In his back-to-school speech today, in Philadelphia, President Barack Obama covered many of the same themes he addressed in last year’s more controversial talk. The main ideas were rather bland, if worthy: Stay in school; do your homework; show up on time.
This year, Obama also acknowledged the recession and how it might be affecting students’ personal lives. He then borrowed from the charter-school lexicon to tell students that poverty and family strife aren’t excuses for giving up on school:
Here is what I came to Masterman to tell you: Nobody gets to write your destiny but you. Your future is in your hands. Your life is what you make of it. And nothing – absolutely nothing – is beyond your reach. So long as you’re willing to dream big. So long as you’re willing to work hard. So long as you’re willing to stay focused on your education.
He continued: “You see, excelling in school or in life isn’t mainly about being smarter than everybody else. It’s about working harder than everybody else.”
That may be true, but it no doubt helps to have a livable income, and involved parents, and a decent school. The destinies of the kids at the Masterman School, where Obama spoke, are probably going to turn out pretty well given that their school is not only excellent but also highly selective.
Obama did give a nod to all of the efforts his administration is making to reform the other schools out there that, unlike Masterman, are struggling.
“It will take all of us in government – from Harrisburg to Washington – doing our part to prepare our students, all of them, for success in the classroom, in college, and in a career. It will take an outstanding principal and outstanding teachers like the ones here at Masterman; teachers who go above and beyond for their students. And it will take parents who are committed to your education,” he said.
He then veered a bit from the written transcript, noting that at Masterman, he was “speaking to the choir here.” Masterman is a positive example other schools can look up to, the president suggested — “the kind of excellence we have to promote in all of America’s schools.”
As others have suggested, it might’ve been more interesting for the president to speak at a school that wasn’t a Blue Ribbon winner, perhaps one of the bottom 5 percent of schools singled out for federal turnaround money. As the president indicated, kids in less successful schools are those most in need of hearing his message to stick with it despite the tough odds.