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Politics absent from speech

Posted: September 8, 2009 10:27 p.m.
Updated: September 9, 2009 4:55 a.m.
After days of political debate and worry among parents and school officials, President Barack Obama’s address to students across the nation on Tuesday kept away from politics and encouraged kids to study hard and choose good role models.

“I felt it was more of a motivational speech,” said Holly Montoya, a Golden Valley High School student. “I just felt he was trying to motivate all America to study, to be better in life and try and succeed and get good jobs to help the future of America.”

Montoya said she had looked forward to watching the speech, although others warned her not to watch the president’s address.

In the days leading up to Obama’s speech, conservative leaders had denounced the very idea of an address to students, saying the president was trying to force his political views upon children. Most dropped their opposition after reading the speech’s transcript released Sunday.

In his speech, which aired on C-SPAN and the White House Web site, Obama used examples from his own life to urge students to study hard. He told them to stop chasing dreams of being athletes or reality TV stars.

“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,” Obama said.

In Montoya’s classroom, the president’s words sparked mockery rather than mature debate, she said.

“A lot of (students) after his speech were being very rude, making fun of the things (Obama) said,” she said.

But Montoya felt those who mocked the president’s words had misinterpreted them.

“He said in life you need to have setbacks, but don’t be a failure overall,” she said.

Montoya’s mother, Kimberly Smith, said she was open-minded about her daughter seeing the speech. She took offense to “people getting up in arms” about the issue, she said.

“It’s a little outrageous to think any political leader is going to go after our children and brainwash them,” said Smith, 39, of Canyon Country. “I think (whether it had) been Bush, or McCain, or whoever, I would have felt confident in the leaders of America to address our children.”

Local school districts like the William S. Hart Union High School District left the decision on whether to show the speech up to teachers and principals.

Elementary school districts like Sulphur Springs and Saugus Union sent letters home to parents, giving them an opportunity to have their kids not watch the speech.

At Wiley Canyon Elementary School, Superintendent Marc Winger toured classrooms and sat with a group of third-graders as they watched the speech.

“They were attentive and listening,” Winger said. “(President Obama) really talked to the kids and I think they got that.”
With a message of hard work and persistence, Winger said he supported the president’s speech, especially since it backs up what teachers say every day, he said.

Still, others across the country were glad their kids didn’t see the speech.

“They don’t need to be told by the president what their responsibilities are. It’s the parents’ responsibility to teach them that, not the government,” said Ryan Christensen, a carpet cleaner who asked that his 10-year-old daughter be pulled from a fifth-grade class watching the speech in Caldwell, Idaho.

Many districts across the nation refused to show the speech as Republican leaders ramped up accusations of political conspiracy.

Florida Republican Party chairman Jim Greer initially called the speech an attempt to “spread President Obama’s socialist ideology,” but, like many other critics, later backed off of his claims after reading the transcript.

The Department of Education was also criticized for proposed lesson plans distributed to accompany the speech, including a section — later changed — that asked students to write about how they could help the president.

Since the Hart district left the decision whether to show the speech up to teachers, not all local students had a chance to watch it.

David Edwards, also a Golden Valley student, said his class time was spent studying for a major test and finishing an essay.

“I would have wanted to see it,” he said. “I thought, since he’s our president and knows a lot about what to do (for America), I would have wanted to hear what he has to say.”

Golden Valley student Brandon Robinson, 16, said he raised his hand and asked his teacher if the class could watch the president’s address.

His teacher said no, but did not give a reason why, Robinson said.

“I was kind of disappointed,” the 16-year-old said. “It’s about education and it’s our president. We should be able to hear what he says.”

Robinson’s friend, however, did get to see the speech and thought the message was “okay.”

“He made some good points,” Michael Maness, 15, said. “It was a little motivating but I think kids mainly blocked it out. Kids were trying to sleep.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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