such an intensely exciting moment. I don’t think we fully anticipated the magnitude of that moment until seeing that crowd in Grant Park awaiting the newly elected president.

    I allowed him to go to school late (something I only do for doctors appointments) on the day of the inauguration. I know he watched because he called me at work to make sure he had the right channel on.

    To turn this 15 minute address to school children into something nefarious and foul not only bespeaks profound and irrational feelings toward the man in the White House, it also shows a want of respect for the highest office in our land.

  32. CharterMom says:

    I don’t have an issue with Obama talking to school children and it does appear that the speech will be fairly innocuous. And while I think it would have been fairly innocuous in original form, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was edited after the uproar. I did have some concerns about the associated teaching materials which were edited.

    The thing I am finding most amusing/disconcerting about this entire episode is that there are a number of school systems that are not yet back in school today — including large ones like NYC, Los Angeles and Boston. And other systems (including Chicago and Detroit) where it is the first day of school with all the accompanying chaos. While I won’t blame that scheduling snafu on Obama as such items are handled by staff, I do wonder about what it says about the competency of his staff. Having worked on planning events for both business and community activities, I know that checking calendars is a basic part of planning! I also find it interesting that despite the fact that NYC and LA are major media centers, that particular issue doesn’t seem to be mentioned even in passing in media reports. I’m sure if the Bush White House had made such a mistake it would have been featured in every story with wisecracks galore from comedians.

    I also wonder what subliminal message it sends to those students — are they not important? What value does attention to detail have?

  33. rebeccat: The strong reaction to Obamas speech is just a reaction to the perception of his large government overreach. Saying that it’s diversionary is crazy talk. the right and independents have been attending Tea parties and protesting against government spending and overreach since the stimulus bill was signed. Just because some use less than rational language to communicate their feelings doesn’t delegitimize the overall concern with a growing, smothering administration. You keep pointing out the unhinged aspect of the protests against his school speach but don’t address that the majority of Americans seem to have significant problems with Obamas agenda (see his recent poll numbers). Your initial post was an apology for the crazies in the anti-war movement during the Bush years. You said at least they have a serious issue to protest, but then you refuse to acknowlege the more serious concerns individuals have about Obama’s overreach. How can we take those on the left seriously when they refuse to admit that the right and independents have legitimate concerns regarding a government that signed a pork barrel stimulus bill, wants a Cap and Trade bill that endangers small business, a healthcare bill that is largely incoherant and aids in creating a 2 tillion dollar deficit?

  34. Richard Aubrey says:

    Was that a rhetorical question?
    Left folks know what the rest of us see as problems. Thing is, for them, what we see as bugs they see as features.
    How do you sell that? You don’t. But you can pretend it’s all nonsensical partisanship or racism and hope enough people will be intimidated to shut up.

  35. David Jones says:

    Make a high school diploma required to receive any government benefit (eg. job training, health care, food stamps….) Problem solved.

  36. rebeccacat-

    You wrote that the left was going wacko over a war where people were dying. True enough. The problem is that we are still in the same wars- in fact, Afghanistan has expanded- and the left is now silent.

  37. Richard Aubrey says:

    Not for long. The left supported the Afghanistan war as an example of Bush taking his eye off the ball and getting involved in another Viet Nam et tedious cetera.
    Now that Iraq seems to have settled down, and Bush is gone there is no more need to pretend any support for the effort in Afghanistan.

  38. Don Bemont says:

    I heard the speech, and I’m telling you that anyone who walked away with a socialist or big government message arrived with a chip on their shoulder.

    Don’t let yourself, your family, or your country down. You need and education to succeed, and that takes hard work and perseverance. He and many other named people worked through their setbacks, and so can you. You will never know what you could have offered the world, if you do not try.

    This was outstanding advice that I hope my students follow, and I would welcome these words from Obama, Bush, Clinton, or anyone else.

    I’ll tell you what I think: I think anyone who heard that speech and went away complaining arrived predisposed to find fault, and that their opposition to the President goes far beyond whether he is right or wrong on any particular matter.

  39. I agree, excellent speech, and it is finally nice to hear some well respected people on the right come out with respectful remarks towards the president’s speech (some could even pass for supportive)…..

  40. Don –

    Like I said earlier, the speech itself was innocuous, and I’ve not heard anyone who’s read or seen it say it was anything otherwise. The fear was in the time period between the initial announcement (accompanied by materials that were creepily subservient) and the release of the transcript. That was a period of over a week where no one had any firm idea as to what Obama was going to say.

