I’ve never received a hateful comment on my blog, but I realize I am opening the doors WIDE OPEN today.
As a teacher, I find it impossible to stay silent today, on the day of Obama’s speech about education. I try and keep things light around here, but today? Today, I need to speak my mind.
Today, President Obama will go before the nation’s children to deliver a message about staying in school and working hard. That’s it. I’ve read the speech in it’s entirety and there’s no mention of universal health care, or socialism, or becoming a Democrat. There is no indoctrination of our students into any sort of political party. George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan delivered speeches similar to this one—this is not “new” or dreamed up by Obama, or anything that he’s developed in order to serve a personal political agenda.
The speech is powerful, well-written and inspiring to me as an educator. It encourages personal responsibility and hard work, which are cornerstones of successful people, not a political agenda. Obama cites examples of people who have overcome tremendous odds to be successful. He puts the onus of success not on parents or teachers, but where it squarely belongs on the student. He reminds our students of the most powerful thing they can hear: that THEY have something to offer. That THEY have a gift to give the world, and a talent, all things that may go unrecognized until they write a paper, perform an experiment or get involved in debate or student government. Obama addresses the idea that while there is evidence to the contrary, one cannot simply bypass hard work and find success in sports or celebrity, and reminds students that no matter what career they choose, an education is necessary for it. He reaches out to a generation of kids who face struggles of single parents, of financial woes and other troubles and relates to them with his own story. His speech includes this powerful excerpt:
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.
Is there any better message for kids to hear? That they are in charge of themselves, that no matter where they came from, they can make their own life? That circumstances are no reason for giving up hope and not trying? Isn’t personal responsibility and empowerment what we WANT kids to have today, regardless of their background?
It breaks my heart as an educator to see the seething anger that some people have towards this speech. While I would understand it if there was a political agenda in it, or if remarks were not released prior to the President speaking, the fact is that the speech is available for review. Blind hatred for one person, group or thought process serves no purpose in life. Not one. There’s no reason to openly hate this speech simply because it will be delivered by a leader you may not like. The fact is that, like it or not, Obama is the leader of our country. He is the President. And as President, he is calling our students to a higher level of education. That’s it. He is NOT pushing anything other than responsibility and effort in school. There is nothing about health care, gay rights, abortion, family values, health care, the economy or any other divisive issues. When taken at face value, the speech is something that all children (and many adults) should hear. If you have an issue with Obama’s politics or person, you’re within your rights, but for today? Can we take it at face value? If you have an issue with the speech, please, I beg you: tell me what the problem is. After combing through it, trying to understand the concerns behind it, I’ve come up with none as it relates to the speech.
It’s part of life that kids will sometimes come across things that may not exactly jive with their family’s personal preferences. That’s why it’s imperative that parents do their job: PARENT. Discuss, share your family value and ideas, while letting your kids explore. By parenting actively and being involved in your student’s life, you can pass on your own family values and ideals while exposing them to new things that may help, encourage and inspire them. If your family dislikes Obama, you are well within your rights, but take a step back and read the message that you’re forbidding your children from hearing. Is it really that inflammatory? Is it worth excusing them from class for? Can’t you take a message for what it’s worth: an inspirational message about doing your best, instead of turning it into a political firestorm? I see this message as an opportunity for healing and unity, not for yet more divisiveness.
And as for my role, the choice has now been laid on me, as an educator. Do I show the speech, something I believe in and think is valuable, and risk a negative reaction from families? Do I go against what I think is right and not show it, and play it safe? I am not going to lie: I hate walking the line. I hate being afraid to teach, of worrying about every little word I say because I teach in an age of lawsuits and standards and fear. I think of the adults that poured into me as a child, and I realize that what was powerful was that they let me know them. I remember being young and learning things and knowing I could come home and discuss them with my parents–and knew that they would share with me what they believed was right and true for our family. I don’t wish to indoctrinate students with my beliefs; however, I hate that if I show a speech I believe to be powerful, I could be questioned. People wonder why teachers have changed, why it seems our educational system is in such a bad place, and I will tell you, as someone on the front lines: we are fearful. When we teach in an age where a simple speech, delivered by the leader of the nation, is considered a “concern” and evokes such negative feelings, please tell me how I’m supposed to teach about anything else that might express an opinion. If I read The Outsiders with my students and they develop sympathy for Pony Boy, have I indoctrinated them into a gang? If we read the brilliant words of Maya Angelou, who discusses her womanhood and ardent sexuality, have I encouraged them to speak the same way? Where is the line? How do I give them gifts of knowledge about the world if I worry it may clash with personal beliefs? The fact is that there are questionable things in every good story, in the words of every good author, and every history book tells the story of people who were considered revolutionary and controversial. Our country was built by people who were not afraid to take risks.
I fear for our country. Not because of who is or is not at the helm, but because of where we the people are steering us. If this speech garners national attention, and districts, administrators and teachers are fearful to broadcast it due to a firestorm of anger, what does this show about us as a people? Have we really not come far enough to be able to listen to a message that is POSITIVE, regardless of who it comes from?
All I know as that today, at 10 AM, I will be broadcasting the speech, live in my classroom. I hope that it falls on the ears of my students in a way that is positive and powerful.