An Apolitical Teachable Moment

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

A lot of pundits are seizing on the uproar over President Obama's speech to the nation's schoolchildren as further evidence of a bumbling White House. How, goes the thinking, could they let something so innocuous become so controversial?

But after watching Obama's speech, I'm convinced that the administration outfoxed its critics. The furor -- as silly as it was -- ended up focusing more attention on the speech than it probably would have gotten in the first place. And it's a speech that deserved attention.

The president essentially told students, on what for many was the first day of classes, that they needed to work hard to succeed. It's an important message, but not one that would normally dominate the blogosphere or generate headlines. So criticism by conservatives and others of the president trying to foist his "socialist" agenda on unwitting children probably led more people to tune into the events at Wakefield High School in Arlington.

Those who did were rewarded with a vintage performance by the president. Powerfully delivered, the speech drew on Obama's experiences to speak directly to young people. "My father left my family when I was 2 years old, and I was raised by a single mother who struggled. . . . There were times when I was lonely and felt like I didn't fit in," he said. Obama brought in life lessons of others -- the famous (Michael Jordan and J.K. Rowling) and unknown (Jazmin Perez, Andoni Schultz) -- to try to inspire children to set goals and not be discouraged by failure. "Don't ever give up on yourself," he said.

In truth, there was nothing new or particularly profound in the president's address; even before he spoke, critics were labeling it as corny and a waste of precious classroom time. But if Obama ended up inspiring just one student to study more, take a harder class or stay in school longer, it was a speech worthy of all the fuss.

-- Jo-Ann Armao

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In a normal world, the media would have asked Florida Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer, who accused the president of trying to "indoctrinate America's children to his socialist agenda," for proof of such a wild charge. And since Greer didn't have any, his news release should have gone into the circular file.

But, no, the media are so petrified of being criticized for being "liberal" that they chose to take a lunatic charge seriously and helped gin up this phony controversy.


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