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Monday, September 07, 2009
Responsibility, Persistence, Goals - REVISED

REVISED: The speech is now available on line. I'll add it to the bottom of this post.

Those are the words that apparently are going to be used to mind-control our youth. Unless you've been living under a rock, you've heard of the brouhaha that has developed over the President's plan to give a speech tomorrow at 12n et. His speech is being aired live on C-Span and at the White House website.

I have to confess that this whole thing just blows my mind. People are claiming that schools are being required to air the speech, that it's all some nefarious plot to brainwash our children into supporting President Obama's agenda.

First, no one is being required to do anything, unless you're referring to the schools who've been told they cannot air the speech in their class. Apparently a speech speaking to children about education is not appropriate?

Secondly, I don't claim to be an expert, but if speaking for 20 minutes were enough to completely impart a message to my students, they'd all have As. My job would be a piece of cake. I wouldn't waste my time repeating the same lesson and presenting it in multiple methods. I wouldn't speak, demonstrate, and give them written handouts. I could just say the words, and they'd all know it. Man, wouldn't that be great?

Twenty minutes isn't enough time to convince our youth to twist their parents' arms into supporting health care or any other goal the President has. All parents can rest assured that they're safe from being bullied by their children.

Twenty minutes is enough time to reinforce a message they've heard before. A message that, hopefully, they're hearing at home and at school already. A message that many, however, don't hear at home, and don't listen to at school because they think it isn't relevant to them. They haven't seen it in their own lives, but now it's different. It's a message that you can look differently from others. Your skin can be darker. You can be raised by a single mother. You can come from a difficult background. And you can succeed.

Agree with him or not, Barack Obama is a President whose background is vastly different from any President who went before him. And very similar to one that children are living with every day.

Maybe it's because I teach in a school with a high low-income population. My students come to school every day from homes that are less than ideal. Sure, I have some students whose parents are married, have their own room, hot meals on the table, regular doctor and dental visits, and everything that every child deserves.

Far too many, however, have a parent in prison or just gone. A mother working the streets or making meth in the family home. They come home to empty homes and empty refrigerators. Instead of working on homework, they're taking care of younger siblings. Or worse, they've decided that it's not worth their time because they can make great money selling that meth mom makes. Talk about your family business.

Children in these circumstances do still dream of a better life. They set these huge goals and are convinced this is the answer to their dreams. What does it matter that they can't make the high school team, they'll still be the next LeBron James. They hear about the adventures of Kobe Bryant and Chris Brown and think this is acceptable behavior. I remember students talking about how Kobe was "set up 'cause they want to take a brother down" and how Rihanna "had it coming" because Chris Brown is so cute that she should have treated him better. Their dreams are all about basketball and rapping. These men are their heroes.

Something different happened last year though. All of a sudden these students started wearing political t-shirts and campaign buttons. You and I know that they weren't listening to speeches, checking past voting records, and determining the candidates position on various issues. They were excited to see someone who looked like them. Someone who had set goals, been persistent in his focus, taken responsibility for his own success, and risen to a level they never dreamed possible.

Do I want them to grow into voters who continue to make their decisions this way? Of course not, but it was the first thing for so many that actually engaged them in the process. The first time they realized they could be part of the process. Until they know they can set their own goals and that their future can be what they want it to be, the only process they understand is how our criminal justice system works.

To hear this man speak to them directly, to talk to them about putting education first, that to succeed at their goals they must take personal responsibility could make a huge difference in their lives. Obviously, it won't sway all our students. Those who don't want to hear this message won't. They don't hear it when it's said by people in their daily lives, and this won't make a difference. But it will for others. Others who've also heard this message, but never believed it was for them. This could be their turning point.

And for the students whose parents are appalled by everything our President does, these 20 minutes will not erase your lifetime of influence. Surely these beliefs you express are strong enough to handle 20 minutes. Unless you're worried that they might hear the words and wonder what was so heinous about the message that they start to question.

Is that the real fear?

Educating means giving our children all the facts and allowing them to make their own conclusions. Sometimes they'll agree with us; sometimes they'll disagree. Sometimes they'll go through their rebellions when they disagree with anything you believe in just because you believe it. And then sometimes they come full circle back to where they started and decide maybe you were right after all.

If you disagree with our President, don't ignore his words. Don't block what he says. Read the speech that is going to be released today. Watch his speech tomorrow. If not live, then in one of the many taped versions that will fill the Internet. Greet your children when they come home from school, and discuss it. Talk about what you agree with and what you don't.

