4 Questions as Michelle Obama addresses education


First lady Michelle Obama hands a diploma to a graduating senior at the Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Magnet High School commencement ceremon in Nashville, Tenn., on May 18, 2013. (Chuck Kennedy/The White House)
November 12, 2013

Michelle Obama will increase her focus on young people and educational opportunities Tuesday in remarks at Bell Multicultural High School, where she will also hold a listening session with 10th-graders. She’ll be accompanied by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

What will she say?

Here are four recent quotes from Michelle Obama on the topic and four key questions to consider as she speaks about education.

1. At the White House last week, the first lady spoke generally about the importance of the issue, but has not spoken with specificity. Will she continue to avoid contentious education policy debates?

“Once you find that passion, whether it’s film — maybe it’s science or business, maybe it’s teaching — anything, you have got to get your education. That’s the bottom line. As I tell my kids, you have one job: Get an education. It is the most important thing that you can do for yourselves right now, because that’s how you’ll prepare yourself for success. You have to be ready. And this is the foundation that you have to have with you when those opportunities come. And that’s how you’re going to learn the skills that you need to achieve and to keep dreaming big.” — November 2013 at the White House Film Symposium

2. Michelle Obama addressed the relatively high rate of African American high school dropouts this spring at Bowie State’s commencement. Will she delve further into the achievement gap?

“Today, instead of walking miles everyday to school, they’re sitting on couches for hours, playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper. Right now, one in three African American students are dropping out of high school, only one in five African Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 has gotten a college degree.” — May 2013 Bowie State University commencement.

3. Obama has spoken often of the characteristics that successful people possess. Does she see schools playing a role in developing these traits?

“And here’s the thing, graduates: These qualities are not ones that you’re born with. They’re not like the color of your eyes or your height. They’re not qualities that are beyond your control. Instead, you can dictate whether you’ll have grit. You decide how hard you’ll work. So I want you to make those choices right now, today, if you haven’t already done so. Make those choices. I want you to tell yourself that no matter what challenges you face, that you will commit yourself to achieving your goals, no matter where life takes you.” — May 2013 Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet High School commencement in Nashville

4. Will Obama call on teachers, administrators, community leaders and others to make any changes or commitments?

“What it takes to build strong, successful young people isn’t genetics, or pedigree, or good luck. It’s opportunity. And I know from my own experience. I started out with exactly the same aptitude — exactly the same intellectual, emotional capabilities – as so many of my peers. And the only thing that separated me from them was that I had a few more advantages than some of them did. I had adults who pushed me. I had activities that engaged me, schools that prepared me to succeed. I had a community that supported me and a neighborhood where I felt safe. And in the end, that was the difference between growing up and becoming a lawyer, a mother, and first lady of the United States, and being shot dead at the age of 15.” — April 2013 luncheon in Chicago after gun violence resulted in the death of a local high school student

Krissah Thompson began writing for The Washington Post in 2001. She has covered local businesses, traveled to El Salvador and Guatemala to tell stories of immigrants’ connections to their home countries and reported from the newsroom’s Prince George’s County bureau. More recently, she has written about civil rights, race and politics.
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