    For those who think Obama is damaging the country by putting forth proposals that are designed to tighten the grip of the government on its citizen, that situation is worrisome. Moreover, it’s not the same as reading something into the speech that wasn’t there.

  41. “We need every 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.”

    In other words, your life doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to the state. Maybe you don’t see a problem with that, Don, but I (and I suspect many others here) do.

  42. Oh, Steven, you make me feel so old. Think back to John Kennedy, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” In the pre-Vietnam (Cold War) era, that stuff used to be called patriotism.

  43. Margo/Mom, we’re not getting older, we’re getting better (yea, right). I was thinking of that Kennedy line when I wrote that comment. It was a bad idea then, and it’s a bad idea now.

  44. Margo/mom is correct. It is patriotism. If Obama doesn’t say patriotic things, then the right says he is unpatriotic. If he does say patriotic things, then the right says he is nationalistic. The President can not win with the current right.

  45. I have no doubt that you are correct regarding Obama and the right, Swede. But I could care less what the right says about Obama, or what the left says about Bush or Reagan. The right and the left are equally pathetic. Neither supports liberty. Both support statism. Only the fringe supports liberty anymore. You can call what Obama or Kennedy said patriotism if you want. But I call it state propaganda. And it wouldn’t matter to me whether it came from Obama or Bush or Reagan or Clinton or Washington or Jefferson or any other president. I would still call it state propaganda.

  46. steven –

    I’m about as hardcore libertarian as they come, but even I have to admit there’s a certain level of serve your country rhetoric that’s a trapping of the modern presidency. I might not like it, but it’s not worth getting ginned up over.

    Besides, Obama’s done things that are way more offensive than this speech. The abuse of the Honduran people to prop up a would-be dictator tops my list.

  47. So, a person tries to ASK the people of Honduras if maybe they should think about possibly changing their constitution. The army and the notoriously corrupt Supreme Court of Honduras decide, quite illegally under their own constitution, to throw him out of office by way of a military coup. And you think that the people of Honduras were abused by OBAMA???

  48. Richard Aubrey says:

    According to the constitution, promoting the referendum while president–so as to become like Chavez–is illegal.
    You’ll note that, failing to get the ballots printed in Honduras, it being illegal, Zelaya had them printed in Venezuela. Should tell you something.
    Of course, there is the difference between us as to features and bugs.
    A political movement to change the constitution on this matter is legal if the president isn’t doing it.
    It’s as if you think nobody else has been following this.

  49. Quincy, I wouldn’t say that I’m getting ginned up over what Obama said. I’m just stating my opinion, with which others are free to disagree. Obama’s speech is just one example in a long line of attempts by the state to indoctrinate children via the public schools. Unfortunately, in today’s society there’s nothing earth shattering about that. But, if you are a hardcore libertarian, you must realize that these little things all add up over time. They all work to undermine liberty. And I feel that it’s important to point this out.

  50. Richard Aubrey says:

    The cumulative effect of the cumulative effect has two properties.
    One is that it’s almost impossible to not be influenced.
    The other is that it’s frequently imperceptible so you don’t even know you need to resist.
    I ran into a US woman in El Salvador in 1987 who supported the FMLN. She was arrested shortly thereafter on account of having nearly a ton of Warsaw Pact weaponry in her backyard. So she was pretty much on the other side. But she commented, about the government-run press that even she, without freer information, started to believe it. Not necessarily all the facts, but the worldview and the assumptions and so forth. If it can get to her, it can get to a sixth-grader.

  51. Donalbain –

    Wrong on all counts.

    First, subjecting the people of a country to economic sanctions because of the actions of their government is *always* abuse. It is with Cuba, it was with Iraq, and it is with Honduras.

    Second, someone may ask about extending the President’s term under the Honduran Constitution. The President *may not*.

    Third, the Supreme Court and the Congress both acted within their Constitutional powers to remove Zelaya from office. Only the military’s action in forcing him out of the country was out of line. Of course, with regards to the legitimacy of the Honduran government, Zelaya’s whereabouts are immaterial.

  52. Of course, you will now state the part of the Honduras constitution that allows the Supreme Court to order a military coup.


  1. […] the text yesterday, Joanne Jacobs called it an excellent speech; and she addressed the concerns I noted […]