That's one of the greatest things about our country. We don't have to all agree. I think, however, that we do all agree on taking responsibility, setting goals, and being persistent in working to attain those goals.

I'm going to include here the suggestions posted by the Dept of Education. It is my understanding that the main controversy was a suggestion in the prek-6 section for students to write a letter to the President saying how they would help reach these goals. The letters were then to be returned to them at a later date to review their progress. That suggestion has now been changed to write a letter to themselves to assuage those who are convinced that addressing the letter to the President is an unreasonable request.

Menu of Classroom Activities
President Obama’s Address to Students Across America

Produced by Teaching Ambassador Fellows, U.S. Department of Education

September 8, 2009

Before the Speech
· Teachers can build background knowledge about the President of the United States and his speech by reading books about presidents and Barack Obama. Teachers could motivate students by asking the following questions:
Who is the President of the United States?
What do you think it takes to be president?
To whom do you think the president is going to be speaking?
Why do you think he wants to speak to you?
What do you think he will say to you?
· Teachers can ask students to imagine that they are delivering a speech to all of the students in the United States.
If you were the president, what would you tell students?
What can students do to help in our schools?
Teachers can chart ideas about what students would say.
· Why is it important that we listen to the president and other elected officials, like the mayor, senators, members of congress, or the governor? Why is what they say important?
During the Speech
As the president speaks, teachers can ask students to write down key ideas or phrases that are important or personally meaningful. Students could use a note-taking graphic organizer such as a “cluster web;” or, students could record their thoughts on sticky notes. Younger children could draw pictures and write as appropriate. As students listen to the speech, they could think about the following:
What is the president trying to tell me?
What is the president asking me to do?
What new ideas and actions is the president challenging me to think about?
· Students could record important parts of the speech where the president is asking them to do something. Students might think about the following:
What specific job is he asking me to do?
Is he asking anything of anyone else?
Teachers? Principals? Parents? The American people?
· Students could record questions they have while he is speaking and then discuss them after the speech. Younger children may need to dictate their questions.

After the Speech
Teachers could ask students to share the ideas they recorded, exchange sticky notes, or place notes on a butcher-paper poster in the classroom to discuss main ideas from the speech, such as citizenship, personal responsibility, and civic duty.
Students could discuss their responses to the following questions:
What do you think the president wants us to do?
Does the speech make you want to do anything?
Are we able to do what President Obama is asking of us?
What would you like to tell the president?

Extension of the Speech

Teachers could extend learning by having students:
· Create posters of their goals. Posters could be formatted in quadrants, puzzle pieces, or trails marked with the following labels: personal, academic, community, and country. Each area could be labeled with three steps for achieving goals in that area. It might make sense to focus first on personal and academic goals so that community and country goals can be more readily created.
· Write letters to themselves about how they can achieve their short-term and long-term education goals. Teachers would collect and redistribute these letters at an appropriate later date to enable students to monitor their progress.
· Write goals on colored index cards or precut designs to post around the classroom.
· Interview one another and share goals with the class to create a supportive community.
· Participate in school-wide incentive programs or contests for those students who achieve their goals.
· Write about their goals in a variety of genres, such as poems, songs, and personal essays.
· Create artistic projects based on the themes of their goals.
· Graph individual progress toward goals.

Menu of Classroom Activities
President Obama’s Address to Students Across America
(Grades 7-12)

Produced by Teaching Ambassador Fellows, U.S. Department of Education
September 8, 2009

