The White House Monday released the advance text of the speech President Obama will deliver to students tomorrow "about the importance of working hard, staying in school and taking responsibility for their learning."
Despite the controversy the speech ignited, the remarks indicate that the President's talk is benign. He will talk about his own education and his single mother's determined efforts to make sure he did his homework. Mostly, it's a speech about personal responsibility in which he will say "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."
Though President George H. W. Bush addressed students in a nationally televised address in 1991 and President Ronald Reagan even talked politics with students in 1988, Republican officials last week suggested that the President was going to use the opportunity to promote a liberal political agenda.
The chairman of the Florida Republican Party, Jim Greer, said that students "will be forced to watch the president justify his plans for government-run health care, banks, and automobile companies, increasing taxes on those who create jobs, and racking up more debt than any other president," a charge that Politifact labeled a "Pants on Fire" untruth.
Much of the controversy stemmed from one of the optional preparatory materials for teachers provided by the Department of Education, in which students had been asked to, "Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president." The White House and the Department of Education changed the section to now read, "Write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short‐term and long‐term education goals.”
“We changed it to clarify the language so the intent is clear,” said White House Spokesman Tommy Vietor.
"It's a sad state of affairs that many in this country politically would rather start an "Animal House" food fight rather than inspire kids to stay in school, to work hard, to engage parents to stay involved, and to ensure that the millions of teachers that are making great sacrifices continue to be the best in the world," White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters today.
He continued, "If one kid in one school hears one message and goes from being a D student to a C student, then the speech is worth it. If one kid decides not to drop out of school, then the speech is worth it. Right now nearly three in 10 kids in school will not walk across a stage and get a high school diploma. If anybody thinks that's the recipe for long-term economic growth, I've got news for them."
Regardless, some school districts across the country announced last week they were not showing the president's speech or showing it only to students who request to see it.
President Obama will tell the students that "being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try. That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures."