Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Greatest Do Your Homework Speech Ever

I watched President Obama’s address to the nation’s students, and I have two overwhelming responses:
First, did you see that incredibly cute curly headed boy in the flannel shirt about six rows up? No? Well, that was my son! When he got home this afternoon he said simply, “that was the greatest ‘do your homework’ speech ever.” He added, “the man just oozes charisma; you can smell it!”
Second, and way down the list in importance compared to number one, what the hell was the fuss about that speech?!? To begin with, President Obama did not say anything to students that most parents wouldn’t say to their children as school approaches. Most of us don’t put it quite so eloquently or powerfully, as my son helpfully reminded us. Still, most of us say the same thing. Work hard. Study. Participate. Try things, and if you fail, learn from the failure and keep on trying. The country is counting on you. OK, well, that last part smacks of socialism.
But seriously, what was that all about?
Given that everyone knew from the moment this speech was announced that the president would give an inspirational talk on achievement, how does one explain the opposition?
My son said this was the only time he’s ever been in an assembly of the entire school where it was completely silent. “You could hear a pin drop during the speech.” On the other hand, he said it was painfully loud when the president walked into the gym. “It was like a rock show,” he said. You can get more of sense of that excitement from the brief clip from his video than was apparent on C-SPAN.
Young people enthralled by a political leader who campaigned on the theme of change? Well, it’s no wonder the opposition wants to keep him as far away from their children as possible. Those enriched by the status quo certainly fear a charismatic leader promising change. It matters not how well or poorly he may be doing at the moment in delivering on the promise, the promise itself is threatening.
When you tell an incredibly diverse student body – and there are few more diverse than Wakefield’s – that they can accomplish great things even if they don’t have the most beautiful facilities and all the latest technologies at their fingertips, you also undermine the notion that only those to the manor born can lead the nation. Those in the manors always fear the rabble.
Of course, that does not explain all of the opposition. Some of it, as with opposition to anything President Obama does, is plain, old-fashioned racism. For them, the appearance at a school such as Wakefield had to be particularly galling. An African-American president introduced by an African-American senior class president of a school led by a strong African-American woman – well, what is this world coming to. Wakefield looks like what America, at our best, looks like, and it works incredibly well.
For this particular speech, some of the opposition reflects the deep-seated anti-intellectual strain of American culture. And some of it is just rudeness. After all, when the President of the United States speaks to school children, in person or on line, you give respect.
When our first child was born I worked for the Council of State Governments in a position that put me in contact with scores of state lawmakers of both parties. One thoughtful and well-connected Republican, unbeknownst to me, had President George H.W. Bush send our newborn son a letter welcoming him into the world and encouraging him to live and life of service. Neither my wife nor I ever voted for President Bush, and were appalled by many of his policies including leading us into a war that paused (it still hasn’t ended) only days before our son was born. Did we send the letter back? Of course not. It remains one of the prized items in the baby book. When the president says, “welcome to the world,” you say, “wow; thanks for noticing.”
When the president says, “do your homework,” you say, “wow; thanks for noticing.”
In any case, that is pretty much what our second son said after his presidential moment this afternoon.
PS: Martin did his homework!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I thought I recognized the boy in one of the crowd shots, but I wasn't sure. . . the kindergartners I watched with were kinda clueless, since many of them don't speak much English at this point, but we watched nontheless. At Willamae's school they did not. She was incensed. My coworkers agreed that it was a pretty great back-to-school speech. Of course we've already been back for a month. . .xx yo sistah