'Pep Talk': Obama Tells Kids to Take Responsibility
Despite outcries from some critics, President Obama delivered a live address to school children Tuesday, telling them to work hard, stay in school and take responsibility for their education.
The president's speech, intended to be a sort of "pep talk" to kick off the new school year, was broadcast online through the White House's Web site and on C-SPAN. It aired at noon.
Critics had expressed concern that Obama would use the opportunity to indoctrinate students with his legislative agenda. Some parents threatened to pull their children out of school in protest. There was no indication of widespread absences in Moore County, according to school system spokesman Tim Lussier.
"None of us have gotten any indication that there is any absenteeism other than what is normal," Lussier said.
Obama didn't stray from his prepared remarks, which were released over the weekend in an effort to ease some of the fears about what he would say.
"You can't drop out of school and just drop into a good job," he said. "You've got to work for it and train for it and learn for it. And this isn't just important for your own life and your own future. What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country."
The Moore County school system was not exempt from the outcries against the speech.
Superintendent Susan Purser said last week that she and members of the Moore County Board of Education had received e-mails and phone calls from parents displeased with the speech and the suggested lesson plans distributed by the White House and U.S. Department of Education.
One of those parents was former school board member Jennifer Garner, who shared a copy of an e-mail she sent to the school system with The Pilot.
"My children will not be allowed to attend any such airing of a brainwashing 'change speech' similar to the Hitler days," she wrote, "and I need to know if alternative settings will be available or if I need to keep them at home on Tuesday."
The school system allowed individual schools and teachers to make "site-based decisions" about whether to let students watch the address.
Parents who felt uncomfortable about their child watching the speech were advised to send a note that excused them from participating and allowed them to be placed in an alternative setting. The school system has a policy that permits students to opt out of the curriculum. Lussier said the system had been in contact with parents and honored requests to excuse children from the speech.
Not all parents were against allowing their children to view the speech. Norma Stilwell, president of the Pinecrest PTSA, said her 15-year-old son was home sick Tuesday, but would not have kept him from hearing the president.
"We always encourage both of our sons -- ages 15 and 19 -- to keep an open and fair mind about everything that is going on around them, including listening to what our country's leaders have to say," " she said in an e-mail to The Pilot. "At that point, they can make their own decisions [about] how much credence they give to someone else.
"It is difficult for me to argue with anyone who encourages students to stay in school, if what was reported as the gist of his speech is correct."
Mary Lou Vecchione, who has an 11th-grader and a ninth-grader, watched the speech. She said students needed to hear what Obama had to say.
"We elected this president, and if he feels this message is important, our children should listen, come home and discuss with their parents and teachers, and do what we always do with our children -- share our point of view and use this as an opportunity to engage in discussion with our children," she wrote by e-mail. "As I sit here listening to the speech, I am hearing that Obama is reaching out to every student with a message, and that message will be different for every set of ears who here him speak."
Lussier said he, Purser, and other members of the school system's central administration watched the speech and were pleased with it, as it was consistent with the school system's ideals. Lussier did not know how many teachers allowed students to watch the address.
Jay St. John, headmaster at Episcopal Day School in Southern Pines, said some of his students watched the speech but had parental permission to do so.
Kathy Taylor, director of communications for the O'Neal School, the county's largest private school, said the speech was not shown because of scheduling conflicts.
Contact John Krahnert III at 693-2473 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story