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AP Photo/Mary Ann Chastain
Fifth graders at Rosewood Elementary School in Columbia, S.C., watch as President Barack
Obama addresses the nation's school children Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2009.

Controversy Fizzles After Obama’s Education Address

September 11, 2009 04:30 PM
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
After all the criticism, many—including some Republicans—responded favorably to President Obama’s back-to-school speech, though some students remained apathetic and disinterested.

Presidential Speech Well Received

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Despite the controversy, President Obama’s back-to-school speech on Tuesday “ended up being decidedly motivational rather than political—and even won praise from some Republicans,” Christi Parsons reports for the Los Angeles Times.

The speech, broadcast nationwide from Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va., attempted to motivate students to take responsibility for the future of their own education. Before its delivery, the text of the speech was met with widespread criticism from parents, critics and conservative politicians who were afraid it would focus on a political agenda rather than on education itself.

Contrary to expectations, the speech was ultimately well received by both Democrats and Republicans. The Los Angeles Times quoted a Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate who called the speech “inspiring” and “moving.” Similarly, Jim Greer, Chairman of the Florida Republican Party, who had initially condemned the speech, had a change of heart after reading the prepared remarks for the address, published by the White House earlier this week. “My kids watched it, and I thought it was appropriate,” he was quoted as saying by the Times. “The White House responded to the concerns of parents and educators across this country.” He suggested, however, “that criticism may have shaped” the way the event finally turned out.

Reactions: Students have mixed responses

Some students in central Ohio schools, for instance, received the education speech with apathy and disinterest. “Basically, most of the people I talked to didn't care about the speech,” Kayla McGuire, a Centennial High School senior, told The Columbus Dispatch. “It wasn't so much that they didn't want to hear it; it was that they weren't interested. Those are things that our teachers and parents tell us every day.” Eight-year-old Nicholas Caldwell, a third grader in Reynoldsburg's French Run Elementary, had a different reaction, however. “I liked that he said that if you get a bad grade, that doesn't mean you're a bad person,” he told the Dispatch.

For students of the Morse School in Cambridge, Mass., Obama’s speech constituted a “teachable moment,” The Boston Globe reports. Though many “eighth-graders grew fidgety as the Internet feed kept freezing,” they “fell still” when the president spoke, and answered their teacher’s questions afterward. “He said that it doesn’t matter where you come from, you can still go,” student Grace McCabe replied when asked what the president had to say about college.
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