Recently on our family listserv, we had a little back and forth about Obama’s recent speech to students across America, with most giving positive reviews. I thought it was fine, but had a bunch to add, and to critique, so I thought I’d share here as well.
I agree that the speech was really wonderful, and important, but do have a bone to pick with Obama on this one. Hear me out.
Throughout the entire speech the predominant theme was that youth need to take responsibility for their own education. Don’t drop out. Don’t disrespect your teachers. Do the work even if it may not seem relevant. And above all, it’s ultimately up to you whether you succeed or not. Generally good messages, but really only good messages for students.
For society at large, we know, however, that “it takes a village”, to quote an old African proverb, and that the village that was put in charge of education has failed. It has failed because it was designed for a different world, and has been ornery in the face of adaptation. It has failed through cutting costs, it has failed through irrelevant content, it has failed by favoring teaching methods that are at best boring and at worst antagonize young people to the idea of learning. It has failed to realize that it needs to teach attitudes and orientations as opposed to facts and figures. And it’s a failure that Obama didn’t mention a word about, glossing over this ossified aspect of American society using a fail safe mantra of rugged American individualism when what the education system really needed was a serious jolt about how this is a problem of communities and systems, of parent involvement and teacher training and of fear in the face of special interests that control testing and textbooks, as opposed to just giving a pep talk to kids saying that they should take their studies more seriously. After all, if you were given the system that they were, would you?
When taken in the larger context, Obama certainly said some nice things, but no where near enough. This was a fine thing for the president to say to young people on their first day back to school, but if this President wants to make any impression on me when it comes to education, he’ll have to say, and do, much much more. This was his first day of school to me, and he did alright. An A for effort and showing up. We’ll see what his grades are like, though, at the end of the year.Photo courtesy of CNN.