2009-09-10 / This Week's Attitude

This Week's Attitude

Encouraging Back-To-School Speech Deserves Cheers Not Jeers
By Neil S. Friedman

After all was said and done, the nation's school children didn't riot or go home whimpering about President Barack Obama's speech to them on Tuesday. There wasn't one trace of politics in the allegedly controversial remarks, just some serious talk about the importance of an education and a friendly welcome back for a new school year from the nation's leader.

So what was all the fuss about?

After days of cranky complaining about how the back-to-school address bordered on political indoctrination and was using children as "Political Guinea Pigs for Change," with some critics even making creepy comparisons of Obama's objective to Chinese Communist Mao Tse-Tung or North Korean dictator Kim Jung Il (yes, really!), I've got some advice for those right wing nuts — SHUT THE #@%^ UP!

I don't think this president has had a single day of his seventh-month tenure during which Republicans and crabby conservatives have not griped about one thing or another. But this time they went utterly batty.

Sure, they're entitled to their opinions, but to imply the president merely wanted to use students as junior lobbyists for his political agenda was as bizarre as it was asinine.

When I first heard the clamor about the president's back-to-school speech to kids from kindergarten through high school, I thought it was a joke. Did anyone really believe Obama was going to attempt to sway children about health care reform — which most adults don't even understand — the trouble in the Middle East or induce them to persuade their parents to vote Democratic in this offyear election?

Opposition to the speech was particularly unjustified since no one had an opportunity to read the text until Monday when it was posted on the White House Web site. After I read it, I hoped the wackos would stifle themselves or, at least, calm down a bit.

But, nooooo, they just kept pouring on their irresponsible rage - making a judgment without even reading the speech! They figured if it was from Obama, it must be dreadful.

On CNN I was startled to see one mother from Georgia in tears, wailing that she did not want her daughter to have to listen to the president on the first day of school. Some parents nationwide vehemently objected to the idea of the speech and vowed to keep them home from school. Why, so they could surf the Internet, play violent video games or text their friends? Yeah, that's so much more educational than a brief lesson from the president.

Congress did not mandate listening to the speech nor was anyone threatened with repercussions if they opted out. Any school or school district had the choice to pursue other matters. Most, it was reported, decided to let students listen.

And what did our nation's youth hear from President Obama?

Right off Obama tried to connect with the kids, explaining how he understood how they might feel nervous adjusting to the first day in a new school. He then described similar feelings from his childhood. That's the kind of anxiety every one of us can relate to.

He then talked about fulfilling their responsibility to themselves, paying attention and putting in hard work for their own education, beyond the support they receive from dedicated teachers, principals, caring adults and parents. With that incentive, he told them, an education would help them discover what they're capable of offering to society.

"No matter what you want to do with your life - I guarantee you'll need an education to do it."

Late in the speech he advised them against pursuing accomplishment through the slim chance of becoming an entertainment or sports star, stressing that "being successful is hard," while reminding them that they won't necessarily succeed at everything they try for the first time.

One key element of his talk hit home when he said, "You won't love every subject you study, you won't click with every teacher; not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant…"

Reflecting on my life, I wish I someone tendered those notions to me when I suffered through classes in high school and college that I loathed because I either lacked interest or just didn't grasp the subject. Yet, by paying attention, a few subjects I reviled during those periods subsequently sparked an interest.

In closing he said, "…I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do."

I wish someone had given me such wise words of encouragement when I was struggling through school, uncertain about my goals.

After the constant lies and deceit concocted by Obama's relentless right-wing opposition on healthcare (like death panels) and his place of birth, they fabricated loony, premature arguments about how the president's underlying goal was to "indoctrinate" impressionable young children that weren't even remotely based on fact.

In spite of this, there wasn't a single controversial word or political posturing. All Obama did in this landmark teachable moment was to lay the groundwork for and encourage future generations to contemplate the importance of education to themselves and the nation's future.

Now that we've heard the wisdom of the president's lesson, perhaps the rampant political polarization and the gnawing aura of cynicism and confusion that led to a firestorm of hysteria and pre-emptive criticism will fade away as we separate the facts from the twisted fiction that has been cultivated by a collection of paranoid fanatics who merely seem frustrated since they were voted out of power ten months ago.

At the end of the school day it was inspirational to know that millions of America's children - with eyes glued to video screens - watching something intelligent and educational.

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