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Obama's Speech to Students Released: Will LA's Kids All Hear It? And More Importantly, Will They Listen?

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There's been a national controversy bubbling around President Obama's planned speech to school-age students tomorrow, and specifically the initial course materials provided to accompany the talk, which features the country's leader talking about the importance of education and staying in school. Today the White House released the speech so that everyone can preview its content.

In the remarks, Obama talks about focusing on goals, and how an education is necessary in order to pursue most jobs. He references his own life obstacles, and how adversities and advantages come into play when it comes to the very serious business of school. He asks students to make it a goal to finish school and to do their homework rather than "spend every waking hour in front of the TV or with that Xbox." The core of the message is personal responsibility. Doing what you can for yourself, no matter your circumstances, in order to make the best out of your life.

What's caused the reactionary furor was the inclusion of a supplemental assignment that asked the students to do a writing exercise responding to the prompt of what they can do as individuals to help the President, which has since been re-worded to appease the clamor of dissent. What many may have objected to was the lack of immediate context in the question, if examined as a stand-alone point. Those on the other side of the aisle of Obama in the voting booth (or, for most school-aged children, their parents) seem to resent the idea that their child should be asked to "help" a Democratic President--nevermind that Obama is President of all of America, not just parts of it, and nevermind that what the classroom exercise was meant to inspire was a written response about how the student could work to make education their focus, thereby "helping" the President achieve his vision of a better-educated nation. Note that it's not asking students "help" him pass a Health Care bill, hand out free abortion coupons, erase the word "God" off the currency, or drive illegal immigrants across the border into US towns.

If you take a look at the speech, it is beyond bi-partisan. In fact, it's utterly non-partisan. It is about the value of education, which common sense ought to dictate be something that is valued by everyone, regardless of political affiliation, or, again, since children under 18 aren't registered voters, their parents' affiliation.

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Regardless of the fact that by high school, most American students will have been exposed to Civics courses, classroom activities and discussions based on current events, and essay prompts asking them to take stands on often-politicized issues, not to mention being bombarded via television and the internet with political advertisemenst, news programs, pundits, blogs, and soundbites, parents around the country fear that Obama's speech is an opportunity to indoctrinate America's youth with a political message featuring an opposing point of view. Granted, while most students aren't encouraged to really engage in opening their minds and ears to opposing points of view until college thanks to the frequently banal nature of most textbooks, course materials, parental involvement, or school agenda (particularly in private schools) the direction in which this speech aims to pull the children is nowhere but firmly back into their classroom chair, hopefully with book in hand and a renewed sense of--dare we say--hope, that with education comes achievement.

Much of the objection to the speech has not been centered in Los Angeles, perhaps because our school-system battles are playing out in other arenas of conflicting interest. Here in L.A., where dropout and graduation rates are most assuredly something we should be worried about, students will hopefully benefit from hearing our President's message, no matter who their parents voted for. They will also benefit from doing a writing exercise in response to the speech, if only to give them one more precious opportunity amidst a curriculum of test-prep and Scantron bubble-filling, to work on their skills of written communication, made less effective in recent years by the casual convenience of Twitter and txt message shortcut speak and their decreasing exposure to the printed word in favor of visual knowledge.

And, really, in "helping" the President achieve his non-partisan goal of having a more educated nation, our students are only helping themselves. And when they do pick a party with which to affiliate themselves politically, no matter who is in the Oval Office at the time, that education will hopefully guide them towards being informed, and not ignorant. And maybe then we can actually listen to each other.

The full text of Obama's speech is viewable via the White House website.