Before the Speech
· Conduct a “quick write” or “think/pair/share” activity with students. (In the latter activity, students spend a few minutes thinking and writing about the question. Next, each student is paired with another student to discuss. Finally, the students share their ideas with the class as a whole). Teachers may choose to ask the following questions:
What ideas do we associate with the words “responsibility,” “persistence,” and “goals?”
How would we define each term?
Teachers then may choose to create a web diagram of student ideas for each of the words.
· Have students participate in a “quick write” or brainstorming activity. Teachers may ask students:
What are your strengths?
What do you think makes you successful as a student and as a person?
· Teachers may engage students in short readings. Teachers may post in large print around the classroom notable quotes excerpted from President Obama’s speeches on education. Teachers might ask students to think alone, compare ideas with a partner, or share their thoughts with the class. Teachers could ask students to think about the following:
What are our interpretations of these excerpts?
Based on these excerpts, what can we infer that the president believes is important in order to be educationally successful?
· Create a “concept web.” Teachers may ask students to think of the following:
Why does President Obama want to speak with us today? How will he inspire us?
How will he challenge us?
What might he say?
Do you remember any other historic moments when the president spoke to the nation?
What was the impact?
After brainstorming answers to these questions, students could create a “cause-and-effect” graphic organizer.
During the Speech
· Teachers might conduct a “listening with purpose” exercise based on the following ideas: personal responsibility, goals, and persistence. Teachers might ask pairs of students to create a word bank at the top of a notes page that has been divided into two columns. On the right-hand side, students could take notes (trying to capture direct quotations or main ideas) while President Obama talks about personal responsibility, goals, or persistence. At the end of the speech, students could write the corresponding terms from the word bank in the left-hand column, to increase retention and deepen their understanding of an important aspect of the speech.
· Teachers might conduct a “listening with purpose” exercise based on the themes of inspiration and challenges. Using a similar double-column notes page as the one described above, teachers could focus students on quotations that either propose a specific challenge to them or that inspire them in some meaningful way. Students could do this activity individually, in pairs, or in groups.

Transition/Quick Review
· Teachers could ask students to look over their notes and collaborate in pairs or small groups. Teachers might circulate and ask students questions, such as:
What more could we add to our notes?
What are the most important words in the speech?
What title would you give the speech?
What is the thesis of the speech?

After the Speech

Guided Discussion:
· What resonated with you from President Obama’s speech? What lines or phrases do you remember?
· Whom is President Obama addressing? How do you know? Describe his audience.
· We heard President Obama mention the importance of personal responsibility. In your life, who exemplifies this kind of responsibility? How? Give examples.
· How are the individuals in this classroom similar? How is each student different?
· Suppose President Obama were to give another speech about being educationally successful. To whom would he speak? Why? What would the president say?
· What are the three most important words in the speech? Rank them.
· Is President Obama inspiring you to do anything? Is he challenging you to do anything?
· What do you believe are the challenges of your generation?
· How can you be a part of addressing these challenges?

Video Project:
· Teachers could encourage students to participate in the U.S. Department of Education’s “I Am What I Learn” video contest. On September 8, the Department of Education will invite students age 13 and older to submit a video no longer than two minutes in length, explaining why education is important and how education will help them achieve their dreams. Teachers are welcome to incorporate the same or a similar video project into a classroom assignment. More details will be released via

Transition/Quick Review
· Teachers could introduce goal-setting activities in the following way to make the most of extension activities:

“When you set a goal, you envision a target that you are going to reach over time. Goals are best when they are “Challenging,” “Attainable,” and “Needed” (CAN). For example, a good goal might be: ‘I want to boost my average grade by one letter grade this year so I can show colleges that I am prepared.’ But, every good goal also needs steps that guide the way. These steps keep you on track toward achieving your goal. For example, my first step might be improving in all of my subjects by one letter grade. My second step might be completing 100-percent of my homework in all of my classes during the first week of school. My third step might be taking an extra hour to study for all of my tests during each marking period. My fourth step might be attending a tutoring session or getting an adult to help me whenever I do not understand something. My last step might be the most important: asking an adult in my life to check on me often to make sure that I am completing each of my steps. Your steps should add up to your goal. If they don’t, that’s okay; we fix them until they do!

Let’s hear another example of an academic goal for the year and decide what steps would help to achieve that goal…

Now I want you to write your personal academic goal for this year and the steps that you will take to achieve it. We can revise our steps each marking period to make sure we are on track.”

Extension of the Speech

Teachers could extend learning by having students:
· Create decorated goals and steps on material that is the size of an index card. The index cards could be formatted as an inviting graphic organizer with a space for the goal at the top and several steps in the remaining space. Cards could be hung in the classroom to create a culture of goal setting, persistence, and success, and for the purpose of periodic review. (See the “Example Handout” section.)
· Create posters of their goals. Posters could be formatted in quadrants, puzzle pieces, or trails marked as steps. These also could be hung around the room, to be reviewed periodically and to create a classroom culture of goal setting and for the purpose of periodic review.
· Interview and share their goals with one another and the class, establishing community support for their goals.
· Create incentives or contests for achieving their personal goals.
· Write about goals and the steps to achieve them in a variety of genres such as poems, songs, or personal essays.
· Create artistic representations of goals and the steps to achieve them.

