Message for students, not pundits

Facing criticism for his back-to-school Web address, Obama still reaches his intended audience.

Partisan propaganda? Not even. Socialist solicitation? Hardly.

President Barack Obama’s speech to school-aged children across the U.S. Tuesday, Sept. 8, seemed to disappoint even the rowdiest of rabble-rousers from the right.Picture 4

In fact, the speech carried a somber message – perhaps even a beacon – to the disenfranchised students across America who are in danger of being absorbed by the darkness of unfavorable circumstances.

Marybeth Schwartz, a teacher at Woodfern Elementary in Hillsborough, N.J., echoed this sentiment, describing to me her reaction to the address, one unseen since President George H.W. Bush’s speech to school children in 1991.

Raised a conservative Republican, Schwartz is a recently converted Democrat and said she felt the president offered “the most genuine and inspiring words spoken to the youth of America in a very long time.”

“This was a man who wrote especially for them,” she said, “on their level, drawing from his real experiences.”

Protesters in Oklahoma City went as far as calling the student address Hitler-esque, quoting the demagogic dictator on their petition signs. But in reality, the address had about as much socialist agenda hidden in it as George W. Bush’s diary.

The speech was completely devoid of propaganda. And even the “what can you do for your country?” rhetoric was far more reminiscent of President John F. Kennedy’s famous inaugural speech than that of any token totalitarian dictator cited by conservatives.

“It seems to me that these dissenters are trying to make political capital out of non-political issues,” said Dr. Robert L. Brown, a political science professor at Temple. “What’s the harm in saying, ‘Education is important, study hard’?”

Indeed, those words were clearly conveyed last week with the backdrop behind President Obama reading: “My education, my future.”

Yet, exactly how effective was the live, presidential webcast?

“Do I think it will change the country? No,” Brown said.

Student reception, however, was characterized by a distinctively positive lean. No matter a student’s political persuasion, one has to admire the president’s initiative in his establishing the first direct student-president discourse in 18 years. Though he sounded slightly pedantic and fatherly, the personal elements infused in his address gave his words substance, helping him earn more trust from students.

I must admit, though, I really came to enjoy his frank, paternal tone as he looked solemnly around at the youth gathered in Wakefield High School’s gym and delivered lines of positive reinforcement.

“Even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged and you feel like other people have given up on you,” the president said, “don’t ever give up on yourself.”

So, though this student address might not have been among the most monumental, defining moments of Obama’s presidency, it undoubtedly motivated some students somewhere. And even if his words convinced merely one student not to drop out of school, the president could tack it all up as a success.

Indeed, much of what President Obama said has been regurgitated again and again by fathers and mothers for decades, yet not all children have the luxury of a positive adult role model in their lives.

Why not, then, hear it from America’s favorite log cabin to White House success story?

Chase Miller can be reached at chase.miller@temple.edu.

1 Comment

  1. And the foolish cries driven by the fringe right wing “idiotology” are still ringing in everyone’s ears. What is wrong with such a large minority of Americans that they resort to hateful, lying ways? American’s need to shape up their moral principles, or perhaps worse yet, first climb out of the Rabbit Hole so many have dug for themselves.

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