President addresses the most important audience of all: the children of America

Statement by MTA President Anne Wass on President Obama’s Back to School Speech on September 8, 2009

President Barack Obama’s speech to school children contains compelling and non-partisan messages urging students to work hard, respect their parents and teachers, stay in school and pursue their dreams. Complaints from a few extremists that the speech seeks to indoctrinate children with a "socialist" message are completely unfounded, as any reading of the text reveals. We hope that schools will make the speech available to students either as it is broadcast live or later in recorded and written form.

Early in the speech the president discusses the responsibilities of others for making sure students receive a quality education: the government, teachers and parents. Very quickly, however, he focuses on the responsibility that all students share in making the most of their own education. He states: "But 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."

The president humanizes his advice by describing his own struggles growing up in a single-parent household where lack of money was often a problem. He acknowledges that many students have much harder circumstances than he did. He describes three students in particular who overcame poverty, disease and neglect to succeed. He says: "They faced challenges in their lives just like you do. But they refused to give up. They chose to take responsibility for their education and set goals for themselves. And I expect all of you to do the same. That’s why today, I’m calling on each of you to set your own goals for your education -- and to do everything you can to meet them."

These are very important messages for students today. While many, many students do work hard and excel despite significant challenges, others have responded to messages in the media and their communities that encourage them to take the easy way out. They see certain Wall Street investors and drug dealers alike getting rich through dishonesty and deception and they see images of certain rock stars, movie stars or athletes who seem to have it all without appearing to work hard.

The president’s speech is advising them to follow a different path, a path in which they are true to themselves and of service to their communities. This message is not left or right, Democrat or Republican, it is simply honest and wise. We are saddened to know that in some communities across the country children will be deprived of hearing this message because of the extremist ideology of certain adults. We can only hope that children who are not allowed to hear the speech in school will find a way to listen to it or read it at home because the themes are universal.

A president is not supposed to simply be a technician "fixing" the economy and other problems. He or she is also supposed to provide moral leadership for the country. Not moralizing. Not proselytizing. But speaking the truths that our founders would have described as "self-evident." We applaud the president for taking on this leadership role before the most important audience of all: the children of America.

White House Web site