Here are prepared remarks that President Obama is to deliver at noon ET Tuesday a
Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia.
Source: The White House

Hello everyone – how’s everybody doing today? I’m here with students at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Virginia. And we’ve got students tuning in from all across
America, kindergarten through twelfth grade. I’m glad you all could join us today.

I know that for many of you, today is the first day of school. And for those of you in kindergarten, or starting middle or high school, it’s your first day in a new school, so it’s understandable if you’re a little nervous. I imagine there are some seniors out there who are feeling pretty good right now, with just one more year to go. And no matter what grade you’re in, some of you are probably wishing it were still summer, and you could’ve stayed in bed just a little longer this morning.

I know that feeling. When I was young, my family lived in Indonesia for a few years, and my mother didn’t have the money to send me where all the American kids went to
school. So she decided to teach me extra lessons herself, Monday through Friday – at
4:30 in the morning.

Now I wasn’t too happy about getting up that early. A lot of times, I’d fall asleep right there at the kitchen table. But whenever I’d complain, my mother would just give me one of those looks and say, "This is no picnic for me either, buster."
So I know some of you are still adjusting to being back at school. But I’m here today
because I have something important to discuss with you. I’m here because I want to talk with you about your education and what’s expected of all of you in this new school year.
Now I’ve given a lot of speeches about education. And I’ve talked a lot about
I’ve talked about your teachers’ responsibility for inspiring you, and pushing you to
I’ve talked about your parents’ responsibility for making sure you stay on track, and get your homework done, and don’t spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox.
I’ve talked a lot about your government’s responsibility for setting high standards,
supporting teachers and principals, and turning around schools that aren’t working where students aren’t getting the opportunities they deserve.
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.
And that’s what I want to focus on today: the responsibility each of you has for your
education. I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself.
Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has
something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that
is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.
Maybe you could be a good writer – maybe even good enough to write a book or articles
in a newspaper – but you might not know it until you write a paper for your English
class. Maybe you could be an innovator or an inventor – maybe even good enough to
come up with the next iPhone or a new medicine or vaccine – but you might not know it
until you do a project for your science class. Maybe you could be a mayor or a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice, but you might not know that until you join student government or the debate team.
And no matter what you want to do with your life – I guarantee that you’ll need an
education to do it. You want to be a doctor, or a teacher, or a police officer? You want to be a nurse or an architect, a lawyer or a member of our military? You’re going to need a good education for every single one of those careers. You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. 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. What you’re
learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest
challenges in the future.
You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to
cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment. You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free. You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.
We need every single one of you to develop your talents, skills and intellect so you can help solve our most difficult problems. If you don’t do that – if you quit on school – you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.
Now I know it’s not always easy to do well in school. I know a lot of you have challenges in your lives right now that can make it hard to focus on your schoolwork.
I get it. I know what that’s like. My father left my family when I was two years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled at times to pay the bills and wasn’t always able to give us things the other kids had. There were times when I missed having a father in my life. There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn’t fit in.
So I wasn’t always as focused as I should have been. I did some things I’m not proud of, and got in more trouble than I should have. And my life could have easily taken a turn for the worse.
But I was fortunate. I got a lot of second chances and had the opportunity to go to
college, and law school, and follow my dreams. My wife, our First Lady Michelle
Obama, has a similar story. Neither of her parents had gone to college, and they didn’t have much. But they worked hard, and she worked hard, so that she could go to the best schools in this country.
Some of you might not have those advantages. Maybe you don’t have adults in your life
who give you the support that you need. Maybe someone in your family has lost their job, and there’s not enough money to go around. Maybe you live in a neighborhood where you don’t feel safe, or have friends who are pressuring you to do things you know aren’t right.
But at the end of the day, the circumstances of your life – what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home – that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude. That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.
Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s
written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make
your own future.
That’s what young people like you are doing every day, all across America.
Young people like Jazmin Perez, from Roma, Texas. Jazmin didn’t speak English when
she first started school. Hardly anyone in her hometown went to college, and neither of her parents had gone either. But she worked hard, earned good grades, got a scholarship to Brown University, and is now in graduate school, studying public health, on her way to being Dr. Jazmin Perez.
I’m thinking about Andoni Schultz, from Los Altos, California, who’s fought brain
cancer since he was three. He’s endured all sorts of treatments and surgeries, one of
which affected his memory, so it took him much longer – hundreds of extra hours – to do his schoolwork. But he never fell behind, and he’s headed to college this fall.
And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when
bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.
Jazmin, Andoni and Shantell aren’t any different from any of you. 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. Your goal can be something as simple as doing all your homework, paying attention in class, or spending time each day reading a book. Maybe you’ll decide to get involved in an extracurricular activity, or volunteer in your community. Maybe you’ll decide to stand up for kids who are being teased or bullied because of who they are or how they look, because you believe, like I do, that all kids deserve a safe environment to study and learn. Maybe you’ll decide to take better care of yourself so you can be more ready to learn. And along those lines, I hope you’ll all wash your hands a lot, and stay home from school when you don’t feel well, so we can keep people from getting the flu this fall and winter.
Whatever you resolve to do, I want you to commit to it. I want you to really work at it.
I know that sometimes, you get the sense from TV that you can be rich and successful
without any hard work -- that your ticket to success is through rapping or basketball or being a reality TV star, when chances are, you’re not going to be any of those things.
But the truth is, being successful is hard. You won’t love every subject you study. You won’t click with every teacher. Not every homework assignment will seem completely relevant to your life right this minute. And you won’t necessarily succeed at everything the first time you try.
That’s OK. Some of the most successful people in the world are the ones who’ve had the most failures. JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected twelve times before it was finally published. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, and he lost hundreds of games and missed thousands of shots during his career. But he once said, "I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
These people succeeded because they understand that you can’t let your failures define you – you have to let them teach you. You have to let them show you what to do
differently next time. If you get in trouble, that doesn’t mean you’re a troublemaker, it means you need to try harder to behave. If you get a bad grade, that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, it just means you need to spend more time studying.
No one’s born being good at things, you become good at things through hard
work. You’re not a varsity athlete the first time you play a new sport. You don’t hit every note the first time you sing a song. You’ve got to practice. It’s the same with your schoolwork. You might have to do a math problem a few times before you get it right, or read something a few times before you understand it, or do a few drafts of a paper before it’s good enough to hand in.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. I do that every day. Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. It shows you have the courage to admit when you don’t know something, and to learn something new. So find an adult you trust – a parent, grandparent or teacher; a coach or counselor – and ask them to help you stay on track to meet your goals.
And even when you’re struggling, even when you’re discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you – don’t ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.
The story of America isn’t about people who quit when things got tough. It’s about
people who kept going, who tried harder, who loved their country too much to do
anything less than their best.
It’s the story of students who sat where you sit 250 years ago, and went on to wage a
revolution and found this nation. Students who sat where you sit 75 years ago who
overcame a Depression and won a world war; who fought for civil rights and put a man
on the moon. Students who sat where you sit 20 years ago who founded Google, Twitter
and Facebook and changed the way we communicate with each other.
So today, I want to ask you, what’s your contribution going to be? What problems are
you going to solve? What discoveries will you make? What will a president who comes
here in twenty or fifty or one hundred years say about what all of you did for this
Your families, your teachers, and I are doing everything we can to make sure you have
the education you need to answer these questions. I’m working hard to fix up your
classrooms and get you the books, equipment and computers you need to learn. But
you’ve got to do your part too. So I expect you to get serious this year. I expect you to put your best effort into everything you do. I expect great things from each of you. So don’t let us down – don’t let your family or your country or yourself down. Make us all proud. I know you can do it.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.



Blogger Wendy said...

I find it really interesting that he's going to sign off saying "God bless you and God bless America".

I'm all for that. Even for those atheists who dont believe in any deity. Even tho it's against the ones who have opposed the word "God" in the pledge of Allegiance.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a mini-rant about this myself, albeit much poorly worded. Myself? I want my children to hear Presidents, and to hear opinions I might not share, and things they don't understand. And I want them to explore the reasons behind those opinions and things. And I want them to look for truth. I want them to THINK.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I am very socially conservative so you know there is one thing I disagree with Obama on :-) but otherwise I'm not really "for" or "against" Obama - I try but I don't really understand much about politics and what is the right/wrong thing in many areas. THAT SAID, I read the speech and think it is EXCELLENT! I can't understand why anyone would have a problem with it.

Blogger Kiy said...

Excellent post. Probably your best ever - well, except for when you shared Sera with us. :)

All presidents should talk to our kids, and I honestly do not see why more didn't. I too don't/didn't understand what all the uproar was about. The area where we live (for the next two days) was ALL panties twisted about it. I just shook my head, thankful that our daughter won't be attending school here.

Great post, you need to vent more often. :)

Cheers, Kiy

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